Croatia Internal Rifts and Action in Ukraine: A 12-month Forecast

The Croatian government has consistently shown support for Ukraine against Russian aggression. Despite that, the president’s stance against military support will cause tensions within the country. However, these tensions are unlikely to reduce Croatia’s diplomatic support for Ukraine. Accordingly, Croatia will continue to align themselves with the United States and the EU and continue to dismantle relations with Russia.

Key Judgement 1. It is likely that recent comments by Croatian President Milanović will ignite a divide in Croatia’s internal politics in the next 12 months.

  • Tensions between President Zoran Milanović and Prime Minister Plenković have been prevalent since April 2022. During this time, Plenković claimed to be cutting contact with the president [source] [source]. 
  • President Milanović has recently made statements that Ukraine should not be in NATO and criticises the West for intervening in the war [source]. He has also stated that Crimea will never again be part of Ukraine [source].
  • Milanović’s comments have faced a public backlash from Ukrainians online [source] and have aggravated relations with the Croatian government [source]. 
  • In January 2023, President Milanović publicly criticised Prime Minister Plenković for stating that the government made a “historic mischoice” regarding the rejection of a proposal to train Ukrainian soldiers [source] [source]. 
  • As head of government, Prime Minister Plenković holds more power over legislative matters [source].

Key Judgement 2. In the next 12 months, the Croatian government is highly likely to continue providing diplomatic support to Ukraine. This is because of the country’s historical experience and its position as a member of the European Union.

  • Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the Croatian parliament have publicly stated their full solidarity with Ukraine [source] [source]. 
  • The Croatian government has often linked the aggression against Ukraine to that faced by Croatia in the 1990s [source].  
  • Croatia has already sent military equipment, including weapons, to Ukraine [source]. 
  • At the beginning of 2023, Croatia fully solidified their position as a member of the European Union. Accordingly, they joined the Schengen zone and adopting the Euro currency [source]. 
  • Significantly, the European Union has consistently pledged to support Ukraine against Russian aggression [source].
  • On the contrary, if Milanović continues to protest against sending military support to Ukraine, there may be delays in passing legislation. Recently, parliament rejected a vote to join the EU Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM) by a small margin of four MPs. This reduces the probability of this key judgement. 

Key Judgement 3. It is Likely that Croatia will continue to use the war in Ukraine as a justification to dismantle relations with Russia. This will improve relations with the United States in the next 12 months.

  • The Prime Minister recently met with the US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans and discussed the importance of providing assistance to Ukraine [source]. 
  • In early 2022, Russia’s Defence Ministry wrote to Croatia’s defence attaché. They stated that 200 Croatian mercenaries were fighting against Russia in Ukraine [source]. 
  • In April 2022, Croatia expelled Russian diplomats from the country. Russia has since commented on this decision as an act of hostility [source]. 
  • Russia added Croatia to their list of ‘unfriendly nations’ in July 2022 [source]. 
  • The United States supports Croatia with military assistance, strategic trade control and border control [source].

Intelligence Cut-off Date: 15 February 2023

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