BELGRADE --- The Russian Defense Ministry is planning to open an office in Serbia as Moscow pushes to expand military ties with its traditional Balkan ally.
Serbia's Defense Ministry said on October 20 that "legal proceedings" have been launched that would allow an agreement between the two countries on the opening of a Russian Defense Ministry mission in the country.
The goal of the office would be to "provide support and faster resolution of issues related to military-technical assistance, military, and military-technical cooperation," it said in a statement.
The Russian government has authorized the Defense Ministry to open such an office, according to an order dated October 15 and signed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.
Serbia has been seeking to join the European Union while maintaining close military ties with its Slavic ally Russia.
Serbia, which claims military neutrality, is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program but has pledged to stay out of the Western military alliance.
Russia has supplied Serbia with warplanes, helicopter gunships, antiaircraft systems, and armored vehicles in recent years.
On October 10, The Serbian military staged a training exercise that demonstrated combat use of Russian-made weapons such as the Pantsir antiaircraft system.
In September, Serbia suspended military drills with foreign troops for six months, citing pressure from the European Union to withdraw from joint exercises with Russia and Belarus.