|Croatian embassy in Moscow||Russian embassy in Zagreb|
|Tomislav Car (since January 2019)||Anvar Azimov (since June 2015)|
Croatia–Russia relations (Russian: Российско-хорватские отношения, Croatian: Rusko-hrvatski odnosi) refer to bilateral foreign relations between Croatia and Russia. The countries established diplomatic relations on 25 May 1992. Croatia has an embassy in Moscow and honorary consulates in Kaliningrad, Novosibirsk, and Sochi. Russia has an embassy in Zagreb and honorary consulates in Pula and Split. While geographically not close, Croatia and Russia are both Slavic countries and thus share cultural heritage. Both countries are full members of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Croatia is a popular tourist destination with Russian travelers in spite of a drastic drop in the numbers after 2014 following the Ukrainian crisis that caused political tension between Russia and the EU, to which Croatia had acceded in 2013. At the end of 2016, Russian experts were cited as judging Russian–Croatian relations to be "cold".
Cultural and personal ties between Russia and persons from the territory of modern Croatia date far back prior to Croatian independence in 1991, such as a trip to Moscow by Croatian Catholic missionary Juraj Križanić in 1659 who later was exiled to Tobolsk in Siberia where he spent 16 years writing manuscripts that promoted Pan-Slavism.
Against the backdrop of the Illyrian movement, a pan-South-Slavist movement, regarded in Croatian historiography as part of the Croatian national revival (Hrvatski narodni preporod), some prominent Croats in the 19th century (the lands of modern Croatia then being largely part of the Austrian Empire, later Austria-Hungary) sought to develop a stronger relationship with Russia because "they saw in Imperial Russia a world power and brotherly Slavic nation from which they had hoped to gain help during the Croatian National Revival."
Croatian nationalist Eugen Kvaternik, who was one of the two founders of the Croatian nationalist Party of Rights, traveled to Russia at the end of 1850s in a bid to enlist help for the cause of the Croatian independence from the Austrian empire, but didn't achieve much. One of the notable figures of the Illyrian movement, Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski, maintained contacts with a number of Russian academics, slavists, university professors, his contact person with them being the Russian priest at the Russian Embassy in Vienna, Mihail Fjodorović Rajevski. He wrote to Russian scientist Alexander Stepanovich Popov in 1877: "You in Moscow know very well for how long South Slavs had been waiting for salvation. You also know that the eyes of the Slavs are fixed on you and that our hearts are full with you".
While Russia's relations with Serbia, a country popularly viewed as a traditional ally of Russia, deteriorated significantly following the Congress of Berlin (1878), her influence in the Croatian lands increased: the Party of Rights under Ante Starčević adopted a Russophile orientation, a tactic in their bid to achieve Croatian independence of the Habsburgs. Such aspirations notwithstanding, the visit to Saint Petersburg of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and his conference with Nicholas II of Russia in 1897 heralded a secret agreement between the two empires to honour and seek to maintain the status quo in the Balkans.
In 1915–1917, several formations of the Royal Croatian Home Guard within the Austro-Hungarian Army, as well as the Common Army′s (K.u.K.) regiments recruited from the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia (such as the 79th Infantry Regiment from Otočac), participated in the WWI campaigns fighting against the Imperial Russian Army in Galicia and Bukovina; they incurred heavy losses, especially in June 1916, during the first phase of the Russian offensive in 1916.
During the period between the world wars, in the 1920s–1930s, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which had incorporated the Croatian lands, hosted a sizable part of the White exiles who fled Soviet Russia during the Russian Civil War. Along with Serbia, Croatia accepted thousands of mainly indigent Russian refugees led by General Pyotr Wrangel and Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky. Until his death in 1936, Metropolitan Anthony was regarded as a leader of all the Russian refugees in Yugoslavia, a country whose staunchly anti-Soviet, anti-Communist monarchist regime refused to establish diplomatic relations with the USSR until June 1940. Zagreb and some other Croatian cities had numerous military, religious, educational and professional Russian establishments, all of which were closed down in May 1945, after the imposition of the Communist regime in Croatia. Most of those few Russians who had failed to leave for the West, were subjected to reprisals and prosecution, or forced to leave for the USSR.
During the German-Soviet War (June 1941–May 1945), the 369th Croatian Reinforced Infantry Regiment (a unit of Germany′s 100th Jäger Division of the German Army, under Croatian officers Viktor Pavičić and later Marko Mesić) distinguished itself in the Battle of Stalingrad, but surrendered along with the German 6th Army in early February 1943. At the end of the war in Europe, units of the Red Army′s 3rd Ukrainian Front fought in some Croat-populated territories, then mostly outside the borders of the pro-Germany Independent State of Croatia (the NDH). The USSR had otherwise actively supported Tito's Yugoslav Partisans — against Germany, the NDH, and allies thereof, as well as Chetniks — since 22 June 1941 when Germany attacked the Soviet Union. In November 1944, during the Battle of Batina (now in Croatia), 1,237 men of the Red Army were killed fighting against the combined Axis forces. On the other hand, the 1st Cossack Cavalry Division and the 2nd Cossack Cavalry Division merged into the XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps in February 1945 under German command and manned mainly by Cossacks from the USSR, from 1943 conducted successful tactical operations in Croatia against both Communist partisans and — from late 1944 — the Red Army. The fighting between the Cossack forces under Helmuth von Pannwitz and the Red Army in northern Slavonia in December 1944 is viewed by Russian historians as last battles of the Russian Civil War. Also fighting on the territory of the NDH from October 1944 — against the Communist partisans and the Soviet troops — were the retreating units of the Russian Protective Corps, whose commander, Russian general Boris Shteifon, died in Zagreb on 30 April 1945.
In November 1945, the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia was proclaimed, Croatia being one of its constituent republics. The USSR maintained a consulate general in Zagreb.
Social scientists concur that for most people in Croatia the dominant political narrative that tends to determine voting at elections, perpetuates their respective families′ political affiliation during WWII: either with Tito's Communist partisans, or supporters of the Nazi-backed Ustasha regime of the NDH, a schism in Croatia's society that has grown even wider since the consensus-based political goal of acceding to the EU was accomplished in 2013. A number of prominent Croats in Socialist Yugoslavia had close ties with the USSR and these people's influence in the government of independent Croatia that emerged in 1991 continued thereafter.
According to the allegations in the Croatian press, in violation of the UN arms embargo imposed on the former Yugoslavia, during the Croatian War of Independence, significant amounts of arms were delivered from Russia to Croatia. Russian president Boris Yeltsin allegedly approved shipments of weapons by 150 airplanes, which took off from a military base 200 kilometers east of Moscow in the period from 1992 to 1997. There were 150 to 160 flights that transported hundreds of tons of weaponry per year. In 2016, Croatian daily Večernji List published an article in which Marin Tomulić, representative of the Croatian Government's Office for the Protection of the Constitutional Order in negotiations on weaponry, stated that he received a catalog of all types of ″Russian″ weapons from the French Government. In 2017, Večernji List published an article in which businessmen Zvonko Zubak, owner of a company that was Croatia's main weapons supplier during the war, claimed that Russian Ambassador to Croatia Anvar Azimov had summoned him to the Russian Embassy asking for an "inventory of all arms that arrived to Croatia via Russia between 1992 and 1997"; the article cited Azimov as allegedly stating that Croatia "should be reminded of who was arming and rescuing it during the embargo". The inventory, that Večernji List has seen, cites 16.000 tonnes of various Russian weapons, including two MiG 21 jets, few squadrons of transport and assault helicopters, including Mil Mi-24, and anti-aircraft systems, including the S-300 missile system. In April 2017, former Croatian president Ivo Josipović said that "during the war, Russia helped Croatia, not only with weaponry, but also politically". In an official statement published in 2017, Russian Foreign Ministry rejected allegations of arms exports to Croatia as false, "having as their goal to tarnish the policy of the Russia in the Balkans", adding that "Russia has always strictly complied with its international legal obligations, including those related to the regime of the embargo on the delivery of weapons".
During the 1990s, major fortunes were made in Russia by some Croatian nationals such as Danko Končar, who attributed his business success in Russia, among other things, to his "normal human contact" with the FSB, Russia's successor agency to the USSR's KGB.
In 2000s and the early 2010s, consecutive presidents of Croatia, Stjepan Mesić and Ivo Josipović, made multiple official and working visits to Russia. According to former Croatian ambassador to Russia Božo Kovačević, Russia's leadership stopped taking the Croatian government seriously by the end of the 2000s, as they had realised that successive governments of Croatia had been consciously deceiving their Russian counterparts when pledging cooperation on the Druzhba Adria pipeline project, whose eventual rejection by the Croatian side Kovačević puts down primarily to pressure on the part of the U.S.
At the beginning of 2016, Russian ambassador to Croatia Anvar Azimov said that none of the ten Croatian ministers invited by him to attend various events in Russia had visited Russia. At the end of 2016, Russian experts were cited as assessing Russian–Croatian relations as "cold". Croatia's position as a member of both NATO and the European Union can be contrasted to that of Serbia, with which it has strained relations. During the Ukrainian crisis from 2014 on, volunteers of the two ethnic groups were on opposing sides, Croats fighting for Ukraine and Serbs fighting for the pro-Russia militia. In September 2016, Jutarnji list reported that Croatia expelled one Russian diplomat suspected of spying. An unnamed source, described as "a former Croatian diplomat who was well familiar with the situation in Russia", stated that he knew for a fact that "the Russians were very hurt" and that they responded by expelling one Croatian diplomat. An article published in the Foreign Affairs magazine in July 2017 referred to Andrej Plenković′s government as "currently the West’s strongest ally against Russian expansion in the Balkans."
The visit to Russia by Croatia's president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in October 2017 was seen by Russian commentators as a sign of tentative warming of relations that had been ″semi-frozen″ on the official level since 2009. President Grabar-Kitarović stated that relations between two countries were once again becoming dynamic and promising.
On 26 March 2018, Croatia expelled one Russian diplomat as a show of solidarity with the United Kingdom which accused Russia of poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal. In retaliation, Russia on 30 March banned the chief of staff of the Croatian foreign minister Marija Pejčinović Burić — Rina Eterović Goreta, who had from 2015 until 2017 been Croatia's chargé d'affaires in Moscow, — from entering its territory in an official capacity. Russia's choice of person was judged to be a surprise by experts.
According to the statistics of the Croatian Ministry of the Interior published in early 2019, in the period from 2000 until 2017, sixty-six Russian nationals had been granted Croatian citizenship in the expedited procedure as provided for by Article 12 of the Law on Croatian Citizenship; some of these persons are believed to be members of Vladimir Putin′s inner circle of friends.
On 1 April 2019, Russia's Sberbank announced it had formally acquired ownership of ″about 40 per cent of the net assets of Fortenova Group". The latter was set up as part of the debt-for-equity swap deal agreed upon between the government-appointed extraordinary administration of the demised Agrokor, the biggest privately owned company in the Balkans founded by Ivica Todorić, and its creditors such as Sberbank and VTB Bank. The deal was viewed by experts as having given Vladimir Putin ″indirect leverage on the Croatian economy and on the largest firm in the former Yugoslavia″. Sberbank's pointman for Agrokor had been Maxim Poletaev, whose wife, Yelena, was granted Croatian citizenship in 2015. Maxim Poletaev became chairman of Fortenova's board of directors.
Croatia exports mainly food, drugs, shaving products, flasks for metal foundry and telecommunications equipment, while Russia exports oil, oil and petroleum gases, accounting 90 percent of imports from Russia to Croatia, mineral and chemical fertilizers, aluminum wrought and boilers for steam production. In 2008, according to Croatia's official statistics, trade between the countries totalled at 3.38bln US dollars. Due to mutual sanctions between the European Union and Russia introduced in 2014, the trade between Russia and Croatia declined in 2015 for 40%. According to the Federal Customs Service of Russia, the trade turnover between Croatia and Russia amounted $1.23 billion with Russian exports decreasing by 35%, amounting $988.4 million, and Croatian exports amounting $238 million, decreasing by 43.7%. In 2016, trade between two countries amounted c. $810 million. In 2017, trade between two countries amounted $807 million, and in the first half of 2018 rose by 64%.
In March 2017, more than a third of the debt incurred by Agrokor, Croatia's largest privately owned company that was put into state-run administration in April, was said to be held by Russia's two biggest banks, the state-owned Sberbank and VTB Bank. The Russian ambassador to Croatia Anvar Azimov's public threat to Agrokor in February 2017 was seen by Croatian and regional analysts as a sign that Agrokor's problems had a geopolitical dimension and were being instrumentalized by Russia to expand its influence and exert pressure. At an extradition hearing in the London court on 7 November 2017, Agrokor's owner Ivica Todorić’s lawyer stated that the criminal case against his client was linked to “perceived Russian influence” and ″ar[ose] in part from the involvement of Russian banks and financing.”
In 2012, over 203.000 Russian citizens visited Croatia. After Croatia joined the EU in 2013, it was forced to introduce visas for Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish nationals, which consequentially led to the decline in arrivals of Russian tourists. In 2016, according to the Russian statistics, the number totaled upward of 55.000 persons.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Croatia–Russia relations.|
- Documents on the Croatia–Russia relationship from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ‹See Tfd›(in Russian)
- List of international treaties and international acts signed between the Republic of Croatia and the Russian Federation[permanent dead link]
- Embassy of Russia in Zagreb ‹See Tfd›(in Croatian) ‹See Tfd›(in Russian)
- Embassy of Croatia in Moscow ‹See Tfd›(in Croatian) ‹See Tfd›(in Russian)
- Croatian Russian historical and cultural relations