Portugal reacts to “Zelenskyy’s criticism”

“We’re doing everything possible”, says Marcelo

Portugal has reacted to criticism by Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, by clearly misinterpreting it, and then saying: “we are doing everything possible”.

Mr Zelenskyy’s criticism was not that Portugal was not supporting Ukraine with military equipment, protection of refugees or the sending of humanitarian aid.

It was that Portugal – along with a number of other EU Member States – has not shown itself to be in favour of fast-tracking Ukraine’s request for EU membership.

But this has been lost in the stories, which concentrate on ‘the prime minister and president saying ‘we are doing everything humanly possible’ to help Ukraine.

Again, it is one of the increasing number of occasions recently where headlines seem to have ‘run off with the ball’ in the wrong direction.

In an address to the European Council last Thursday, Volodymyr Zelenskyy “commented on the way he sees the position of each of the 27 leaders as to the possibility of the adhesion of Ukraine to the EU through a more rapid process”, explains Diário de Notícias.

“In relation to Portugal (as with Ireland), he used two words: “Well, almost”.

Ukrainian ambassador to Portugal Inna Ohnivets has since explained that what he meant, and what he means, is that Ukraine would like to see “strong support from the Socialist Party” in terms of Ukraine’s adhesion to the community, and “strong, clear support” in this regard from the government.

“We’re hoping for a more active position from the Portuguese government on this question”, she explained – meaning, this is the only issue where Ukraine needs clarity.

There is no doubt that Portugal has been more than generous in terms of opening its doors to Ukrainians fleeing the conflict. Over 22,000 have already been granted temporary protection status: Zelenskyy’s criticism had nothing to do with that side of things.

Yet prime minister António Costa responded to journalists in Brussels that Portugal “had given all support necessary to Ukraine” as much on a humanitarian level, as with the supply of military equipment.

He didn’t acknowledge the fact that Zelenskyy’s criticism was about clarity on Portugal’s position regarding to adhesion of Ukraine to the EU.

President Marcelo did more or less the same thing.

He told journalists: “I understand that people like President Zelenskyy who are experiencing a war always want more: more weapons, more military resources, more support. In this context, there are countries much richer and closer (to Ukraine) than Portugal that can give more than we have given. We have been giving everything we can, and in many cases, we have given things we did not expect to be able to give…”

These kind of responses to a criticism about something else entirely must have been hugely frustrating for the Ukrainian side.

Diário de Notícias recalls that two weeks ago, when Ukraine’s joining of the EU became a talking point, Portugal’s PM explained that the possibility of fast-tracking such a request was not a simple matter.

Mr Costa told journalists that Portugal had asked to join the EU in 1977, and didn’t manage to until 1986.

“There are countries that have been negotiating for years and years, and have still not managed to join”, he added – again leading journalists away from the fact that those countries are not being bombarded day after day by cruise missiles; their populations in some cases starving and resorting to have to drink ‘sewage water’.

This is the root of Ukraine’s frustrations. And they are not solely with Portugal or with Ireland, but with leaders like Holland’s Mark Rutte who is concerned that letting Ukraine in ahead of others, like Albania and Northern Macedonia, could risk ‘the stability of the Balkans’.

A read through of President Zelenksyy’s Twitter page does not actually see him criticising any countries. He is more often than not thanking them for the support they are showing his ravaged country which is losing citizens and vital infrastructure every day.

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