Croatia’s PM: NATO members failed to react to drone incident

NEWS 12.03.2022 13:29
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Source: Zeljko Hladika/PIXSELL

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic visited the site of the crash of a Soviet-era unmanned aerial vehicle in the Jarun area of southeast Zagreb on Saturday morning.

The drone was launched from the territory of Ukraine and crashed in Zagreb shortly after 11 pm on Thursday after running out of fuel. It had flown over Romania and Hungary, both NATO members, which did not react even though it stayed in their air space much longer than in Croatia’s, where it stayed for seven minutes before crashing down near a student dorm in Zagreb.

“We don’t know whose it is, everyone says it isn’t theirs,” Plenkovic said, adding that it was down to luck that no one had been hurt, apart from about 40 cars that had been damaged in a nearby car park.

“This indicates the need for closer cooperation within NATO itself because this is NATO’s air space, Romania’s Hungary’s and Croatia’s. We cannot tolerate this kind of situation nor should it have happened. This was a very clear and present threat which requires a response,” the prime minister said, adding the level of threat was not recognised and there was no appropriate reaction.

Plenkovic said that he would raise this issue in all NATO and EU institutions so that “both we and others would increase readiness for an effective and rapid response” to ensure that such unmanned aerial vehicles were neutralised at a safe location rather than crash down in a densely populated area of a capital city.

He added that yesterday he had informed all EU leaders of what had happened and had sent a letter to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noting that something like this could happen to other cities in any NATO or EU member state.

Theoretically speaking, this could have been Budapest, Ljubljana or Bratislava, but what is important is for us to step up our cooperation, he said.

“Was it accidental, was it an error, was it intentional, we don’t know at this moment,” Plenkovic said.

Asked by the press how it was possible that none of the countries the drone had flown through had warned Croatia, the PM said: “It’s possible, but it must not happen again.”

Hungary should say why it didn’t react

Hungary should say why none of its authorities in charge of flight control had reacted, given that the drone flew through Hungarian air space for 40 minutes, the prime minister said.

“That’s why we have sent a letter requesting an explanation of how it is possible that something like that happened, without raising alarm or reacting,” he said, warning that the drone could have fallen down on a nuclear power station in Hungary.

“This is a matter for Hungary to investigate, a matter for its army, air force, NATO. It’s not something we could have known here, so I don’t want to speculate,” he added.

“This is a test we all have a lot to learn from. We must react much better because such an incident must not happen again.”

Asked if NATO was downplaying the incident, Plenkovic said that Croatia certainly wasn’t. “As one of the allies, we will discuss it in both the political and military bodies of NATO, present evidence so that they can see what happened.”

Plenkovic said that Croatia would further invest in its air defence and ask the allies for help in protecting Croatian skies until the Croatian military obtained this capability.

He said he believed NATO was capable of protecting Croatia’s air space.

“What happened was unpredictable, something did not work well. But now, after this, I think vigilance will be much higher.”

Asked if the citizens should be concerned, the prime minister said it would be really absurd of him to say that everything was good after such an aerial vehicle had crashed down on the capital, but noted that this was an exception.

“How it happened, was it an act of provocation, was it intentional and who did it, we will find out,” Plenkovic said, adding that in general, people should not be concerned about security.

The military Tupolev Tu-141 Strizh unmanned aerial vehicle crashed down near a student dorm, home to 4,500 students, in Zagreb shortly after 11 pm on Thursday. The Soviet-era reconnaissance drone was launched from Ukraine, where there is ongoing military aggression by Russia.

That incident is being investigated by the Croatian military, police and the State Attorney’s Office.

Plenkovic said that the drone would be dug out of the ground to see if it contained any valuable information, and the authorities would contact other countries for more information to get a full picture.

The prime minister was accompanied by Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic, Veterans Minister Tomo Medved, Defence Minister Mario Banozic and Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman.

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