Oct. 28 (UPI) -- As Serbia and Russia conduct joint military exercises in which the Russian S-400 missile system is deployed, NATO announced its respect for the union.
The long-range S-400 and the short-range Pantsir-S battery systems are being used in the "Slavic Shield 2019" exercise, testing the Russian and Serbian militaries to defend against air attacks.
Serbia said at the outset of the exercise that Slavic Shield "will become traditional, and in the coming time we will train and learn how to defend our sky's freedom together."
In a statement on Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said the Pantsir-S system, installed at the Batajnica military base near the Serbian capital of Belgrade, successfully destroyed two ground and two aerial targets.
It is the first time that an S-400 battalion and a Pantsir-S battery have appeared in military drills outside Russia, the ministry said, adding that the S-400 will be dismantled and returned to Russia when the six-day exercise concludes on Tuesday. A previous stage of combat drills was held in September in Russia's nearby Astrakhan region. Additional exercises were held there this week.
Serbia is a partner of NATO but not a member, and NATO has noted that Serbia has the right to make sovereign decisions about its self defense. Serbia maintains strong economic relations with Russia and has not joined sanctions against Russia by Western nations over Russia's involvement in Ukraine.
A NATO statement in March noted that "Serbia is deepening its political dialogue and cooperation with NATO on issues of common interest, with an important focus on support for democratic, institutional and defense reforms. Unlike other Western Balkan partners, Serbia does not aspire to join the Alliance."