Thursday, 24 January 2019

SDP to File Interpellation over Failed F-16 Deal with Israel

ZAGREB, January 24, 2019 - Social Democratic Party (SDP) MP Arsen Bauk said on Thursday that the SDP would launch the interpellation procedure by Monday to address government activities regarding the failed purchase of F-16 fighter jets from Israel until Monday.

"The interpellation has been prepared. For it to be sent into the parliamentary procedure, it is necessary to have the support of only 10% of lawmakers, and therefore we are not going to ask other opposition parties to support the submission of interpellation, but we expect their support during the vote on the matter," Bauk said.

Asked by the press whether the latest scandal about fake photos showing Agriculture Minister Tomislav Tolušić in an embarrassing situation has pushed the failed acquisition of fighter jets to the back burner, Bauk answered: "Certainly, if you have something that can distract media attention from a certain matter, you can say that media interest in that matter has lessened."

"However, I don't want to believe that the Tolušić affair was intentionally spun to overshadow the failure to acquire the fighter jets," the SDP parliamentarian said.

Asked how come that former defence minister Željka Antunović of the SDP said that this was not Defence Minister Damir Krstičević's fault, Bauk said that she had the right to think so. "Mrs Antunović was one of the best defence ministers, and her opinion should be respected. However, it is not certain if she expressed her opinion based on all information. It seems to me that she commented on the case before it became evident that contacts between the US and Croatia were more frequent and more intense than originally indicated. True, it is unusual that she has a diametrically opposite position to the SDP's view," Bauk concluded.

More news on the failed deal can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

(VIDEO) Under Pressure, Defence Minister Loses Temper in Parliament

ZAGREB, January 16, 2019 - A heated debate during Question Time on Wednesday about the failed deal between Croatia and Israel on the procurement of fighter jets angered Defence Minister Damir Krstičević who snatched a model plane out of the hands of SDP MP Franko Vidović, shouting at him: "To hell with you and this!"

Before that, Social Democrat lawmaker Vidović said that two years had been lost in the procrastinated procedure for the purchase of multipurpose planes for the Croatian Air Force.

"You have undermined the combat capabilities of the Croatian army," the opposition deputy said, claiming that Croatia was exposed to disgrace on an international scale.

He also wondered how Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was planning to embark on a new tender procedure without first dismissing Krstičević from the ministerial post.

Plenković responded that it was not true that national security was put at risk. This is a fabricated and untrue claim disseminated by those who in the past did not advocate the upgrade of the Croatian air force, some of whom opposed that process, the prime minister responded. Croatia's government remains committed to the modernisation of the national air force, he said.

Croatia has fighter jets, it is a member of NATO and is covered by collective security and by cooperation within the European Union, Plenković explained.

He recalled the timeline of the first tender for the fighter jets procurement. "On 29 March 2018, Croatia's government made a decision on the choice of F-16 Barak jets, irrespective of the email correspondence between representatives of the US embassy in Zagreb and people in the expert group or officials of the defence ministry," Plenković said.

The signals from the correspondence were not clear to me, given that the tender procedure was under way, he added.

We sent delegations to Washington and Israel to find out if Israel could obtain approval from the USA and if the USA was OK with that. They said then that it was all right. We would not have made this decision on that choice, if we had not checked that out. However, the problem has occurred now, Plenković said.

Dissatisfied with the prime minister's answer, Vidovic brought to the bench where government ministers were sitting a model plane saying that if things go on as the government plans, Croatia can have only such planes.

This upset Minister Krstičević very much. He took the model plane from Vidovic's hand and threw it to the floor.

After the incident, Krstičević said that he was not nervous and insisted that the behaviour of the SDP lawmaker was unsporting and that the intention of Vidović's performance was to humiliate him. Although he admitted that he overacted to some extent, Krstičević told the press: "I was very calm, but you must realise that I was a wartime general and I am now the defence minister."

Krstičević said that in the past two years he was dedicated to finding the best solution for the Croatian Air Force and now "somebody is bringing that model plane in front of you, without any respect." "I find this humiliating and unsportsmanlike ," the minister said.

Vidović said later he respected Krstičević as a commander and a soldier, but that in parliament they were all equal. He added that he did not wish to provoke the minister and that he gave him the model plane in jest.

More news on the aircraft procurement can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Croatian Defence Ministry Explains Away US Embassy E-Mails

ZAGREB, January 16, 2019 - The Defence Ministry on Tuesday commented on emails sent to it by the US Embassy, saying that over a thousand were exchanged officially and unofficially during the procurement of fighter jets, but that the only important thing was that the US did not prohibit the sale of Israeli aircraft to Croatia in any official document.

Hina asked the ministry for a comment after the publication of the second email in the correspondence between the embassy and Assistant Defence Minister Petar Mihatov, in which the embassy sent Croatia a non-paper concerning the procurement of used F-16s.

"During the procurement procedure, there was a lot of official and unofficial communication as well as many elements and questions we resolved in agreement with our partners because it was a very complex project. In such a complex process, over a thousand emails were exchanged, there was very demanding correspondence at several levels. Because of responsibility, we held a series of additional consultations both with the American and the Israeli side," the ministry said.

However, the only important thing is what all the official documents say, that Israel, as the selected bidder, had the obligation to obtain US approval, to which it officially committed when the offer was accepted by enclosing preliminary approval, the ministry said.

The only essential thing is that the US did not prohibit the sale of Israeli aircraft to Croatia in any official document, but gave the official preliminary approval that was required for the validity of Israel's offer, the ministry said.

"As you know, Israel officially informed us that, contrary to the responsibility it assumed, unfortunately, it cannot obtain the required US approval for the delivery of Israeli F-16 Barak aircraft to Croatia. Israel's representatives said in Zagreb clearly that there was no responsibility on Croatia's part. There is no material or non-material damage for Croatia," the ministry said.

Media have published two emails which the US Embassy exchanged with Mihatov, informing him that Israel did not obtain US permission for selling fighter jets and that it might not be granted at all.

More news on the unsuccessful acquisition of the fighter jets can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Opposition Demands Resignation of Defence Minister Krstičević

ZAGREB, January 15, 2019 - The Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Davor Bernardić said on Tuesday that Defence Minister Damir Krstičević should promptly resign due to "the lies and delusions disseminated in the public about the failed acquisition of fighter jets".

Bernardić thinks that an email that leaked in the media about U.S. embassy having warned the Croatian Defence Ministry in December 2017 that Israel had not obtained approval for the transfer of technology to the third party shows the minister's responsibility for the failed deal. "Resignation due to lies and delusions disseminated by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Krstičević should be done for moral reasons," said Bernardić.

It is true that morality and responsibility cannot go together in the same sentence with the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union). However, we expect common sense to prevail and the prime minister to take a responsible move, said the leader of the strongest opposition party

In the event that Krstičević does not offer his resignation, the SDP is going to launch the parliamentary procedure for his dismissal, and Bernardić hopes that the opposition parties will join his party in this effort.

He accused the government of trying to reduce the damage and the disgrace in this scandal in a ridiculous way.

The SDP chief referred to the government's decision on Monday to annul its previous tender for the delivery of multipurpose combat aircraft and to define a new model for the procurement of fighter jets for the Armed Forces.

SDP parliamentarian Franko Vidović said that nine months before he already raised the question why the government had opted for acquiring 12 used fighter jets instead of buying 6 new ones.

Leaders of the GLAS party also called for the responsibility of Defence Minister Damir Krstičević over a failed procurement of fighter jets from Israel. GLAS MP Nada Turina Đurić commented on the failed procurement of F-16 Barak fighter jets from Israel, calling for the responsibility of Defence Minister Damir Krstičević, but also claiming that the entire government is responsible.

More news on the defence minister can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Croatia to Buy American F-16s?

ZAGREB, January 15, 2019 - Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said on Monday Croatia would procure new fighter jets and that the purchase of American F-16s was one of the likeliest options, adding that he expected the US to make its strategic partner the best offer "which the Croats certainly won't be able to refuse."

"Personally, I'd like the F-16 platform. I'd like them to be new planes, fewer ones and that, taking into account the funds we have, it is realistic for Croatia," he told the press after a cabinet meeting at which a decision on the procurement of Israeli multipurpose F-16 Baraks was put out of force.

Krstičević said he would systematically examine every option. "I believe our partner, the US, will do everything to make Croatia the best offer. We are responsible for the security of Croatia, the security of the air space. We believe we will get aircraft which is good for Croatia and which citizens can afford."

"This with the Americans, it's one of the options we are closest to, but we expect the US to make its strategic partner, the Croats, the best offer which the Croats certainly won't be able to refuse."

He said Croatia was interested in the F-16 Block 70/72. "A smaller number, step by step, expecting the prices to be good for Croatia."

He said no one must be eliminated, though. "The whole state leadership should consider everything and choose what's most realistic for Croatia."

Krstičević said he was talking to the defence ministers whose countries recently bought US aircraft but would not speculate how much the new jets could cost Croatia. "We must be responsible about our money, so that we get the best price-quality ratio."

Asked if there had been hidden offers in the previous tender and if something had been offered under the table, Krstičević said he did not allow that. "Everything I and my associates did was extremely transparent, systematic, in the best faith and in the function of national interests."

He said Croatia had embarked on the procurement of fighter jets ambitiously because the state of Croatia's MiG aircraft "forced us to define the process as soon as possible."

The minister said Croatia's security was not in danger and that Croatia was a secure country. He reiterated that there was no damage to the national budget after the procurement of F-16s from Israel had fallen through, saying the expenses of going to meetings had served to strengthen cooperation with Israel. "They are very small for us."

More news on Croatia’s fighter jet acquisition can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Croatia to Launch New Fighter Jets Tender

ZAGREB, January 14, 2019 - The government on Monday unanimously put out of force a decision on the procurement of Israeli F-16 multipurpose fighter jets. The cabinet meeting was preceded by a session of the Defence Council, where a report on the procurement of the aircraft was presented and the government was recommended to define a new model for the procurement of multipurpose fighter jets for the Armed Forces.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said today that a thorough analysis of all reasons that caused the suspension of the implementation of the deal with Israel would be conducted.

The notification provided by Israel that it could not obtain the approval from the USA for the Third Party Transfer was the main reason why Croatia decided to nullify its previous decision on the acquisition of the planes from Israel, according to Plenković's explanation.

The deal was halted due to disagreement between Israel and the USA following the US objection to the sale of modified F-16 fighter jets to Croatia. The Israeli-US dispute has to do with who owns the technology and intellectual property rights.

Defence Minister Damir Krstičević underscored the political will to maintain the combat capabilities of the Air Force developed during the Homeland War.

Answering questions from the press after meeting his Polish counterpart Mariusz Blaszczak, Krstičević reiterated that during their visit to Zagreb last week Israeli officials had confirmed that they had failed to obtain final approval from the United States for the sale of upgraded F-16 Barak aircraft to Croatia, even though they had preliminary approval for the deal. "It is solely their responsibility," he said.

"The Israelis reiterated once again that the entire process was highly professional and open on the Croatian part and that the people in Croatia showed a high level of responsibility, that we asked all the necessary questions and received all the necessary guarantees in this process," Krstičević said.

"The United States, our strategic partner in defence, emphasised from the outset, including in its latest statement, that it gave full support for the Croatian acquisition of F-16 aircraft from Israel," he added.

Krstičević said that Croatia would launch a new process to procure military aircraft. "We will close this process transparently and, with all this experience and knowledge, we will start a new process which will be the best, so that Croatia will get quality multipurpose aircraft it needs for surveillance of its airspace. This government will certainly do all it can for this to happen," the defence minister said.

More news on the Croatian Air Force can be found in our Politics section.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Croatian Defence Minister Reported for War Crimes in Serbia

ZAGREB, January 12, 2019 - Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krstičević on Saturday commented on a complaint filed against him Serbia for war crimes, saying his war past was completely clean but that he was a thorn in the side of many because he was strengthening the victorious Croatian army.

Speaking to reporters in Split, Krstičević said the journey of the 4th guard brigade was one of "pride, honour, heroism." "The Red Berets did everything they should in the Homeland War. I'm extremely happy to have commanded the 4th Brigade."

Belgrade's Politika newspaper said today that Serbian lawyer Dušan Bratić had pressed charges against Krstičević and others on suspicion that they killed 81 Serb civilians in 1995. The paper said Krstičević was the commander of the Croatian army's 4th brigade and that it participated in the shelling of columns of Serb refugees in Bravnice near Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina on 12 and 13 September 1995.

Asked if he thought he would have movement trouble because of the charges, Krstičević said: "Why? Because of which complaint? I don't consider that a complaint. I'm a free man and I honourably defended the homeland. I'm extremely proud of that and one should know that Croatia was subjected to a brutal aggression and I proudly commanded the 4th brigade."

Krstičević said many "want to smear" that brigade and him as its commander. "I repeat, I'm completely clean and innocent."

Asked if he had been at the location near Jajce mentioned in the criminal complaint, he said "it is known where the 4th guard brigade was, and it was liberating Croatia." He said the brigade was not in Bravnice on 12 and 13 September 1995.

The minister said he had no idea why someone was bringing this up, "evidently with the objective to destabilise myself personally (and) this government." He added that he had no reason to defend himself.

Asked if there was a way to respond to the criminal complaint, he said: "The state should respond. As for my response, I'm here, doing my job."

More news on the defence minister can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Government to Cancel F-16 Fighter Jets Tender on Monday

ZAGREB, January 12, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Saturday the government would cancel a tender for the purchase of F-16 fighter jets on Monday and then analyse the lessons learned, but added that it remains resolute about Croatia's maintaining its combat aircraft capabilities.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 29th anniversary of the Split branch of his HDZ party, Plenković said his was the first government that was daring enough to adopt the strategic decision to buy fighter jets.

He said the government entered the process transparently and did everything after Israel's offer in good faith and with due attention.

Plenković said the government probably would not have adopted the decision had it been clear that the manufacturer, a US company, was convinced that the US administration would not allow the transfer of upgraded aircraft.

"That wasn't that clear nor could one detect it either after the defence minister's visit to the US in July or after the Israeli president's visit. It couldn't be concluded either from the fact that the Israeli F-16 Baraks flew above Knin on August 5."

Plenković said the government would meet on Monday and cancel the tender for the purchase of fighter jets, putting the decision on the purchase out of force.

The next step will be decided when the government, the Defence Council and other institutions estimate that the step is necessary, he added. "Confident that, strategically speaking, we adopted a good decision behind which we stand, we will probably embark on a new process when we estimate the time is right," Plenković said in Split, adding that "such things happened in such big operations also in other countries, which were probably doing it for the first time too."

He went on to say that the government would carry out many reforms in future to reinforce the state administration through better organisation and digitisation.

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

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Despite Aircraft Debacle, Croatia's Security Is Not in Danger

ZAGREB, January 12, 2019 - Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said on Friday evening that Croatia's security was not in danger and that the tender for the procurement of fighter jets would be formally cancelled next week after the deal with Israel fell through.

"The security of Croatia is not in danger. Croatia is a safe country, it has a strong and respectable military, and we have demonstrated its value. Unlike the opposition, who had the responsibility to resolve this issue, they failed to do so and they put us in a position that now we have to deal with this issue," Krstičević said in an interview with the public broadcaster HTV when asked if the country was in danger as claimed by opposition parties.

He said that earlier in the day he and Armed Forced Chief of Staff Mirko Šundov had met with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and informed her of talks with Israel and the state of the Croatian Air Force.

He added that Grabar-Kitarović had convened the Defence Council for Monday to discuss the situation concerning the tender for the procurement of multipurpose combat aircraft and the situation in the Air Force. After that, the government will cancel the tender and will continue searching for the best option for Croatia, the minister said.

Krstičević said that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković had been acquainted with all activities concerning the procurement of aircraft from the outset and that all state institutions and representatives of the opposition had also been involved in the decision-making process. "The representatives of the SDP (Social Democratic Party) unanimously supported this decision, so I'm surprised that they have changed their position and I don't understand it," Krstičević said.

He said he did not feel responsible for the failure of the purchase of Israeli F-16 fighter jets. "I don't consider myself responsible, nor do I consider my associates responsible. In this entire process we did nothing against Croatia's interests and the interests of its citizens."

Krstičević said that the opposition demands for his resignation were legitimate. He recalled that the SDP was in power from 2011 to 2015 and during those four years they had enough time to resolve the issue of the Croatian Air Force.

"Not only did they not resolve it, but an overhaul of the MiG-21s was done in Ukraine and it was done poorly. Those aircraft were supposed to fly 850 hours. They should have been delivered to Croatia in flying condition, but they came on trucks. But unlike them, this government came to grips with this problem right from the start in order to systematically resolve the Croatian Air Force issue," the defence minister said.

Krstičević noted that the Israeli Defence Ministry delegation, who visited Croatia on Thursday, had admitted that it was their responsibility that they had failed to obtain approval from the United States for the sale of the modified F-16 Barak aircraft to Croatia. He stressed that Croatia had done its job very professionally and responsibly, obtaining all the necessary guarantees.

More news on the Ministry of Defence can be found in our Politics section.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Opposition Demands Resignation of Croatian Defence Minister

ZAGREB, January 11, 2019 – Živi Zid president Ivan Sinčić said on Friday Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krstičević was primarily responsible for the failed purchase of Israeli F-16 fighter jets and should resign, adding that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was also responsible for "holding the ladder."

Krstičević worked with Israelis in the King ICT company and had to know how this job is done and should not have put Croatia in such an embarrassing situation, Sinčić told reporters.

Asked to comment on President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović decision to convene the Defence Council over the failed aircraft purchase, he said that instead of acting preventively with the personnel and bodies at her disposal, she was convening a meeting when the deal had fallen through.

She is the supreme commander of the armed forces, has personnel and contacts abroad, she was a diplomat, including in the US, she knows many people and should have obtained adequate information and known the protocol of buying fighter jets, and she should have warned the government about the risks and advised against the deal, said Sinčić.

He also commented on the fact that Croatian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Ivan Del Vechio and the president of the HDZ BiH Bosnian Croat party, Dragan Čović, had recently attended a ceremony marking the unconstitutionally declared day of BiH's Serb entity Republika Srpska.

Sinčić said the policy of Croatia's ruling HDZ party regarding BiH was a wrong and hypocritical policy of cooperation with someone one should not cooperate with.

Živi Zid MP Ivan Pernar said Čović had formed an alliance with Milorad Dodik, the incumbent chairman of the BiH Presidency, who Pernar said was not a Croatian ally and had given his consent to a BiH lawsuit against Croatia. He said attending a ceremony marking the day of an entity created on the disappearance of Croats from northern BiH said more than enough about the HDZ's love for Croats in BiH.

More news on the Živi Zid party can be found in our Politics section.

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