Croatia gets French fighter jets in major arms purchase

Croatia took delivery Thursday of six Rafale fighter jets it has bought from France in the country’s biggest arms purchase since its 1991 war of independence.

The used warplanes — the first part of a 12-jet deal — touched down in the capital Zagreb, heralding a major overall of Croatia’s air force, which is replacing its fleet of ageing Soviet-era MiGs.

Outgoing Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and other top officials held an arrival ceremony for the planes, which were flown by Croatian pilots after months of training in France.

Plenkovic hailed what he called “the biggest day for the strengthening of the Croatian army and air force” in years.

“We have a deterrent power that we have not had before,” said Plenkovic.

“This is changing our international position, including in NATO and the European Union.”

In 2021, Croatia agreed to buy the 12 jets in a deal worth one billion euros ($1.3 billion) — its biggest arms purchase since it fought to break away from the former Yugoslavia three decades ago.

The EU member chose the French package over bids from Israel, Sweden and the United States.

Croatia joined NATO in 2009 and the EU four years later.

Last year, Zagreb spent slightly below NATO’s recommended threshold of two percent of gross domestic product on defence, according to the alliance’s figures.

Pressure has risen for NATO members to respect their spending targets after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Croatia’s neighbour and longtime rival Serbia is also hoping to sign a deal to purchase Rafale jets from France soon.

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