Parties Divided over Expulsion of Russian Diplomat

By 27 March 2018

ZAGREB, March 27, 2018 - The decision to expel a Russian diplomat from Croatia was a unanimous foreign policy decision, Ivan Vrdoljak, leader of the Croatian People's Party (HNS), the junior partner in the HDZ-led government, said on Tuesday, adding that there were other ways for Croatia to demonstrate its friendship with Russia.

"What is definitely important is that there is a single and consistent foreign policy because the decision was made by the prime minister, the parliament speaker and the president of the republic," Vrdoljak said.

Expelling a diplomat out of solidarity with other countries is not common, but that "does not mean that the decision is bad." "That's life," said Vrdoljak. He believes that the move "is not schizophrenic", in light of the fact that it occurred at a time when President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović repeated her invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Croatia. "We are a member of the EU and NATO and have certain obligations to them and must have a consistent policy, just as we must develop friendly economic, cultural, sports and other relations with Russia," said Vrdoljak.

Croatia said on Monday that it was one of 16 EU countries that have decided to expel Russian diplomatic staff in response to the poisoning of former Russian double spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, thus siding with the EU and the United States.

Opposition Živi Zid party leader Ivan Vilibor Sinčić said today that Croatia's decision to expel a Russian diplomat was ill-judged and exaggerated, and that Croatia's foreign policy was servile. Sinčić believes that by pursuing such a policy, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković "is only collecting points in Brussels" in the hope that one day, when he returns to Brussels, his list of merits will be as long as possible.

"This is a political decision without any estimates as to what it will mean and what legal and economic consequences it will have," said Sinčić, noting that results of an independent investigation into the attack on the Russian double spy had not been made known yet.

Živi Zid expert Dominik Vuletić of the Faculty of Economics said that, if the independent international investigation into the incident and the British judiciary established that Russia was behind the attack, Živi Zid would support the measures against Russia. "But expelling diplomats at a time when agreements with Russian creditors on Agrokor are being finalised directly harms Croatia's national and economic interests," said Vuletić.

Another parliamentary opposition party, the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), on Monday strongly condemned the decision to expel a Russian diplomat, describing it as harmful not only for Croatia-Russia relations but for Croatia's interests in general.

"A persona non grata can be someone who has done something against our country, and no Russian diplomat, or Russia as a country, has done any harm to Croatia or Croatian citizens," the HSS said in a statement, adding that in recent years Croatia had been persistently provoking Russia without having been provoked. "Prime Minister Plenković is calling for solidarity with Great Britain, and the HSS does not remember Great Britain ever having shown solidarity with us, even though, for example, in 1991 there were many reasons for such a move. Let us only remember the embargo on arms imports that was imposed on Croatia at the time of the worst aggression on our country," the party said, calling on the Croatian government to "stop carrying out orders by their Anglo-American mentors" and to start pursuing a foreign policy benefiting Croatia and its citizens.