Behind the Political Frontlines: Western Balkans Military Support for Ukraine

Omar Memišević

Executive summary

The Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine polarized the Western Balkans. While some countries joined the West in condemnation of the invasion, some decided to remain silent, to not oppose Russian narratives. The reactions to the invasion itself highlighted the fact that Russian malign influence in the Western Balkans has gained footing. However, as the Ukrainian defenders depleted their supplies, as well as the donations from the West, increased calls for Western Balkans-made weapons and artillery garnered some attention. In February 2024, during the Ukraine-Southeastern Europe Summit in Tirana, President Zelenskyy proposed a joint arms production between Ukraine and the Western Balkans. Should this approach become policy, the Western Balkans would benefit from the fresh capital and new markets, while Ukraine would benefit from the Western Balkans‘ infrastructure, know-how and attested experience in the production of the much-needed hardware. This would also cut out the countless middlemen that now operate to bring the Western Balkans arms to Ukraine, as the regional weapons have already been used by Ukraine, either through donations or through third-party exports . So far, Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro have donated their surplus of Cold War-era stockpiles of artillery shells and artillery pieces, including APCs and infantry equipment. Kosovo on the other hand has allocated funds for humanitarian efforts, is training Ukrainian soldiers, and is a part of other international mechanisms of aid. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia as the regional leaders in the production of artillery pieces and shells, have seen their weapons used by the Ukrainian Army, procured through third-party exports.

President Zelenskyy’s proposition as well as the calls by regional experts for more engagement in the arms context would benefit the Western Balkans and Ukraine on several levels and should be done through EU-facilitated programs to bolster production capabilities by bringing capital investments for the countries in the region, while at the same time helping Ukraine defend itself.

„The reactions to the invasion itself highlighted the fact that Russian malign influence in the Western Balkans has gained footing.“

T-72MS tanks that Russia donated to Serbia: Photo: Serbian Ministry of Defense

From Political Divisions to Potential Joint Arms Production with Ukraine

The impact of the February 2022 Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine echoed in the Western Balkans as well. This was seen in the rise of anti-Western disinformation campaigns, Russian support for some regional political actors working to undermine the democratic process in their respective countries, challenges to regional security, and the challenge of resilience to foreign malign influence. While the West rallied behind the Ukrainian cause by introducing a comprehensive set of economic and political sanctions against the regime in Moscow and providing much-needed financial and military aid to Ukraine, the internal divisions in the Western Balkans came to the surface. This was best seen in the failure of some Western Balkan countries to introduce sanctions on Russia and the mass protests in Belgrade supporting the Russian war efforts. Additionally, the Russian war in Ukraine, combined with its hybrid activities in the region, sparked internal political division in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Montenegro. The latter, however, together with two other NATO members from the region North Macedonia and Albania, joined the rest of the Alliance in condemning the invasion. The three countries also pledged their military support to Ukraine in the defence effort and support for the country’s EU membership process. Kosovo’s position, on the other hand, was quite challenging as the country’s bilateral relations hindered more substantial support for Ukraine on the international scene but allowed the country to become a part of other support mechanisms.

The military-industrial complex of the region, noted for its ability to produce both NATO and Soviet standard munitions, quickly came into the public limelight for its potential to supply Ukraine (or the West) with much-needed hardware at a relatively low price. The former Communist regimes in the region aimed to create self-sufficient militaries and invested substantial resources in companies producing almost anything needed to equip their militaries. In practice, this means that each of the regional countries is left with the know-how and the infrastructure for the production and maintenance of artillery shells, small arms ammunition, vehicles, or any other hardware Ukraine desperately needs. In this sense, Bosnia and Herzegovina is the regional leader in production capabilities, followed closely by Serbia and Albania. However, as this article will showcase, almost all of the region, except the three NATO member states (Montenegro, Albania, and North Macedonia), have either prohibited arms exports to war zones or simply don’t have the capacity for the production of military hardware in the number that Ukraine needs, without investments from the West.

On the other hand, the two-year-long war in Ukraine has seen the presence of Western Balkan-made weapons in Ukraine, likely imported through third parties, bypassing national legislation. Due to the production standards of the said weapons, there is no doubt the Ukrainian military is benefiting from these imports, as the weapons imported have been seen in use by the Ukrainian Army on several occasions since the beginning of the war. However, any analysis of the imports, including a substantial overview of Western Balkans-made hardware in use in Ukraine, is still not seen.

On several occasions, the experts in some countries of the region have called for a deeper involvement of national arms companies, whether directly, through a change in the national legal framework, or through sale to third parties within NATO, which have committed to support Ukraine on their own accord. This official change in policy has yet to happen. Additionally, several overlapping challenges are observed when researching the topic. One of them was the chronic lack of transparency in the regional defence budgets, which included any donations made to foreign countries. More so, some countries in the region have prohibited direct export of weapons to war zones or otherwise face a politically challenging climate nationally, which has impeded a more open support for Ukraine.

During the second Ukraine-Southeastern Europe Summit in Tirana, in late February 2024, President Zelenskyy pitched the idea of joint arms production between Ukraine and the Western Balkans for use in Ukraine. This proposal, based on the same arrangement Ukraine had with the U.S. and UK companies in 2022 and 2023, would benefit from the know-how and infrastructure of the former communist countries, while the regional arms companies would benefit from the fresh investments in a somewhat ageing infrastructure.

While some Western Balkan-made weapons have made their way to the Ukrainian battlefield, the true scope and extent of it are not known, as most of these made their way to Ukraine through sales to third parties or donations. In this sense, the list compiled in this article is based on social media activities, think tank research, and national media outlets in the Western Balkans and is by no means definite.

„On the other hand, the two-year-long war in Ukraine has seen the presence of Western Balkan-made weapons in Ukraine, likely imported through third parties, bypassing national legislation.“


Over two years, Albania has sent  22 US-made International M1224 MaxxPro MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles to Ukraine.“


Ukraine and Albania have more than 100-year-long diplomatic relations, stemming from the Interbellum. In the early stages of the invasion of Ukraine, Albania joined NATO in condemning Russian policies while allowing Ukrainian refugees visa-free stay, changing the street in Tirana where the embassy of Russia is to Free Ukraine Street. Albania also joined in on the sanctions against Russia and had directly military aid to Ukraine. As part of the NATO initiative, Albania has a contingent in Latvia as part of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence.

Over two years, Albania has sent 22 US-made International M1224 MaxxPro MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles to Ukraine. These vehicles, fitted with machine guns, have so far been observed in frontline fighting positions, where their thick armour is proving useful in protecting Ukrainian defenders against Russian units.

Additionally, Chinese-made 7.62mm small arms sounds as well as 60mm Type 63 mortar rounds have been seen in the theatre, as well as in-house-made 82mm mortar rounds. The former rounds, likely a surplus from the Hoxha-era stockpiles bought from China, have been in use by the Ukrainian forces since at least May 2022 by Ukrainian infantry for indirect fire support, while the latter mortar rounds are NATO-standard munitions. These have seen wide use in Ukraine, coupled with M69 and M69A 82mm mortars made in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

According to some estimates, between the 1970s to 1990s, BiH production in the defence sector amounted to around 50% of the overall Yugoslav production per annum. This production was and still is focusing mostly on artillery pieces and munitions and is now mostly export-oriented. The export of any sort of weapons, munitions, or other military hardware produced in Bosnia and Herzegovina is regulated by the “Law on external arms movement, military hardware, and other goods with extraordinary purpose” and under several provisions of the said law, any trade is done with the permission of the State Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations. Given the 2015 prohibition of arms sale to warzones, there has been no official trade, donations, or any other handouts of BiH-made military hardware to Ukraine so far. Sale to third parties, however, has happened, as BiH-made weapons are being exported to NATO countries, mainly to the US, Bulgaria, and other European allies, with a total worth of $130 million in 2023.

In essence, while there are no official arms exports or donations to Ukraine, BiH-made shells and mortars have been in use by the Ukrainian forces. An X (fmr. Twitter) post from Weapons Illustrated included a video of artillery 120mm M62P3 mortar shells made by PRETIS, a Sarajevo company specializing in ammunition production. One of the biggest BiH producers, the company is owned by UNIS Group, a government-owned consortium of several arms manufacturers. The Group also owns an ammunitions factory in Konjic called IGMAN, a production of artillery pieces in Novi Travnik called BNT TMiH, an optics production in Sarajevo called ZRAK, a fuses and grenades factory in Bugojno called BINAS, and a protective gear factory in Hadžići, called TRZ.

In November 2022, the Ukrainian Weapons Tracker posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers unpacking M69A 82mm mortars made by Bratstvo from Novi Travnik (BNT TMiH), a military hardware company specializing in the production of large and small calibre artillery pieces, including mortars, and self-propelled howitzers. There are at least a dozen operators of PRETIS shells and the BNT TMiH M69A mortars both in NATO member countries and other nations, so the sale to the Ukrainian Army probably occurred through third-party sales or donations. As reported by several major news outlets, the US and other countries have been buying NATO and Soviet-standard artillery from countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Romania to be donated to Ukraine. While Ukraine uses Western weapons, it still relies heavily on Soviet-made weapons, where only a handful of countries outside of Russia still make the hardware with that standard, BiH being one of them. In November 2022, the New York Times published an article about Martin Zlatev, who managed to circumvent the national legal frameworks of several countries to sell munitions, artillery pieces, and machine guns to Ukraine for a total worth of $30 million. A simple Google search of Zlatev yields no results except the said article, which was also picked up by several BiH news outlets and published under the pretence that BiH companies are on the list of potential sellers of weapons to middlemen for the end use in Ukraine.

Despite Ukrainian pushes made during the February 2024 Ukraine-Southeastern Europe Summit for additional Western Balkans-made weapons, in the foreseeable future, there will probably be no shift in BiH policies when it comes to donations or official export of weapons or equipment to Ukraine, even though the potential for more production and export exists. This is mainly because the current Minister of Foreign Trade, the ministry in charge of exports in general, is run by Staša Košarac, a member of SNSD, the main pro-Russian political party in the country, in addition to the pro-Russian orientation of Republika Srpska, one of two entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina that has de facto a veto over some policy-making decisions of the country.

Despite Ukrainian pushes made during the February 2024 Ukraine-Southeastern Europe Summit for additional Western Balkans-made weapons, in the foreseeable future, there will probably be no shift in BiH policies when it comes to donations or official export of weapons or equipment to Ukraine.“


„Kosovo is part of the UK-led Operation Interflex, an international coalition aimed at training the Ukrainian Army, to which Kosovo has committed 26 instructors.“


Given the Ukrainian position as a non-recognizer of Kosovo’s independence and Kosovo’s lack of membership in international cooperation fora like NATO or the EU, in addition to the fact that most of the arms industry of Kosovo was destroyed during the 1990s, and for various reasons was never rebuilt, it proved to be rather difficult for Kosovo to send military aid to Ukraine. However, while there are no weapons from Kosovo in Ukraine, political support for the Ukrainian cause and humanitarian aid was not lacking from Kosovo’s side. This is partly due to the above-average support for Western policies, which in 2023 was standing at 95%.

In March 2022, the Kosovo government allocated some $100.000 for humanitarian aid packages to be delivered to Ukraine. Additionally, Kosovo committed to accepting up to 5000 refugees from Ukraine in a move to support the G7 declaration in 2023. However, on a more security-related note, Kosovo is part of the UK-led Operation Interflex, an international coalition aimed at training the Ukrainian Army, to which Kosovo has committed 26 instructors. Up to this date, there is a lack of data on where the instructors were sent in Ukraine in particular, but some 120 Ukrainian soldiers are being trained in Kosovo in demining as part of a Mine Action & Training (MAT) Kosovo work in Peja.

On the other hand, the issue of non-recognition remains one of the biggest bilateral challenges, but the Ukrainian Ambassador to Albania has acknowledged that Kyiv is reconsidering its stance. This was also confirmed by a public statement from Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani following the Ukraine-Southeastern Europe Summit in Tirana.


As a NATO member, Montenegro joined the Alliance and the Western countries in condemning the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and quickly offered both political support and military assistance either bilaterally or through NATO-established mechanisms. Montenegro additionally accepted some 65.000 refugees from Ukraine.

According to government sources, Montenegro has sent military aid to Ukraine in several instalments so far. The first instalment consisted of some 7.000 field rations, 500 combat helmets, 300 tactical vests, and 600 Kevlar vests. Additionally, Montenegro donated some 600 rounds of 60 mm and 82 mm mortar shells and 226 pieces of 9K32 Strela-2Ms, Soviet-made MANPADS seen in wide use in Ukraine in combatting low-flying targets. The latter two systems are likely a surplus leftover from Yugoslav-era stockpiles that Montenegro inherited following its independence.

Using its decommissioned naval infrastructure, Montenegro also donated 759 pieces of 57×438 mm shells used primarily by Bofors 57 mm naval automatic gun L/70, which were fitted on now decommissioned Končar class missile boats. Although primarily designed for Bofors naval guns, these shells can be fired from Soviet-made 57 mm anti-aircraft guns, which are still widely used in the Ukrainian Army. More so, artillery shells in various calibres have been donated to the Ukrainian cause in a total amount of 15.000 pieces of 57 mm and 76 mm shells. The shells were designed for the AK-726 naval gun that used to be fitted on now-decommissioned Yugoslav-made Split and Kotor class patrol boats but were usable via other platforms. Additionally, 7.964 rounds of 57 mm ammunition for UB-16 and UB-32 rocket pods and 2.3 million pieces of 7,62 mm ammunition, including spare parts for Soviet-era Mi-8 transport helicopters, were also sent.

Over the two-year-long course of the war, Montenegro has sent some $10 million in donations intended for the Ukrainian Army, including committing 11% of the annual defence budget in 2022 for donations to Ukraine. One significant benefit of the donations is the fact that they mostly use the Soviet-era standard, which is the same one as most of the weapons Ukraine are using.

„Over the two-year-long course of the war, Montenegro has sent some $10 million in donations intended for the Ukrainian Army, including committing 11% of the annual defence budget in 2022 for donations to Ukraine.“


„Since February 2022, North Macedonia has become one of the biggest Western Balkan donors to Ukraine.“

North Macedonia

Since February 2022, North Macedonia has become one of the biggest Western Balkan donors to Ukraine. The surplus it has from the Yugoslav era and the weapons and equipment labelled as obsolete during the ongoing restructuring of the Army of the Republic of North Macedonia have been handed out to Ukraine in at least ten instalments. In July 2022, North Macedonia donated around 30 pieces of T-72 Soviet-era main battle tanks (including unknown quantities of 125 mm tank rounds), as well as 12 Mi-24 Soviet-era attack helicopters and four SU-25S ground attack jets with spare parts and unknown quantities of 30 mm ammunition for the jets’ guns, all of which were bought from Ukraine during the 2001 insurgency in Macedonia, when the members of the Albanian ethnic minority rebelled against the central government in Skopje. The SU-25S jets have been obsolete for around a decade now and are considered non-airworthy, while satellite images suggest they were donated in 2022 for spare parts, as the Ukrainian Air Force has lost several of the same aircraft to Russian air defences.

Additionally, the country donated an unknown number of R-60 MK short-range air-to-air missiles in 2022, S-13 rocket pods (with an unknown number of 122 mm S-13 rockets), B-8 rocket pods (with an unknown number of 80 mm S-8 rockets), and UB-32 rocket pods (with an unknown number of 57 mm S-5 rockets), all of which are intended for the already donated aircraft, which includes an unknown number of other aviation bombs of undisclosed calibres. More so, the surplus of Yugoslav-made M80 “Zolja” rocket-propelled grenade launchers was utilized for the Ukrainian cause. The RPG has proven its track record against Russian targets on several occasions now.

Besides the donated hardware, North Macedonia has also donated an undisclosed number of various assault rifles, small arms, and ammunition, the former of which included the Serbian-made Yugoslav-era M70 assault rifle. North Macedonia also trains Ukrainian soldiers, which makes the country the third Balkan nation to do so on its soil, after Kosovo and Romania. The trainings are conducted in North Macedonian Army facilities, but the nature of the trainings themselves is classified.


Serbia remains the only openly pro-Russian country in the region. The official foreign policy of Belgrade is based on military neutrality and “the four pillars”, meaning the cooperation with Brussels, Washington D.C., Moscow, and Beijing, and as such, the country is often seen as balancing its relations between these four actors. This was best seen in the early days of the invasion of Ukraine when Serbia chose not to impose sanctions against Russia and to not arm Ukraine. The country did, however, in March 2023, send equipment needed for electrical grid reconstruction in Ukraine, making it the only country in the region to do so. Serbia has also consistently procured equipment for its arming program from Russia, including a set of six MiG-29 jets in 2017 and Repellent-1 anti-drone systems in 2024.

Officially, Serbia does not export any weapons to either Russia or Ukraine, but the weapons made by Zastava, a Serbian company specializing in small arms and rifle production, EDePro, Krušik, and others have been seen in use by the Ukrainian forces. In February 2023, pictures posted on X (fmr. Twitter) by the Ukrainian Weapons Tracker showed a shipment of Serbian-made 122mm Grad surface-to-surface rockets made by Krušik. It was later reported that Krušik sold the rockets to SOFAG, a Serbian company owned by a daughter of U.S.-sanctioned Slobodan Tešić, which sold it to Canadian JNJ Company. The rockets would then be sold to Turkish Arca Savunma Sanayi Ticaret Company, which in turn would change the end-user certificate and transfer them to Slovak MSM Nováky company, which then transferred the missiles to the Canadian company Global Ordnance Trading Company, which has a supply agreement with the Ukrainian Defence Ministry. Due to the prohibition of exports to either Russia or Ukraine, the Serbian government requires all buyers to sign the end-user certificate which enables the government to conduct the sale. The Slovak MSM Nováky Company (now VOP Nováky) is part of this trail of delivery to Ukraine. According to company sources, the territory of Slovakia is used to deliver weapons to Ukraine through the company armoury in the Považie region. This was also confirmed by the Ministry of Economy Spokesperson Mária Pavlusík.

EDePro-made rockets have also been spotted in Ukraine, the publishing of which caused a public outcry in Serbia, which caused the company to rebuff the validity of the claims. More so, in September 2023, X (fmr. Twitter) user Ukrainian Weapons Tracker posted a picture of a M93P1 30 mm HE grenade for AGS-17 automatic grenade launchers produced by Sloboda, a company from Čačak, with the claims that the company has tried to hide the true origins of the grenades by changing of the factory code. The shipment of the grenades was likely made through third-party sales from Sloboda, with some sources claiming that all of the contingents were exported through sales to Turkey through Arca Savunma Sanayi Ticaret Company.

However, in April 2023, a leaked Pentagon document featured a list of European countries’ responses to Ukrainian requests, in which Serbia was listed as one of the countries that have already sold weapons or are willing to otherwise support the Ukrainian military in the future. The validity of the document has not been proven up to this day, but it has prompted the Serbian Defense Minister Miloš Vučević and Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić to deny any such activities or any change in Serbian policy towards the war.

It was suggested by some Western outlets that the weapons sent to Ukraine from Serbia resulted in a visible shift in the US approach to Serbia in terms of the negotiations with Kosovo.

„Officially, Serbia does not export any weapons to either Russia or Ukraine, but the weapons made by Zastava, a Serbian company specializing in small arms and rifle production, EDePro, Krušik, and others have been seen in use by the Ukrainian forces.“
„The proximity of the Western Balkans to Ukraine and Central Europe makes it an ideal region for the production of much-needed arms for Ukraine because of both ease of transport to Ukraine and a low-price workforce. „


The Western Balkans face a multi-faceted threat from Russia, either through its allies in the region or through hybrid threats coming from Russia itself. The region is also faced with several divisive elements stemming from the 1990s, which is challenging regional cooperation efforts, reconciliation, and the Euro-Atlantic future of the region. On the other hand, Ukraine is faced with both hybrid threats and a direct threat to its survival as we know it. Arming Ukraine as much as it is needed is important. This was underlined by the region’s NATO members and by President Zelenskyy himself during the February 2024 Ukraine-Southeastern Europe Summit in Tirana. The facts of the case are that Ukraine needs artillery and other hardware, and the Balkans can help. The 155 mm artillery shells Ukraine needs are being produced by several companies in the region, especially by BiH companies like PRETIS and Binas. Already, there is a significant number of weapons and munitions made in the Western Balkans, especially from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia in Ukraine, done almost exclusively through exports and sales to third parties.

The proximity of the Western Balkans to Ukraine and Central Europe makes it an ideal region for the production of much-needed arms for Ukraine because of both ease of transport to Ukraine and a low-price workforce. What is much needed for this potential to materialize is some form of capital investments in the region from the NATO or the EU countries, which would focus mostly on increasing production capabilities in terms of products produced in a day. These investments would focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia, as the two largest producers in the region, but could also focus on the reconstruction of arms industry facilities in Kosovo. This can be done through the EU-sponsored Peace Facility Programme, of which the Western Balkan countries are eligible. In this way, Western Balkans can help Ukraine fight the war while providing long-term jobs and security within the six regional countries, as well as combatting Russian malign influence. This would also be an opportunity to further the friendly relations between Ukraine and the region while facilitating experience exchange and economic cooperation.


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         Omar Memišević is a Research Fellow at the Strategic Analysis Think Tank.

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