Serbia buys 9 Airbus choppers after Russian jet donation

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia signed a deal on Thursday to buy nine light choppers from Airbus Helicopters amid tensions in the region triggered by Russia's donation of jet fighters to the Balkan state.

Serbia's Defense Ministry said the deal is for H145M twin-engine, multi-utility helicopters. The agreement includes spare parts and the training of pilots and maintenance crews for the aircraft, which will be used both by the military and police. Financial details were not disclosed.

Earlier this month, Russia announced it was donating six aging MiG-29 jet fighters to Serbia that need to be overhauled at a cost of over 180 million euros ($188 million).

Recent tensions between Serbia, a traditional Russian ally, and NATO-member Croatia have sparked a mini arms race between the two former Yugoslav nations, which were at war in the 1990s. Croatia said it is considering Western replacement for its old fighter fleet of MiG-21s.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said during his year-end press conference on Thursday that he is "not interested" by potential criticism from the West or Russia about the purchase of weapons from both sides.

"I am proud that we finally have an air force that will keep our sky free," Vucic said. "Serbia is now a much safer country than yesterday."

The Serbian arms deals came amid Russian efforts to prevent the Balkan states from aligning further with the West.

Many in Serbia are hostile toward NATO because of its bombing of the country in 1999 over a bloody government crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, something both Serbia and Russia reject.

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