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News 30 Dec 16

Defence Expert Plays Down Croatia-Serbia 'Arms Race'

Croatia and Serbia may sound as if they are rushing into an arms race - but Croatia's announced purchase of new fighter jets has yet to be concluded while Russia's donation of jets to Serbia is less 'sensational' than it sounds, an analyst cautioned.

Sven Milekic
Swedish Gripen fighter jet. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Msgt. Billy Johnston, USAF

Although Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic has announced the purchase of new military jets for Croatia's air force, the idea is still far from realisation, a defence analyst said.

Grabar Kitarovic announced the news on Saturday in an interview for the daily newspaper Vecernji list.

She said the purchase of US military transport Black Hawk helicopters was already agreed, and there was also a consensus within the government to purchase new fighter jets soon.

Igor Tabak, from the Croatian defence and security website Obris, told BIRN that the President does not have the ultimate jurisdiction on purchasing new jets, however.

“She may have some influence on the issue with her advice to the government, but the whole thing is absolutely in the domain of the government,” he said.

It remained premature to talk about purchasing military jets when the government had not decided if it wants to maintain the fighting capability of its air force, Tabak cautioned.

He continued that even the after passage of such a decision, another decision on what types of jets would be purchased would have to follow before the purchase itself.

Croatia's daily Jutarnji list reported on Wednesday that the advisory team within the defence ministry had suggested keeping fighter jets and buying either Swedish Gripen or South Korean FA-50 jets.

Defence Minister Damir Krsticevic on Thursday said that Croatia needed fighter jets and promised that both decisions – on keeping fighting jets as part of the air force and a decision on the type to be purchased – will be made in 2017.

According to Tabak, governments had avoided making this decisions for a decade because the issue of modernisation of the jets is complicated and expensive and would have to be funded outside the regular defence budget.

Although Krsticevic seemed to support the President’s idea, Finance Minister Zdravko Maric sounded more cautious on Thursday, saying that Croatia “doesn’t need to hurry” with a decision on purchasing planes.

In recent years, NATO member Croatia has purchased most of its weapons from other members of the Alliance, predominantly the US.

Tabak said it was reasonable for Croatia to opt for weapons, equipment and logistics from Western countries, “which in the end, makes the usage of arms according to NATO standards cheaper and more rational for Croatia”.

Serbia is also beefing up its military stocks, sealing a deal to buy transport military helicopters from French Airbus Helicopters on Thursday.

Serbia relies mostly on Russian weapons, however. Last week, during his meeting in Moscow, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic made a deal to get a donation of six MiG-29 jets, 30 T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM 2 reconnaissance vehicles from Russia.

“With its self-proclaimed neutrality [between Russia and NATO], Serbia maybe has a much wider choice of arms at its disposal [to buy], but it has much bigger costs because of it,” Tabak emphasised.

Grabar Kitarovic’s talk of purchasing jets came as a reaction to Serbia’s own purchase of six fighter jets, coming sometime during 2017.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic responded on Saturday with sarcasm to the Croatian President's announcement.

“Why does the Croatian President immediately announce the purchase of new aircraft and helicopters, having talked down our military-technical agreement with Russia? Are they afraid of the 'flying cans' from Russia, as they said?” he said.

Tabak added that Serbia’s six new jets were most likely planned for “air-policing purposes” and not strictly military purposes.

“Maybe it’s not as sensational a move as the sensationalistic media in recent weeks presented,” he concluded.

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