Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Croatian PM Meets With British Defence Secretary

ZAGREB, 1 Feb 2022 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Tuesday met with British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, the government said in a press release.

Their talks focused on the continuation of Croatia's strategic cooperation with the UK in defence and security as well as on strengthening the political dialogue.

They exchanged views on the situation on the Ukraine-Russia border as well as in Southeast Europe, with emphasis on Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The two officials reaffirmed the wish to deepen Croatian-British relations and the joint commitment to strengthening European security.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

President Should Declassify His Own Requests, Defense Minister Says

ZAGREB, 20 Jan 2022 - Defence Minister Mario Banožić said on Wednesday he was satisfied with a report by the chief defense inspector "given the circumstances in which the inspection was conducted" and invited President Zoran Milanović to declassify his own requests.

Speaking to Jutarnji List daily, Banožić recalled: "a statement of 4 November 2021, at the start of the inspection, when President Milanović exerted gross pressure on the chief defense inspector by saying that 'they are saying in (power utility) HEP that the chief defense inspector's wife has been appointed director temporarily'."

Thereby, Banožić said, Milanović "showed what the chief inspector and his family will go through if the findings are not favorable to Milanović's interests."

Banožić was commenting on a letter Milanović sent Prime Minister Andrej Plenković in which he said that Banožić was hiding from the public the conclusions in which the Defence Inspectorate found that the military chief of staff did not break the law in implementing Banožić's decision on the holding of a swearing-in ceremony for conscripts and in providing support to the president's office in 2021.

The inspectorate's conclusions confirm that Banožić falsely accused the military leadership of breaking the law, thereby causing harm to the Armed Forces and Croatia, the president said, asking the prime minister to declassify the inspectorate's "restricted" findings.

Banožić said "the inspectorate's findings are classified" and asked the president to declassify "25 requests for transport by helicopter, 125 requests for various protocol matters, requests for using the Učka motor yacht, requests for the services of smaller military units, requests for using Armed Forces vehicles and drivers and for other forms of support which have been classified so that the public can have insight into the whole situation."

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

President Tells Defence Minister to Stop Lying

ZAGREB, 6 Jan 2022 - President Zoran Milanović said on Thursday that Defence Minister Mario Banožić should "stop lying" and commented on yesterday's online meeting with United States representatives on the possibility of equipping the Croatian Army with Bradley fighting vehicles.

Milanović said in a press release the meeting was convened by Banožić in order for Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to obtain detailed technical information from US representatives on the Bradleys "so that he could make a decision."

He noted that Plenković did not participate in the meeting due to other commitments, as Milanović said Banožić told the Americans.

He said the meeting was convened because of Plenković's ignorance, negligence, and lack of interest in the important job of equipping the army with fighting vehicles.

Milanović said Banožić's presentation at the meeting "embarrassed Croatia and its Armed Forces, portraying them as a flippant and irresponsible partner."

Speaking in a Croatian Television program later, after the meeting, Banožić said that Croatia was offered an M2A2 ODS version of the Bradley vehicle, which had not been requested.

Milanović said that was not true and that the Defence Ministry had requested an offer for that version, as confirmed by a ministry memo to the US Embassy of 8 April 2021.

"Minister, stop lying, stop deluding the public, stop embarrassing Croatia, and stop damaging the Croatian Armed Forces," the president said.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Monday, 20 December 2021

Defence Minister Congratulates Croatian Military Academy on Its 30th Anniversary

ZAGREB, 20 Dec 2021 - Defence Minister Mario Banožić on Monday congratulated the Dr. Franjo Tuđman Croatian Military Academy on its 30th anniversary, underscoring that it was a place of excellence in knowledge, where Croatian non-commissioned officers and officers were trained, the Ministry of Defence said in a press release.

"Generations after the Homeland War, experience and knowledge have been passed on in order to raise ambitious goals to a higher level. You are a place of excellence where even today, just like during the crucial years of creating and strengthening the Croatian Armed Forces, our non-commissioned officers and officers are trained and gain knowledge," the press release said.

The minister thanked the staff and students for leaving mediocrity far behind themselves in their work, accepting challenges, and achieving excellent results to the honor and pride of the Academy and Croatia.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 29 November 2021

Banožić: Defence Ministry Won't Cover for Incompetence of President's Office

ZAGREB, 29 Nov 2021 - Defence Minister Mario Banožić on Monday responded to accusations from the president's office that soldiers were not receiving per diems, telling the head of the president's office and the president's defence advisor that the ministry "will not cover for their incompetence".

"Instead of holding unconvincing press conferences and shifting responsibility to others, the gentlemen from the Office of the President should be more responsible in spending their office's budget, so there would be no problems they had mentioned. While I am minister, the Ministry of Defence will not cover for their incompetence," Banožić wrote on Facebook.

The head of the president's office, Orsat Miljenić, and presidential defence adviser Dragan Lozančić said today that Banožić's abuse had spread to soldiers who supported the president because they had not received their per diems.

Miljenić said Banožić decided a month ago not to pay per diems to soldiers who supported President Zoran Milanović in any way, specifically soldiers who recently were lined up in Vukovar and carried wreaths in Škabrnja.

Miljenić said the military chief-of-staff warned the president's office about dozens of such cases in the past month. He added that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was notified but has taken no action.

Miljenić said this situation was unacceptable and hoped that Banožić would rescind his "unconstitutional and unlawful decision" and resume paying people what they had earned.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 29 November 2021

President's Office: Defence Minister's Abuse Has Spread to Soldiers

ZAGREB, 29 Nov 2021 - The head of the president's office, Orsat Miljenić, and presidential adviser Dragan Lozančić said on Monday that Defence Minister Mario Banožić's abuse had spread to soldiers who supported the president because they had not received their per diems.

Speaking to the press in the president's office, Miljenić said soldiers were doing their job honorably and that Banožić's abuse had spread to them following the "unlawful and sudden" retiring of Colonel Elvis Burčul and the harassment of the Chief of the General Staff, Admiral Robert Hranj.

Miljenić said Banožić decided a month ago not to pay per diems to soldiers who supported President Zoran Milanović in any way, specifically soldiers who recently were lined up in Vukovar and carried wreaths in Škabrnja.

Miljenić said the president's office had to react because Hranj warned them about dozens of such cases in the past month. He added that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was notified but has taken no action.

Miljenić said this situation was unacceptable and hoped that Banožić would rescind his "unconstitutional and unlawful decision" and resume paying people what they had earned.

The president's defence and national security adviser Lozančić said the people in question were active soldiers who were executing their tasks in line with annual plans.

He said that in a letter to the defence minister, Chief-Of-Staff Hranj told Banožić that he saw his decision in part as a continuation of his conduct so far, which Hranj said had all the elements of a strategic abuse of him as a person and a soldier which began when Banožić asked that Hranj resign, and continued in public criticisms and Defence Ministry press releases.

Under the decision in question, Armed Forces personnel are not allowed to support the president's office nor use Defence Ministry money. Also, the costs incurred while extending such support will not be paid.

In his letter, Hranj told Banožić that his decision obstructs and hampers the functioning of the Armed Forces in general, and in particular the Honorary and Protection Battalion, whose fundamental job is to support and protect the president.

Responding to questions from the press, Lozančić said that unless the minister changed his decision, the president had two choices, either not to execute his duty as commander in chief and represent the army at certain events or do so.

Miljenić said all people in possession of a valid command and travel order would get their money, and that he hoped there would be no lawsuits, but added that this was up to the minister.

He said the president was elected to also represent the army at home and abroad, which the minister "neither can nor has the right to restrict."

Miljenić said the president would continue to go where he had to and that under the constitution and the law, the minister was not authorized to withhold per diems for soldiers accompanying the president.

He added that it was Hranj who gave the commands based on which travel orders were issued, and noted that the commander in chief represents the Armed Forces and that they support him in doing so, in which the minister of defence has no say.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 6 November 2021

FM Expects "Constructive Dialogue" With President at Meeting on Tuesday

ZAGREB, 6 Nov 2021 - Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Saturday he expected a constructive dialogue between the president of the republic and the prime minister at a meeting of the Defence and National Security Council on Tuesday in the interests of the functioning of the state, its institutions, and national interests.

President Zoran Milanović has proposed a meeting of the Defence and National Security Council because of the escalation of his conflict with Defence Minister Mario Banožić, whom he accused of politicizing the Armed Forces. The government proposed three dates for the meeting and Milanović chose 9 November.

"I expect a constructive dialogue, an exchange of views and proposals because we politicians and officeholders are accountable to our citizens. Everything that is in the interest of the functioning of the state and its institutions, national interests, will be on the table," Grlić Radman told reporters during a visit to his ministry's stall in Zagreb's Cvjetni Trg square as part of events marking the 25th anniversary of Croatia's membership of the Council of Europe.

"We are facing a serious task ... because Croatian citizens deserve what they need, and that is social stability, economic growth, a higher vaccination rate, and security. The government will provide an appropriate answer in that regard," he added.

Ambassadors are a priority

Speaking of filling ambassadorial positions, Grlić Radman dismissed Milanović's claim that he did not want an ambassadorial nominee because he was an ethnic Serb. "I never said that," Grlić Radman said, calling Milanović's claims "empty talk" and "base insinuations".

Grlić Radman said that ambassadors were a priority to him. "We have three important positions - Paris, Vilnius, and the Vatican, and they need to be filled. This will also be discussed" at the Defence and National Security Council meeting, he added.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 5 November 2021

Defence Ministry Refutes President's Allegations About Irregularities

ZAGREB, 4 Nov 2021 - The defence ministry on Thursday refuted President Zoran Milanović's claims that the early retirement of Colonel Elvis Burčul was an act of abuse of the minister's powers, saying that in this case, it was the cessation of active military service with the right to a full age pension.

It is in the remit of the defence minister and not the armed forces' chief-of-staff to define the needs of the service for active military service personnel, in compliance with the law.

Responding to President Zoran Milanović's letter which he sent to Prime Minister Andrej Milanović accusing Minister Mario Banožić of wrongdoing, the ministry's statement says that the President cannot appoint a military commander without the consent of the defence minister.

The ministry also points out that sending Colonel Burčul into retirement is not within the jurisdiction of the Armed Forces' Chief-of-Staff, and proposals to that effect need not be made by the army chief-of-staff, and retirement is within the powers of the defence minister.

The explanation for the cessation of the service of Colonel Burčul as the commander of the Honorary and Protection Battalion cited the plan for the cessation of the active service of personnel in 2021 and not a list, as claimed by the president.

The plan is a document based on the law regulating service in the armed forces, the ministry says.

The plan was adopted unanimously at a college meeting chaired by the defence minister, and in attendance were the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff and his deputies, says the ministry, adding that this plan also specifies a law-based criterion under which Colonel Burčul's active service ceased.

Concerning the President's objections to the poor equipment of the armed forces, the ministry recalls that the revised budget for 2021 increased defence outlays by HRK 2.387 billion.

The current financial plan has increased from HRK 4.8 billion to nearly HRK 7.2 billion, according to the statement.

The president accused Banožić of attending ministerial meetings in NATO and the EU without informing him "as the President of the Republic and Commander in Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces, and without obtaining consent for the positions he is presenting there on behalf of the Republic of Croatia."

The minister responded by saying that he had attended the EU and NATO ministerial meetings in accordance with the Constitution and laws.

The statement also dismissed the allegations about irregularities in the employment of staff at the Defence Ministry and countered that there were irregularities at the Office of the President.

Minister accused President of nepotism

Earlier on Thursday, Banožić reiterated his claims that Milanović had insisted on a specific officer to succeed Burčul, although the man concerned had no qualifications, that is necessary ranks, for that position.

Banožić elaborated that he had been asked to promote the officer concerned in an extraordinary procedure so that the candidate could meet the requirements for the new commander of the Honorary and Protection Battalion, which he refused to do. The minister described this as a pure example of nepotism on the part of the president.

He went on to say that he could forget all that had happened in recent days provided that all the activities are back within the framework of the Defence Act.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

President Writes to PM About Defence Minister's Unlawful Conduct

ZAGREB, 4 Nov 2021 - President Zoran Milanović on Thursday sent a letter to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, warning him of "unacceptable and unlawful conduct by Defence Minister Mario Banožić" and calling on him to take action to enable the normal functioning and development of the Armed Forces.

In the letter, sent to Plenković on 28 October, the president claims that Banožić abused his powers by sending into early retirement the commander of the Honorary and Protection Battalion, Colonel Elvis Burčul.

Minister harassing, discriminating HV officer

Milanović says that Burčul's case is extremely important because it shows the minister's behavior pattern, notably in light of the fact that Burčul is a decorated officer, Homeland War volunteer, and commander of the unit in charge of the security of the President and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief.

He recalls that the proposal to extend Burčul's term was sent to Banožić by the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff, based on an assessment that it is in line with operational reasons and is a common procedure, with none of the former defence ministers ever having withheld their consent.

This time, the minister "not only withheld his consent but told the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff and my defence and national security advisor that he would never sign any decision (to that effect) for the officer in question and that he must leave the army, without giving any justified reason for his position," Milanović says.

Milanović recalls having asked Banožić directly why he was withholding his consent and telling him that he would withdraw his proposal if there was a serious reason for the minister's position, to which the minister, without going into detail, repeated several times that "the Colonel is a bad person."

"The minister has the right to give or withhold his consent but he does not have the right to abuse that power," Milanović says in the letter, noting that sending Burčul into retirement was just that and that Banožić also falsely claimed that he had acted in line with the retirement plan for 2021 while Burčul's name was not on that list.

Noting that Banožić's decision was motivated by personal reasons, Milanović expresses hope that those reasons are not political, adding that the minister's conduct is an act of abuse of powers and harassment and discrimination of a Croatian Army officer.

Burčul's retirement is an attempt to politicize the Armed Forces and divide officers into suitable and unsuitable ones, those whom the minister likes and those he does not like, says Milanović.

"Neither you, as Prime Minister, nor I, as President and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief can tolerate that," the president says in the letter.

He also cites a number of cases in which the defence minister enabled a set of personnel decisions at the Defence Ministry that is entirely contrary to the law.

Milanović notes that the minister was warned about and informed of problems regarding army personnel matters and the material situation and level of equipment of the army on a number of occasions but failed to act on it.

"That is why I have requested a session of the Defence Council to focus on that topic... The situation is not good and it requires urgent action," the president says in his letter.

Banožić makes statements in NATO, EU without the president's consent

The president further notes that Banožić attends NATO and EU ministerial meetings without informing him, as President and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief, of it, and that he makes statements at those events on Croatia's behalf without his consent.

"The positions expressed that way, without prior agreement, can only be the positions of your government, naturally, if you give your consent for them, but they are not Croatia's positions because I, as President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, do not give my consent. Any obligation which your minister may undertake in that way and which concerns the constitutional powers of the President of the Republic and the Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief, is potentially unimplementable," Milanović warns, adding that such conduct on the minister's part can cause damage to the country's international reputation.

"Mr. Prime Minister, if your government continues with such conduct and your minister insists on the politicization of the Armed Forces, I will, if necessary, resort to Article 144(5) of the Croatian Constitution in the defence segment, for the purpose of protecting the interests of the Republic of Croatia," Milanović says in the letter.

Article 144(5) of the Constitution reads: The Republic of Croatia shall be represented in the Council and the European Council by the Government and the President of the Republic of Croatia in accordance with their respective constitutional powers.

 For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Croatian Defence Minister Attends EU Ministerial Meeting on Afghanistan

ZAGREB, 2 Sept 2021 - Croatian Defence Minister Mario Banožić on Thursday took part in an informal meeting of EU defence ministers in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, which focused on the situation in Afghanistan, the Croatian ministry said.

Banožić said at the meeting that lessons learned in Afghanistan should be applied in the common security and defence policy so as not to repeat the same mistakes.

"In cooperation with our partners, we must focus on the prevention of a humanitarian disaster in the form of uncontrolled migrations and make sure Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorist organizations," he said.

As for the EU's operational engagement, Banožić said that support to partners in the Sahel, Libya, and the EU's immediate neighborhood was unquestionable but that at the same time one should make it clear that the partners were expected to implement the necessary political and security reforms.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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