France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) welcomes Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic upon his arrival at Elysee Palace on April 8, 2024 in Paris, France. (Photo by Christian Liewig – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

BELFAST — Serbia soon plans on ordering 12 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault after its president, Aleksandar Vucic, held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron as well as senior official from the French manufacturer during a two-day state visit to France.

In a statement posted on the Serbian president’s website Vucic said, “The signing of the contract can be expected in approximately two months, with the presence of the President of France,” according to an online translation.

He added,”We had a meeting with Dassault group about [Rafale] but also about other types of cooperation. We will also have the signing of a contract that will significantly improve the security of our country.”

Local media reported that the talks between Vucic and Macron focused on defense, energy and technology. The Serbian Ministry of Defence and Dassault declined to comment about the Rafale order.

Signs of a breakthrough on the deal come two years after reports first emerged from French media that Serbia was interested in acquiring six aircraft from Dassault.

A French Air Force Rafale F3R fighter jet on display at the Dubai Air Show (Breaking Defense)

An agreement would represent a significant shift in the Serbian Air Force — a move to modern Western fighters as it divests of Soviet-era fighter jets, including MiG-21 and MiG-29 platforms. The Serbian Armed Forces operate a wide range of other Russian and Chinese equipment, including Pantsir S-1, S-125M and FK-3 Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems, according to its website.

Serbia also operates a fleet of six Chinese CH-92A tactical armed drones after deliveries were first made in 2020, together with a deal for 18 missiles from Beijing.

Vucic is a firm supporter of China’s Belt and Road initiative and travelled to Beijing last year to sign a free trade agreement in collaboration with Chinese President Xi Jinping, describing the move as a “big step forward,” according to Politico.

At a political and military level, Serbia continues to be embroiled in conflict with Kosovo, a regional dispute in southeastern Europe that traces its problems back to the breakup of Yugoslavia. Vucic was accused last year by Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti of ordering an attack in Northern Kosovo in an attempt to start a war, Al Jazeera reported.

If a Rafale contract is signed, Serbia will become the eighth export customer behind Croatia, Egypt, Greece, India, Indonesia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Dassault noted in its 2023 annual report [PDF], published last month, that by the end of 2023 it had a backlog of 141 Rafale export planes in addition to 70 for France. The backlog has since increased with “entry into force” in January 2024 of a third batch of 18 aircraft for Indonesia.

France formally approved an order for an additional 42 jets in December 2023, as part of the country’s new multiyear Military Procurement Law program.