Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Air Force Investigators in Contact with US Army

ZAGREB, January 29, 2020 - Croatian Air Force Commander General Michael Križanec said on Tuesday that the Air Force had contacted the US Army and the Bell company and was given instructions on how to preserve evidence from the Kiowa Warrior helicopter that crashed into the sea off Šibenik during a training exercise on Monday, killing two pilots on board.

Speaking at a news conference at the Zemunik air base, Križanec said that the instructions were about how to preserve certain evidence, how to handle it and where to send it.

He added that it was up to the investigating team and the chief Air Force investigator to decide when and where certain physical evidence would be sent to obtain good analyses and information.

The investigating team has found the flight recorder, which was at the bottom of the sea for more than 24 hours.

The head of the team investigating the accident and chief Air Force investigator, Colonel Mario Počinok, said that the team would use all resources of the homeland security system in its work.

"The US side has offered help and we are not ruling out that we will accept it," he said.

"The helicopter was flying very low, at a height of between zero and 100 metres. The accompanying helicopter was between 150 and 200 metres behind the helicopter that crashed. It will not be easy, but we think that we will manage to reconstruct the event," Počinok said, adding that there were no video recordings of the flight in the two helicopters.

The head of the Operations Command Centre, General Krešo Tuškan, said that three larger parts of the helicopter wreckage were retrieved yesterday and that the remaining fragments were expected to be retrieved on Wednesday.

More military news can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Purchase of Military Fighter Jets Delayed Again?

ZAGREB, January 11, 2020 - The purchase of fighter jets for the Croatian Air Force will be decided by the next government, the Jutarnji List daily of Saturday reports, noting that there is no information on the financial framework of the project and that the commission in charge of procuring the jets had still not discussed where pilots would be trained.

On 10 January 2019 the Director-General of the Israeli Defence Ministry, Udi Adam, confirmed officially in Zagreb that Israel could not sell Croatia its F-16 Barak jets as it could not obtain Washington's approval for the deal.

A year later, by all accounts, Croatia is further away from buying a new generation of combat aircraft than it was a year ago, says the daily.

"I don't have the information as to why the selected countries have still not been sent requests for final offers," said the chair of the parliamentary defence committee, Igor Dragovan, who is also a member of the government's interdepartmental commission in charge of procuring the planes.

Anđelko Stričak, another member of the commission, expressed hope that at its next meeting the commission would discuss when to send the request.

Even though the government's spokesman still claims that the decision on which planes will be bought will be known by the middle of the year, a few days ago Dragovan said that the incumbent government would not be the one to decide on the new planes as there was no time for that, says Jutarnji List.

If the commission were to send its request for final offers today, the bidders would need five to six months to compile their offers, which would be followed by an analysis of the bids, to last several months. And that is the time of the campaign for parliamentary elections, when the Andrej Plenković government will be a caretaker government which should not make any crucial decisions such as the purchase of military aircraft.

That means that the process of decision-making and contracting is shifted to the next government and the year 2021, which puts the Air Force in a difficult position, says the daily.

The Air Force has only eight fighter jets, of which four-five are operational. Also, the lifespan of its MiG jets starts to expire in 2023, when their landing will start. That was why the end of 2023 had been announced as the final deadline for the arrival of new planes, which now seems impossible.

It is also very questionable which of the bidders is capable of delivering at least some of the total of 12 planes to be bought, in a period of less than two years, says the daily.

More news about the fighter jets acquisition can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Croatian Politics 2019: A Year in Review

What follows is a review of events in Croatian politics in 2019, as reported by TCN. If you would like to refresh your memory about the events which has led us here, read the reviews for the three previous years (2016, 2017, 2018).

The year started with a high-profile failure by the government. Months after it was announced that Croatia would buy used Israeli F-16 fighter planes, the US government vetoed the sale and the whole project fell through. Despite earlier warnings from experts that the deal was in question, ministers continued to claim that everything was alight. However, after a meeting between high-ranking officials from the United States and Israel, the truth was revealed. Ministers lost their nerves and the government launched an immediate investigation, which expectedly ended without any real results, and also announced that it would re-start the process. To show its level of seriousness, it even established a commission! Twelve months later, the process of deciding which aircraft to buy still hasn't move any further on and is not expected to end for at least another year.

The migrant crisis continued to be in the news this year. The inflow of migrants over the borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia increased somewhat, together with media coverage about alleged brutality of Croatian police and illegal pushbacks of migrants to Bosnia. The authorities were quick to deny everything, but the sheer number of documented cases makes it apparent that at least some of the allegations are founded.

Efforts to limit media freedoms continued this year and some reporters were even briefly arrested. Journalists, NGOs and international organisations stood up to these attempts, but the final score is still unknown.

Repression continued in other ways as well, with courts ruling that peaceful protesters should go to prison, Croatia's human rights situation being criticised from abroad, ethnically-motivated assaults (several of them) taking place, ombudswomen’s warnings not being heard, journalists receiving instructions from the president on what to do, and diplomats spreading hate...

Historical revisionism was in full force once again this year. As a result, representatives of Jews, Serbs and anti-fascist organisations once again boycotted the government’s annual commemoration at the site of the Jasenovac concentration camp.

European elections were held in May (with even Pamela Anderson giving recommendations to Croatian voters). While the ruling HDZ party had high hopes earlier in the year (and was supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended one of its rather controversial rallies in Zagreb), the actual results were much tighter and were interpreted by everyone as a success for the opposition (particularly SDP) and a disappointment for the government.

June brought us a few days of excitement when it seemed possible that prime minister Plenković might just succeed in his life-long dream of getting a top EU job. Despite denying he ever wanted such a thing, he was rumoured to be trying to become president of the European Commission (or president of the European Council, or perhaps something else). In the end, he had to return to Croatia empty handed, again denying his alleged attempts.

Unlike Plenković, foreign minister Marija Pejčinović-Burić was more successful in the area of career development. In June, she was elected secretary-general of the Council of Europe. She promptly resigned her post in Croatia and has not been heard about since. Another happy politician is Dubravka Šuica, who has been appointed Croatia’s commissioner in the European Commission.

Mostly good economic news continued. Public debt is at its lowest level in decades, the European Commission concluded that Croatia no longer suffered from excessive economic imbalances, and GDP growth is holding up.

One of the companies which was in the public focus this year was Croatia Airlines, Croatia’s national flag carrier. Its business results were dismal and the search for possible strategic partners was on, but without any real results. The government eventually decided to cover some of the debts, but as the year comes to and end, there is no long-term solution in sight. In the meantime, Zagreb Airport continues to lose airlines using its services.

The construction of an LNG terminal on the island of Krk has apparently started out with strong support from the US government, after many years of delays and announcements. The project is funded from the state budget, since there was no interest among anyone to actually use the terminal. The government claims that there will be interest once the terminal is built, but it would not be the first major government-funded project in Croatia’s history to fail to deliver on its promises.

The construction of Pelješac bridge continues to go at an even faster pace than expected (despite occasional Bosnian protests), mostly thanks to the efforts by the Chinese construction company which won the tender, which also brought about a marked improvement in the relations between Croatia and China. Unfortunately, the construction of the access roads leading up to the bridge has not progressed nearly as fast, with tenders being decided just several months ago. It is quite possible that, when the bridge is built, it will be unusable for a while because there will be no roads leading to it.

Emigration continues amid Croatia's demographic crisis, although somewhat slower than in previous years, probably as a result of the fact that most of those who could have left have already done so. The authorities talk about demographic revival, but nothing much has happened so far.

Political scandals were as numerous as ever. The regional development minister had an accident while driving without a driving license, the agriculture minister forgot to list all his assets on an official statement, the administration minister had his own scandals which were too numerous even to count, and the state assets minister had problems of his own. The Prime minister strongly supported his ministers before some of them resigned, and then he changed his mind and dismissed the rest of them.

The ruling coalition remained stable this year, despite occasional rumours of impending collapse. Ultimatums were rejected, resignations demanded, talks announced, decisions to stay in coalition made, threats given... Just the usual stuff.

As expected, the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia has not been resolved this year. Slovenia was disappointed with the EU’s decision not to get involved in a dispute between its two members. The chances that this issue will feature in our review for 2020 are quite high.

In October, the European Commission announced that Croatia has fulfilled all the technical conditions to join the Schengen area. However, the final decision will require the unanimous support of all EU member states, and Slovenia does not seem ready to give its approval until the border dispute with Croatia is resolved. 

Another major project is the introduction of euro in Croatia. After a lot of talk, the government has finally sent an official request. The process will certainly take years and opinion is divided as to whether it is a good idea or not.

One of the highlights were the trade union's activities. Earlier in the year, the unions managed to collect enough signatures for a referendum against the government’s pension reform and an increase in the retirement age. The government capitulated and revoked already approved laws (although it previously warned that such a decision would be a disaster).

The other major trade union success was the primary and secondary school strike later in the year. After almost two months, the government capitulated and gave the unions more or less everything they had asked for.

One of the highlights of the next six months will be Croatia’s EU presidency. The government is promoting it as a great success, although all EU member states sooner or later get their chance to hold the rotating presidency. While Croatia's plans are ambitious, their delivery will probably be more modest.

The major event at the end of the year was the first round of Croatia's presidential elections.

While the post is largely ceremonial, elections are held every five years and still manage to occupy public attention for months. Three major candidates launched their bids: incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (officially an independent candidate who in reality is HDZ), former SDP prime minister Zoran Milanović, and singer Miroslav Škoro, who presented himself as a candidate of change, despite having been an MP, a diplomat and a former HDZ member.

The first round was held on December 22. Zoran Milanović won with 29.6% of the vote, followed by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović with 26.7%. Škoro was third with 24.5%. Milanović and Grabar-Kitarović will take part in the run-off on January 5.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Minister Still Hopeful About Fighter Jet Purchase

ZAGREB, December 9, 2018 - Defence Minister Damir Krstičević has said that Croatia will not pay any additional costs for the purchase of 12 F-16 fighter jets from Israel after the U.S. insistence that Israel must comply with the technical criteria Washington set in order to okay Croatia’s fighter jet purchase from Israel.

The planes, which are the subject matter of the procurement deal and which were produced by the U.S. Lockheed Martin, have subsequently got sophisticated electronic systems which Israel has added to them, and Washington now insists that they should be reversed to the previous form.

Israeli media have reported that US Secretary of Defence James Mattis is not allowing Israel to sell 12 F-16 fighter jets to Croatia. The US administration must give its consent to the country to which it has sold its planes if that country wants to sell them to a third country.

Asked by the press on Saturday whether Israel or Croatia would cover the costs of those planned technical changes, Minister Krstičević said that there were no additional costs for his country. "The tender is clear. The tender has been transparent and in line with laws. We know what we have asked for. The bids were opened publicly. The price is known. As far as Croatian is concerned, there are no additional costs," Krstičević said after attending a gathering of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) youth association's meeting.

Asked whether he would resign in the event that this deal failed, the minister said that he would not answer hypothetical questions.

He went on to say that Croatia was given the documentation showing that the U.S. Administration allowed Israel to offer its F-16 planes to Croatia.

On Friday, when the news broke out about the complications in the delivery of the fighter jets over the U.S. requirements set to Israel, Krstičević recalled that the U.S. government had given Israel permission to offer the Israeli F-16 jets to Croatia. "We have a document to that effect. In its bid, Israel undertook to deliver to Croatia aircraft that is compatible with NATO and obliged itself to ensure that the extension of the planes' service life complies with the original manufacturer's criteria. Delivery, too, is the responsibility of the State of Israel. Based on those documents and the tender, we made the decision on the purchase of the multipurpose fighter jets and the process was legal and transparent," Krstičević said yesterday.

In late March, the Croatian government unanimously adopted a decision to buy 12 F-16 C/D Barak jets that were about 30 years old. Croatia is supposed to pay 2.9 billion kuna for the planes over a period of ten years.

More news on the Croatian military can be found in our dedicated section.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

International Air Show Starts in Varaždin

ZAGREB, July 22, 2018 - The Croatian International Air Show Varaždin opened at the airfield of the northwestern city of Varaždin on Saturday, featuring over 50 aircraft from 11 countries.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Born in the Clouds: Croatian Air Force Helps Deliver a Baby Girl on Flight to Split

Amidst the ongoing public debate on the acquisition of military aircraft, a change of tone comes our way from Dalmatia with a moving story involving the Croatian Air Force

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Cross-Carrying Protester to Arrive in Zagreb on Thursday

Saša Pavlić is protesting against government’s spending priorities.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Fighter Jet Decision Coming on Tuesday?

After many delays, the decision is finally coming. Or, perhaps not?

Friday, 23 March 2018

Fighter Jet Decision Coming Next Week?

ZAGREB, March 23, 2018 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Friday that the Defence Council would convene next week to discuss bids for the procurement of fighter jets.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Why Is Croatia "Rejuvenating" Its Fighter Jet Fleet with Old Aircraft?

Israeli airplanes, which are reportedly about to be bought, are just ten years younger than the current MIGs and about as old as the MIGs were when, in the middle of last decade, the government began to publicly and seriously consider buying a new fleet.

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