Defence minister Helena Carreiras
Defence minister Helena Carreiras. Image: Paulo Cunha/ Lusa

Portugal back tracks on Leopard tanks for Ukraine

Defence minister stresses “need to articulate with others”

Five days after foreign affairs minister João Gomes Cravinho said Portugal would be sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine (number not specified), defence minister Helena Carreiras has begun backtracking.

She stressed today that a decision has not yet been taken.

“We are talking with our partners about the possibility of contributing to the build-up of this capability of Ukraine. We cannot do it in isolation. We have to understand that this is a decision that has to be collective. It is necessarily collective,” she told reporters on the sidelines of the National Defence ‘Days on Space’ at Forte de São Julião in Oeiras.

According to the minister – who refused to comment on the recent Expresso revelations that most of Portugal’s 37 Leopard 2 tanks are “inoperable” – “there are different things to consider, whether in the constitution of the capacity itself, or issues that have to do with the operability of the means, with the issues of training, with the issues of substitutes”.

Then Ms Carreiras mentioned concern with the nation’s “own capabilities” – the need to maintain national capabilities – vis-a-vis the need to articulate aid to Ukraine, “which is permanent and will continue”.

All this smacked not just of ‘backtracking’ but a form of institutional ‘bla bla’. Only five days ago, João Gomes Cravinho, himself a former minister for defence, was telling journalists that Portugal, in sending some of its Leopard 2 tanks was “contributing to the defeat of Russia”.

But Ms Carreiras’ priorities are to “maintain our military capabilities, sustain and modernise”.

“We are committed to that, it is an important priority, and it is also through that that we are going to look at the issues of our operationality of equipment and means of the force system,” she added.

If this sounded a trifle oblique, it was compounded by the fact the defence minister then said she could “not say anything further”…

Bottom line: the government is “looking very carefully” at the need to “modernise, maintain and sustain equipment and resources” that it has “to have more operational armed forces” and to “articulate this with all the other international challenges and commitments”, says State news agency Lusa.

Last week several countries announced they would be supplying Ukraine with German-made Leopard 2 tanks after Germany (as manufacturer) authorised the decision and the United States committed to its supply of Abrams armoured vehicles, which Kyiv has insistently requested.

It was widely believed that Portugal would be supplying four of its tanks (leaving 33 on national soil).

Now it is looking increasingly likely that Portugal will, for the time being, only be involved in training Ukrainians on how to operate these much more modern tanks than they are used to – particularly if Expresso’s exposé on national tanks’ state of unreadiness is correct.

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