one of Portugal's six Russian Kamov helicopters
Grounded since 2018, one of Portugal's six Russian Kamov helicopters

Portugal’s proud gift of Kamov helicopters to Ukraine still on hangar floor

Ukrainian technicians due to fly in to evaluate them

After the glowing soundbites comes reality: Portugal’s “proud gift” of six firefighter Kamov helicopters to Ukraine has moved precisely nowhere – essentially because the aircraft may never get off the ground.

Back in October, prime minister António Costa described Portugal’s gift as being a matter of “great pride, in the same way as we have handed over other material that has been requested by Ukraine – and we will continue to hand over so that Ukraine can defend itself, in the name of international law, to guarantee its national sovereignty and the integrity of its territory.”

But there are serious doubts that Ukraine’s national sovereignty or territorial integrity could ever be defended by Portugal’s Kamovs.

Explains Expresso: they have been grounded since at least January 2018 for lack of maintenance and certification – they no longer have their airworthiness certificates – and cannot fly in European skies as they are Russian-made material subject to sanctions”.

António Costa is intimately aware of the Kamovs’ history, as he was the minister of internal administration who authorised their purchase in 2006 for €348 million. 

They have since cost “many more millions”, Expresso continues, with maintenance problems and contracts with private companies that operated them. Indeed, various attempts at clawing back some of the expenses are still ongoing behind the scenes.

But the idea of offering them to Ukraine ‘works’ because the Kamovs are Russian, and Ukrainians will have a much better idea of how to get them in the air again – if at all possible – than technicians trained in Portugal and unused to Russian machinery

Four months ago, when defence minister Helena Carreiras announced that the Kamovs were being ‘transferred to Ukraine’, she said she hoped the process would take place “as soon as possible.

Now, perhaps wisely, it has been decided to leave them exactly where they have been standing for the last four-plus years (in a hangar in Ponte de Sor) until Ukrainian experts can decide whether the effort will be worth it.

Expresso has tried to get a timeline for the arrival of Ukraine’s technical team, but so far responses from the defence ministry have been oblique.

The paper has also discovered that the 14 armoured cars promised by Portugal 11 days ago have not yet left the country. The defence ministry explained this is because it is “awaiting a decision by allies”.

Portugal is still ‘evaluating’ whether or not to send the four Leopard 2 tanks pledged by foreign affairs minister João Gomes Cravinho last month.

Decision-making in neighbouring Spain has gone more smoothly. Spanish government sources, cited by El Pais newspaper have today announced the country will be sending between four and six Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, in a first phase of donations.

The final number is dependant on the condition of the tanks, and thee number of other countries willing to send theirs, adds Público.

Spain’s Leopard 2s “have been stored for the past 10 years in a base near Zaragoza; their rehabilitation is being negotiated as a matter of urgency between the defence ministry and military industry”, says the paper.

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