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14 Mar, 2022 15:06

NATO member vows to build up air defense after drone incident

Croatia’s security is its own responsibility, the president said
NATO member vows to build up air defense after drone incident

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic declined to provide details about his nation’s probe of last week’s incursion and crash of a Soviet-made drone, but said the incident showed the shortcomings of the national air defense system. NATO is a trusted organization, but the country’s security is ultimately its own responsibility, the president said during a press conference on Monday.

Milanovic stood before the cameras after receiving the latest update from top officials about the Thursday night incident in which an old, unmanned aircraft entered Croatia’s airspace and crashed in a park area in the capital, Zagreb. The ownership of the aircraft was not confirmed by Croatian officials, but it came from Ukraine via Romania and Hungary.

The president said the incident showed that the nation needs to invest more in its defensive capacities. It’s not an extremely urgent matter, he added, since an incident like last week’s is unlikely to happen again anytime soon, but decisions need to be made.

“We are a member of NATO, I would say, a solid and loyal one. But at the end of the day we are the only ones who take care of our own security,” Milanovic said. He stressed that he didn’t believe other members of the US-led bloc should have taken down the unidentified aircraft during its hour-long flight towards Croatia.

The Croatian leader dismissed suggestions that the country urgently needed to deploy US-made Patriot anti-aircraft missiles in response to the incident. The idea was promoted by some senior Croatian officials, including Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

Zagreb considered buying used American long-range interceptors a few years ago, but decided in 2016 that the defense money would be better spent on French Dassault Rafale fighter jets. During the press conference, the president fired off a barrage of rhetorical questions when asked about the proposed deployment of American systems.

“What kind of Patriot systems? What do we need them for? Is Hezbollah attacking us every day? Who will man the Patriots? Tram controllers?” Milanovic asked, before stating that the purchase of the Rafales was the right call.

Pressured by the media on whether reports were true that the mystery drone carried a bomb that detonated when it crashed, Milanovic referred journalists to Defense Minister Mario Banozic. The minister claimed on Saturday that bomb fragments were recovered from the crash site. The president said the bomb theory was “not a topic that is being talked about publicly.”

He likewise declined to comment on whether the aircraft was operated by the Ukrainian military, as is widely suspected by the national media. “We can’t be completely sure. We will probably never know that,” he stated, adding that he didn’t expect Kiev to claim responsibility for the incident, even if the aircraft belonged to it.

The drone, presumably a Tu-141 reconnaissance aircraft designed in the 1970s, crashed in Zagreb near a student campus on Thursday night shortly before midnight local time. Nobody was hurt in the incident.