Croatian President Threatens Withdrawal of Forces From NATO Units as Alliance Unity Shows Growing Signs of Strain

Amid rising tensions between Russia and NATO over Ukraine Croatian President Zoran Milanovic has broken ranks with other NATO member states to rebuke the alliance’s policy towards Moscow. He announced the all forces from his country would be withdrawn from NATO contingents in the Eastern Europe in the event of conflict. Milanovic stated in a televised address: “reports that NATO – not a separate state, not the US – is increasing its presence and sending reconnaissance ships,” insisting that his government “have nothing to do with it and we won’t have anything to do with it, I guarantee you that… Not only will we not send the military, but if there is an escalation, we will recall every last Croatian military man.” He elaborated regarding his rationale that "this has nothing to do with Ukraine or Russia, it has to do with the dynamics of American domestic politics, [U.S. President] Joe Biden and his administration, which I supported,” and that he “sees dangerous behaviour in matters of international security.”

Milanovic’s statement comes amid some signs of disunity within NATO over policy towards adversaries and Russia in particular. A notable example has been Germany’s opposition to escalation and provision of arms to Ukraine, with British aircraft suppling the country notably avoiding German airspace as a result. Berlin rejected Ukrainian requests for military aid, while the Inspector of the Navy of the German Navy Kay-Achim Schönbach made an outspoken criticism of NATO actions towards Russia as shortly before resigning on January 22nd. Germany has also continued to move forward with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to facilitate Russian gas imports despite calls elsewhere in Europe as well as in the U.S. for countries to cut their dependance on Russian fossil fuel exports.

Another head of state broke ranks with the alliance's position six days prior to Milanovic on January 18th, when Polish President Andrzej Duda  stated that “it's no longer in Poland's interests to continue criticising China simply to please the Americans.” He further indicated that he would break with Washington and London’s boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February and attend personally. Nevertheless other alliance members have shown high readiness to confront China and particularly Russia in defence of common Western policy objectives, with Spain, France and Britain in particular expressing high willingness to reinforce NATO forces in Eastern Europe. Croatia joined NATO in 2009, and has a relatively low active strength of 15,200 personnel with 18,350 reservists including 11 MiG-21 fighter jets and 75 M-84 tanks inherited from the former state of Yugoslavia.

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