By Ivana Jovanovic
Earlier this month in Belgrade, representatives of Bulgaria and Serbia signed their annual plan for bilateral military co-operation. The comprehensive document covers defence-related aspects of health, education, police and geography, as well as a new segment on military recreation, including family, tourists, visits by Serbian military officials to Bulgaria, and vice versa.
Military co-operation between Bulgaria and Serbia dates from 1996, when the framework agreement on military co-operation was signed, and re-signed in 2007 after Serbia and Montenegro split. This collaboration has been marked by continued growth ever since.
According to Bulgaria’s defence attaché in Belgrade, Lieutenant Colonel Emil Sipocki, the co-operation plan for last year expanded by more than 130%, and the same is expected for this year.
Already this year, the neighbours have collaborated on nearly 30 military activities.
Branislav Djordjevic, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at the Belgrade Academy for Diplomacy and Security, told SETimes that defence co-operation with neighbouring countries is inevitable, given the same or similar geopolitical position, threats and challenges.
“The relationship between Serbia and Bulgaria in the field of defence is evidence of how negative historical legacy can be overcome. [Another] good example of this is relation of Germany and France,” Djordjevic said.
He said the biggest benefit of this co-operation is the fact that Bulgaria is a member of NATO and that Serbia, as a member of the Partnership for Peace Programme, is obligated to participate in its activities, thereby acquiring considerable experience.
Bilateral co-operation, in turn, becomes multilateral. For example, the Bulgarian Army invited Serbia’s to participate in joint exercises with Bulgarian and US troops in the EUCOM Black Sea Rotation Force project that was conducted in Bulgaria.
Also, during Bulgaria’s chairmanship of the Southeast European Defence Ministerial Process, Serbia became a full member.
Last year, Bulgaria donated software to Serbia for codification in the defence system, leading to adherence with NATO and EU standards.
“We hope that we have contributed to accomplishing the highest standards by Serbia, which includes the fulfillment of conditions for the imminent entry of Serbia into the European Defence Agency,” Sipocki told SETimes.
The most important military exercise involving the two air forces is the live shooting at the Sabla training facility in Bulgaria. Sabla has been visited by state and military leaders of both countries.
Zanko Spasov, 62, a Bulgarian national who lives in Nis, said that good military relations between the neighbors raises the comfort level.
“When you know that your people co-operate with the country where you live, you have more safety; you feel protected. I am really encouraged with this annual plan because I am sure there will not be a war,” Spasov told SETimes.