14:10 Nov. 2, 2016
NATO is holding exercises in Montenegro, while Russia prepares for joint drills in Serbia
NATO has begun civil defence exercise in Montenegro on Monday, involving Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC), the BBC reports.
With 680 participants from 32 NATO and partner nations, the four-day drills are aimed to practise for a major flood or chemical emergency in the Balkan country. Amid the Montenegro training, Russia is preparing for the joint exercises in Serbia, involving over 150 paratroopers.
The "Slavic Brotherhood 2016" drills start on Wednesday and also include units from Belarus, the agency adds.
Serbia is traditionally considered the most pro-Russian country in the region, given its centuries-long ties with Russia. NATO's bombing of Serbia and Montenegro in 1999 and its intervention in Kosovo left a legacy of bitterness among Serb nationalists. Russia has forged close ties with some of them, reviving centuries-old pan-Slavic patriotism, the BBC reminds.
Serbia has, nevertheless, increased ties with NATO over the years, including membership of the alliance's Partnership for Peace programme.
There have also been arrests in Montenegro and Serbia over a suspected plot to topple outgoing Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. In addition, a large arms cache was found near the family home of Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic on Saturday. There are suspicions that the arms were to be used in an assassination attempt against Mr Vucic, a pro-EU reformer, though he himself played down that theory.
Read more Russia seeks new allies in Balkan region
In Montenegro, officials have accused Russia of plotting against Mr Djukanovic, the BBC says. The country is expected to join NATO as early as next year, with EU membership likely before 2020. But despite this, Russia maintains its ability for its expansion in the region and disapproves Montenegro's Euro-Atlantic drift.
Now the NATO-Russia proxy rivalry has shifted to the Balkans and the opposing sides holding military exercises with their local allies, the article says.