President Milanović on crash of unmanned aircraft in Zagreb: this is a serious incident, I demand precise information as to how it came about

11. March 2022.

The President of the Republic and Commander in Chief Zoran Milanović addressed the public at a special press conference held because of the crash of the drone in a neighbourhood of Zagreb. Earlier in the day President Milanović held a meeting with the Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, the directors of the security and intelligence agencies, experts from the General Staff and intelligence services. In his public address, President Milanović stated that this is a “serious incident”, which according to available information, “was not directed against Croatia”. He called for calm from the citizens.

“Therefore, we know where the object flew from, we had no advance warning. The drone flew over Hungary for over 40 minutes, it was less than seven minutes in the Croatian air space, and crashed in the Jarun neighbourhood, fortunately with no casualties. This is a serious incident according to information we have. An investigation is under way, we wish to ascertain all the facts. I call upon the citizens to be calm because events like this are bound to happen in such conflicts. We estimate that this was not directed against Croatia. Nevertheless, certain procedural things must be examined, we must ascertain how it has come to this, and how come a drone the size of an airplane was not struck down on its path from evidently Ukraine to Zagreb”, President Milanović stated.

Asked how it is possible that Croatia did not undertake anything in terms of air defense and how is it possible that nobody undertook anything in other NATO member states over which the drone flew, President Milanović replied: “This is currently the object of a serious investigation in the states over which this drone flew for a long period of time. It was in Croatian air space briefly, therefore the question is, given the quality of the equipment we have could we have done anything?”

He was further questioned whether the Croatian air defense detected at all this drone, and President Milanović replied: “The radars detected it, but it was in our air space for a very briefly. This is not the time to point the finger at anyone. I am not pointing the finger at anyone, but I demand exact facts”. President Milanović confirmed that he called the Prime Minister this morning to discuss the matter.

“The facts will be ascertained. What I wonder is, how is it possible that an unsophisticated drone had flown unnoticed for nearly an hour in the air space of NATO member states, and that nobody noticed. An investigation is under way, this is not a job for the police only because they lack this kind of expertise. Military services and personnel are involved, and as things stand now, the drone flew in from Ukraine, at an altitude of 1,300 metres, at a speed of over 500 knots, which is slightly below 1,000 km/h, which is the speed of a commercial passenger aircraft, and crashed in Zagreb when it ran out of fuel. Control was lost over it”, President Milanović noted. Even though the drone came from the territory of Hungary, President Milanović said: “This is not an issue for Hungary only, it is an issue for the joint NATO command in Spain that should have all the information in real time, in the shortest possible period of time and react, yet nothing happened”.

Journalists inquired whether a National Security Council session will be convened because of this incident. “A National Security Council session will be held when the Prime Minister and I agree on it. We have all the information for the time being. I have been thoroughly briefed. A National Security Council session used for a photo op is senseless. When at a time like this I call the Prime Minister or he calls me, when we coordinate and talk to a group of people that are the only ones in the country to know something, when I talk to the mayor, that’s that. The National Security Council is not an operational body”, President Milanović explained.

Questioned further on the state of affairs in the Croatian air defense, President Milanović stated that “it is in the state as much as is invested in it”. He explained that we now depend on our Western allies until we get 12 French aircraft. He warned that they will be useless until we invest further resources in them. The President reminded that the rate of investments “is unsatisfactory”, something he has been saying for months and at the last Defense Council session. He has yet to receive the minutes of this session “because I demanded that there be a formulation about the state of affairs being unsatisfactory”. “Yes – unsatisfactory. We have not yet paid the price, but could have. Let us learn the lesson from this”, the President warned.

He concluded that there is no need to call out the NATO Secretary General, but that a lesson should be learned from this and be vigilant.