Of the approximately one billion dollars in military assistance announced by the United States (U.S.) State Department for 17 European countries, 23 million will go to Montenegro to strengthen the defense sector.
It is not yet known how much money the other countries of the Western Balkans will receive, which, apart from Serbia, are also on the list.
However, as told to Radio Free Europe by the State Department, this aid, which is also awarded to Ukraine, demonstrates the commitment of the U.S. “to the future of Ukraine as a democratic, sovereign and independent state, as well as to the security of allies and partners throughout the region. “
How much aid is Ukraine receiving?
President Joe Biden’s administration began in January 2021. Ukraine has received about 15.2 billion in military aid since the end of February, when Russia invaded the country.
No, 8. in September, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced an additional 2.2 billion dollars in long-term investment assistance for the first time that he would provide money for Ukraine and 17 neighboring countries.
Through the Foreign Military Financing program, Ukraine will receive a billion dollars, and the rest will be distributed among other countries.
“Including many of our NATO allies, as well as other regional security partners who are at potential risk of future Russian aggression,” Blinken said in a statement.
Reuters later relayed a statement from a State Department official who listed the countries between which aid would be distributed.
The same day this was confirmed on Twitter by the US mission in NATO.
The 🇺🇸 commitment to our @NATO Allies is ironclad. And our long-term commitment to Ukraine is unwavering. We are providing support to bolster 🇺🇦 security, as well as the security of our @NATO Allies and partners in Europe. pic.twitter.com/VhpMsmIMuy
— US Mission to NATO (@USNATO) September 9, 2022
“At the extraordinary NATO meeting, Secretary Blinken informed the allies about the upcoming US assistance of 2.2 billion dollars in long-term investments under our Foreign Military Financing Partners: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia and our partners Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova and Ukraine.”
Among the countries that have been announced that military assistance will be available are NATO members as well as partner countries, including the Western Balkan countries.
Why is aid sent to the Western Balkans?
The first thing we need to understand, according to Bruno Lete, senior associate of the German Marshall Fund in Brussels, is that there are heightened tensions and threats of violence in the Western Balkans. And that in the eyes of the U.S., “many of the security risks are related to Russia.”
“There is a belief that President Putin and the Kremlin are playing a role in the region that is detrimental to security. I think there is a desire in the U.S., and also in the context of NATO, to step up efforts in the region,” Lete says.
According to Lete, when it comes to Russian influence in the Western Balkans “one should first look at Kosovo and Serbia”, where, as he says, we see tensions, despite a small positive signal a few weeks earlier regarding documents.”
“But it is clear that Russia is simulating tensions between Kosovo and Serbia.”
In addition, he believes that operations of Russian influence are very active in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “They are trying to stir up political tensions.”
He also said that the war in Ukraine in the Western Balkans left “very painful memories of the past” and that US involvement in most Balkan countries is welcome.
“I think there is some thinking from Washington that, given the tensions, it is necessary for the United States to re-engage with allies in the Western Balkans to step up efforts to provide military assistance and security,” Lete added.
What will the money be used for?
As the State Department told, more than two billion dollars in foreign military funding “will specifically help countries affected by the situation in Ukraine, including countries on the Eastern part and other regional partners and allies that have provided security assistance to Ukraine during its ongoing conflict with Russia. “
“The funds will support opportunities for countries that have already donated to Ukraine to replenish their supplies, as well as those that could do so with U.S. security assistance,” a State Department spokesman said.
This Is What Montenegro did. The Ministry of defense of that state stated for RFE / RL that Podgorica ” has committed financial, humanitarian and military assistance, which has been done by numerous allies and partners, who have taken a united position with the US, condemning the aggression of Russia over Ukraine and joining the EU sanctions against the Russian Federation.”
When it comes to U.S. aid, the funds, once approved by the U.S. Congress, will help complement the weapons and donation equipment to Ukraine, as well as build the current and future capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
It also aims to improve the military capabilities of those European allies and partners to deter and defend against new threats to their sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The list goes on: increasing the professionalization and modernization of their security forces, strengthening partner military integration with NATO, strengthening the ability to defend against cyber and hybrid warfare as well as conventional capabilities to counter Russian influence and aggression.
“This assistance demonstrates once again our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s future as a democratic, sovereign and independent state, as well as the security of our allies and partners across the region,” the State Department said.
23 million for Montenegro
The United States government will help modernize Montenegro’s military and strengthen its capabilities with an additional 23 million dollars, the Defense Ministry told RFE / RL.
“In light of the current developments in Montenegro, a special focus will be on strengthening capacities in the field of cyber defense. This assistance package is only one in a series of continuous US support to strengthening the defense sector of Montenegro,” stated the Ministry of defense of Montenegro.
Cyber attacks on the information network of the Government of Montenegro began at the end of August, when access to their websites and emails was disabled, as well as other institutions such as prosecutors offices, courts, cadaster, Revenue Agency and Customs. The consequences of cyber attacks on Montenegro have not yet been remedied.
“As an ally that shares the values of the United States and the alliance, Montenegro, as a responsible NATO member and the country that has made the most progress on the path to the EU, has agreed its foreign and security policy in relation to the Russian aggression against Ukraine,” the Ministry said. Montenegro has been a member of NATO since 2017.
The 23 million dollars will be earmarked for modernizing and equipping the Montenegrin Army, meeting NATO capability goals and strengthening cyber defense capabilities, the Ministry said.
Prior to the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the United States supported Montenegro through the implementation of capability objectives, conducting training and preparation of units for international missions and operations, strengthening the capabilities of civil-military readiness for emergency response, training of helicopter units, transfer of experience from the cyber domain, education and training at American military academies and schools.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, close cooperation between Montenegro and the United States has continued, with a focus on strengthening the resilience to the malignant influence of Russia and protecting peace and stability in this part of Europe.
According to the Ministry of defense, the US has so far invested tens of millions of dollars in the defense system of Montenegro, which was used to purchase new and modernize existing equipment.
The essence of the US initiative to help, as well as” awareness of the dangers that threaten Montenegro and other NATO allies and Partners”, says the Ministry of foreign affairs of Montenegro.
“Solidarity is one of the great powers of democracy. Whatever the funds for Montenegro, it is more important for us to know and their determination to help without any request,” the Ministry said earlier.
Help for North Macedonia
North Macedonia, a country in March 2020. becoming NATO’s thirtieth member, it is also on the list of those who will receive funding from the latest US allocation.
The decision to grant the aid “reflects the strategic partnership and alliance between North Macedonia and the United States. This support is for the modernization of the army of North Macedonia, but also for strengthening the security in the region and for the collective security of the NATO alliance as a whole,” the Macedonian Defense Ministry told RFE / RL.
Defense co-operation program between the two countries began in 1996. Through the International Military Assistance Program, the United States has donated 160 million worth of military equipment since the start of the program.
“USA the most important partner”
The Plan of the US President Joe Biden for the US to financially assist BiH and other European countries in the defense against Russian aggression confirms the correctness of our state and foreign policy, said the member of the presidency of BiH Zeljko Komsic.
“While the U.S. policy towards BiH may slightly change course, the commitment of the United States to military strengthening and the security of our country is unquestionable. That is why they were and will remain our most important partner,” said Komsic earlier.
He added that this commitment is not only an expression of American will, but also a response to BiH. “determination to combat Russian malignant influence in BiH and the region”. “Such military aid packages would have been impossible had we not openly and clearly opposed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and had we not, despite obstructions and denigration, even in Sarajevo, pushed out the action plan for NATO membership,” Komsic said.
Military assistance was confirmed by BiH defence minister Sifet Podzic 9. September in Sarajevo.
He pointed out that BiH applied to 13 projects from the “NATO Capacity Building Program” at the summit of Alliance member states and partners held in Madrid at the end of June.
“I can’t say exactly what we were looking for. Unfortunately, the state of BiH did not respond much in the procurement of new funds, although it was decided to give a few hundred million (km) for the modernization of the Armed Forces,” said Podzic.
The State defense minister added that the funds had to be sought from “their friends”
“We have 13 programs that we are developing these days and i hope that this will be officially confirmed very soon,” Podzic said.
The US Embassy in BiH said that the details of the assistance package will be known in the future, and reminded that the US has been providing significant support to the Armed Forces of BiH since 2005. “as part of our overall efforts to provide security assistance to NATO allies and partners.”
“Our goal is to increase the level of competence and interoperability of the Armed Forces of BiH with the US and NATO, to support OS BiH and improve their capacity to participate in global peacekeeping and emergency operations, and also to develop their capacity to respond to crisis situations within the country. Additional funding will continue to support these goals, ” the embassy said.
In July, the United States donated 23 million dollars in aid for the development of helicopter capacities of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They additionally allocated 500,000 dollars for the construction of a cyber security Information Center in the House of the Armed Forces of BiH.
Also, during July, 21 multi-purpose vehicles Humvee were donated by the United States to support the Armed Forces of BiH. These are multi-purpose vehicles worth 26 million dollars.
Serbia is the only one without new US military assistance
While Montenegro will receive 23 million, Serbia did not make the list of countries that will receive US military assistance.
“Serbia is the least favorable country towards NATO or the U.S. It is also widely known that Serbia has closer relations with the Kremlin, with Russia. So, I think the situation there is more complicated,” Lete commented about the possible reasons why Serbia will not get aid.
“I don’t think the United States did this intentionally,” he said. He also added that there is a possibility that this is a way in which “the United States is pressuring the Serbian authorities to abandon their pro-Russian policies.”
“We respect the Serbian Armed Forces and its leadership and deeply appreciate our military partnership.”
This is how the US Embassy in Belgrade responded to the question why Serbia is not on the list of countries that will receive new US military assistance.
In response, the embassy said that they value Serbia as ” their friend and partner, and depending on the decisions made by Serbia, as a possible ally in NATO.”
“The strength of this partnership was demonstrated this week with a visit to Serbia by Major General John Harris of the Ohio National Guard, to mark 16 years of cooperation through the National Guard state partnership program.”
In parallel with the news about the new military assistance, the news came that the president of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic 8th September, awarded US Major General John Harris, commander of the Ohio National Guard, who he said “contributed to strengthening the partnership of the Armed Forces of the two countries, which also encouraged the overall bilateral relations between Serbia and the US”.
A few days later after the session of the National Security Council on which the topic was Kosovo, Vucic referred to the announcement of military assistance to other countries of the Western Balkans.
“What is important is the fact for us, it is that the US will send a new tranche of military assistance for defense against Russia, but also to the environment, BiH, Croatia, Albania, Macedonia, but also Kosovo. So they say. I wonder what they’ll be looking for after that. As you can see, there is not only one country on this list, and that is Serbia,” Vucic said.
Only in 2020. for the year, US assistance to Serbia exceeded 40 million dollars, according to the US Embassy in Belgrade, stated in the response for RFE / RL.
The embassy pointed out that the United States is the largest bilateral donor of foreign aid to Serbia.
“Since 2001. we have provided nearly 1.2 billion dollars in assistance to address issues ranging from post-conflict recovery to economic growth to environmental protection and Serbia’s priceless cultural heritage.”
“Our partnership with Serbia has never been stronger,” the US Embassy said.
Serbia’s largest military aid from NATO member states
NATO member states are Serbia’s largest military donors, according to 2019. data from the Institute for European affairs. Among them is the United States.
Serbia is not currently negotiating NATO membership, and the Assembly was held in 2007. The resolution declared military neutrality “with respect to existing military alliances”.
Since 2006. Serbia is a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, which brings together countries that co-operate with the Alliance. The Partnership for Peace also includes all other European states that are not members of the alliance, except Cyprus.
Serbia, as a member of the Partnership for Peace program, conducted military exercises and training with the NATO alliance and used funds to reform the defense system.
Serbia’s individual action plan for partnership with the NATO alliance was adopted in 2015 and is the highest form of co-operation available to non-NATO countries.
What are further steps?
After the US secretary of state announced a new military aid package, it is due to be confirmed in Congress soon.
All this dynamic shows that the United States is re-engaging in the region, Lete says.
“But the European Union may not have engaged as it should, especially when it comes to enlargement,” he adds.
In a recent address to the European Parliament on the state of the EU, the President of the European Commission told the Western Balkan countries, along with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, that their future lies in the European Union.
“You are part of our family, your future is in our Union, and our Union is not complete without you,” Von der Leyen said.
In July, the EU granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate status, and recognized Georgia as a “prospective member.”
As Lete says, it is clear that the European Union has not paid the attention it deserves to the region.
“For the EU, it was some kind of forgotten corner of Europe. And now we see the consequences of that, tensions are rising again. The Balkans were basically a vacuum. The United States didn’t get that involved anymore. The EU was not interested. Now the purpose is to replenish this vacuum,” Lete says, adding that it is now apparent that the EU understands the mistake they have made towards the Balkans, and is now engaging more actively.
“We can see that both the EU and the US are re-engaging in the region, and this is a very positive signal,” Lete adds.
The war in Ukraine has been going on for seven months. In an invasion launched by Russia on February 24, thousands of civilians were killed and wounded, towns were destroyed, nuclear power plants at risk and 13 million Ukrainians were forced to flee their homes.