Russia denies it plans military presence in Serbia

Associated Press 
2010-02-17 11:08 PM 


Russia's minister for emergency situations said Wednesday his country does not 
plan to set up a military base in Serbia that could spy on a planned U.S. 
missile shield to be deployed in neighboring countries.

Sergey Shoigu said such reports in Serbian and foreign media are "complete 

The reports began in October when it was announced during Russian President 
Dmitry Medvedev's visit that the Kremlin and Belgrade had agreed to form a 
joint "emergency response center" at an airport in the central Serbian city of 

Shoigu said the center will house emergency relief experts and their equipment, 
and is intended to fight major forest fires, flooding, earthquakes and other 
natural disasters. He said the center will offer emergency relief aid 
throughout the Balkans.

But, some military experts have said the base would be ideally located to spy 
on neighboring Romania and Bulgaria, where an U.S. anti-ballistic missile 
interceptors are likely to be installed as part of the revamped U.S. missile 
shield. It could also serve as an observation post for NATO activities in 
neighboring Kosovo.

That would be Kremlin's first military base since the end of the cold war in 
Europe, and could represent a response to NATO's rapid expansion in the Balkan 
region. It would also mean that Serbia _ which was never a member of any 
military alliance _ would breach its declared military neutrality.

Fueling the media speculation was an announcement that the center will be run 
by Russia's powerful ministry for emergency situations, an organization that 
includes parts of the country's armed security services.

"I am inviting everybody, this will not be a closed object, it will be a fully 
open location, a humanitarian center," Shoigu said. "Whoever has any doubts can 
come and check, but it would be good if they would apologize once they take a 

Officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels said they were unaware of any plans 
to build an emergency response center by Serbia or Russia. But as members of 
the alliance's outreach Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, both countries had 
the right to cooperate in disaster relief and other emergency response, they 

"We welcome member nations collaborating on such measures, which are part and 
parcel of the PfP program," said an official who could not be identified 
according to standing regulations.


Associated Press writers Jovana Gec in Belgrade and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels 
contributed to this report.


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