Analysis of the News “The West melted and sold Serbian tanks”

February 2022

As part of the Regional Initiative in Combating Disinformation “Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: Exposing Malign Influences through Watchdog Journalism”, we present you a new analysis of fake news and disinformation narratives.

The West melted and sold Serbian tanks: The Serbian Army has been systematically destroyed since 2000s

Srbija danas, one of the most influential internet portals close to the Serbian authorities, published the news at the beginning of February that the reforms of the Serbian Armed Forces carried out in the early 2000s meant its destruction “with the help of the United States of America, Great Britain, and other Western powers”. They state that the goal was to “destroy the army in every sense”.

The portal reports that weapons, military equipment, and personnel were being destroyed in the army. “At that time, Serbia cut, melted, and sold its weapons that were in working order or that would be restored into working condition through overhaul”. The text is based on a video clip published on the YouTube channel “Koridor 92” which, without citing specific sources, says that Serbian military equipment was destroyed during the rule of the “democrats”.

Although it is true that at the beginning of the 2000s, the reform of the Serbian Army began, as well as putting part of the armament out of use and the reduction of personnel in the Army, the goal was not its destruction, but the real need for essential reorganization.

According to security researchers, that process was started because there was not enough money for the Army. The armament inherited from the former Yugoslavia was outdated, and without spare parts, overhaul and maintenance was practically impossible. A mass army was too expensive, so the reform meant a reduction of personnel.

In 2004, the government first decided that the Armed Forces should be reduced to around 11,000 military personnel in peacetime and around 82,000 military personnel in wartime. The decision of the Government of Serbia and Montenegro in 2005 approved the sale of certain weapons, including 200 T-55 tanks.

In the document of the Ministry of Defense at that time that reached the public in 2021, it is also stated that 9 thousand Strela – 2M rockets and over 23 thousand small arms were destroyed. According to the words of military analyst Aleksandar Radić, the reform at the time preserved the maximum level of technology that could be maintained, and what was put out of use was rational from a military point of view.

This renews the narrative that the Serbian army was weakened during the 2000s under the influence of the West. In such texts it is inevitably mentioned that tanks were melted in Železara Smederevo (steel industry) at that time. Such news reappeared in the media after a part of the opposition nominated General Zdravko Ponoš, who at that time was the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, as a presidential candidate.

In addition to the Srbija danas portal, during this period, government representatives also declared for other pro-government tabloids that Ponoš was a man who “melted everything that could be melted.” The president of the Executive Board of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Darko Glišić said recently that Ponoš reduced the power of the Serbian army “to the level of a hunting society – which was better equipped and more ready for action”. Statements of this type were also made by the Minister of Finance Siniša Mali, as well as the MP Aleksandar Mirković.

Such accusations were first addressed to the former Minister of Defense Dragan Šutanovac. During 2019, Šutanovac wrote in an author’s text for Vreme that such claims make “every professional member of the Armed Forces laugh”, adding that in 2015 tanks that are claimed to have been melted down were apparently sold at public tenders by the Ministry of Defense.

In 2016, daily newspaper Politika also wrote that there is no evidence for the story about the melting of the tanks. The interlocutors of this newspaper then claimed that no heavy weapons were brought to “Železara”, and therefore not cut, and also that “such old steel magnets on the cranes of “Železara” would not be able to catch, lift and put in fillers”.

Competent authorities never conducted an investigation into the responsibility of the leadership at that time for the “destruction” of the Serbian Army. Such narratives are mentioned only in pro-government media and are used exclusively to discredit political opponents of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party.

Author: Aleksandar Ivković