Through a notable turn of events, Serbia has acquired old Russian-made Mil Mi-35 attack helicopters that were previously under the ownership of Cyprus.
The Mil Mi-35P helicopters were not strangers to issues. Before the EU sanctions against Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine came into play, these helicopters were already experiencing maintenance difficulties. At this point, Cyprus is an EU member and it's posing a challenge to upkeep this equipment, in addition to other Russian military hardware including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and air defense systems formerly held by its National Guard.
In 2021, Cyprus made a decision to retire its 11 remaining functional helicopters. Several reasons led to this outcome. These helicopters were a high expense to maintain, costing €100 million over ten years. They were also incompatible with the National Guard's duties. Furthermore, engaging in business dealings with Russia's arms industry, as enabled by these helicopters, risked attracting US sanctions under the CAATSA law.
Serbia promptly demonstrated interest in the Mi-35P helicopters. The talks for no less than five such units were concluded in January. A transaction was structured that reportedly implicates Cyprus procuring 24 “Nora” howitzers and 8 “Milos” light armored vehicles from Serbia.
The Serbian military has gone on record stating that this procurement will give birth to a formidable combat helicopter squadron. A trio of Antonov AN-124-100 flights from Cyprus to Serbia were used to transport these helicopters. Contrary to initial reports, suggestions have been made that the number of helicopters transferred amounted to 11, instead of the first reported 5.
As part of the upgrading efforts, Cyprus has commissioned Airbus Helicopters to deliver six H145M helicopters as substitutes. The first H145M helicopters are scheduled for delivery to the Cyprus National Guard in March 2024. A modern era beckons for the National guard's air wing.