The war in Ukraine has prompted Iran to expand its arms market with Russia. The Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has taken advantage of the instability in the region to benefit its country in the proliferation of military exchanges. Moscow, one of the most important, was the first with which they intensified, but other Balkan countries could follow. Serbia and Armenia, with their respective regional conflicts, look to Tehran for opportunities to reach agreements that could strengthen their militaries.
There is significant concern among experts about a possible arms race in Eastern Europe that could lead to an escalation of tension. Indeed, they point to cyber-attacks by Iran on some NATO allies as it moves closer to Serbia. Both Serbia and Armenia would be willing to acquire Iranian weaponry - especially the drones that proved effective in Russia's invasion of Ukraine - while some that also seem to be aiming for an increase in military assets, such as Croatia, Albania and Bosnia, prefer to look for Western alternatives.
Belgrade and Zagreb are both leading the arms race. In the case of the Serbs, the tension with Kosovo has not diminished and, although Serbia has its own drone programme, they would be interested in acquiring Iranian drones due to their low cost and proven performance on Ukrainian territory. Indeed, Iran would be willing to support the Serbian manufacturing programme in order to make it cheaper.
The deal looks attractive for both sides. On the one hand, the Iranians strengthen their influence in the region and show Tehran's intention to take advantage of turbulent situations, as it has already started to do with the Kremlin. Now, the Balkans and the Caucasus could be its new targets in its attempt to counter Western and Turkish influence. On the other hand, Serbia is going through a delicate moment with its Kosovar neighbour - without losing sight of Bosnia and Herzegovina's actions. Hence, if the deal comes to fruition, Belgrade will become the largest military drone operator in the Balkans.
This move is worrying for several reasons. One is that Serbia could be preparing an offensive against Kosovo - again without taking its eye off Bosnia and Herzegovina - and the acquisition of this weaponry indicates that the losses it could inflict on its adversary would be very heavy. Belgrade has intensified its relations with non-Western countries in recent years, so it would have no problem substantially improving its ties with Iran, especially given that Russia has been one of its largest arms suppliers.
In 2021, Serbia purchased several Russian Mikoyan MiG-29 aircraft, Mi-35 and Mi-17 helicopters, T-72MS tanks and Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft systems from Moscow. And in 2022, they reached an agreement with China for the purchase of CH-92 armed drones and anti-aircraft missiles. What's more, the intention of Aleksandar Vučić's country was to acquire more Chinese technology, which it hopes to do later this year. However, what really worries observers is that it is Iran that will establish itself as a major arms supplier to Eastern European countries.