Pro-Putin NGOs row: PM puts faith in secret services

Condemning slur against PCP communists as “witch hunt”

The Setúbal refugee controversy continues to fill column inches, with prime minister António Costa today attempting to draw a line in the sand.

First, he told journalists, he is confident that internal security/ intelligence services “are active” and that the State will “continue to act in conformity” whenever illicit activity is flagged.

He stressed that an inspection has been organised of Setúbal town hall and the way it dealt with Ukrainian refugees when Russian citizens were still in charge of their support.

Much however has changed since the revelations by Expresso last week – and every night news channels come up with more that needs changing.

Last night, for example, SIC reported that the town hall didn’t even have a ‘data protection officer’ (as has been required by law since 2018).

This was rectified almost as the bulletin aired, but the choice – of the current director of general administration and finances – hasn’t impressed APPSD (the association of professionals in data protection and security) whose president Inês Oliveira said it would have been much better to have brought in someone ‘from outside’ rather than simply adding to the job description of someone already on the payroll.

Otherwise, links with the Edintsvo association led by Igor Khashin – the former president of Casa da Rússia and the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, have finally been severed – after 17 years, and tens of thousands of euros in subsidies – and various ‘investigations’ are underway.

But, the PM stressed, when it comes to slurs against the PCP – of the sort publicised last weekend at a ‘thank you rally’ of Ukrainian citizens and associations – it is time to stop and re-think.

The idea that PCP communists could be considered illegal “for supposed support of Russia” is “inconceivable”, he said.

According to the PM, the PCP has a role within Portuguese democracy, and to suggest otherwise is to try and “create the atmosphere of a witch-hunt”.

Portugal has an unequivocal position, in terms of diplomacy, in the support Ukraine, and “absolute condemnation” of the activity of Russia, he said. “We support investigation of war crimes committed by Russia, but we also need to defend democracy and liberty on our own soil”.

People are entitled to their opinions; and free to choose the parties they vote for.

Mr Costa added that it is “clear to everyone the profound divergence the government maintains with the position the PCP has affirmed regarding to the conflict in Ukraine. But from political divergence with the PCP to pass to outlawing the PCP is something absolutely inconceivable in a democratic State of Law…”

The PM referred to Portugal’s recent expulsion of 10 members of Russian embassy staff as another example of how intelligence in this country is working, and will continue to work.

If pro-Putin NGOs continue to be active in this country, the inference was that Portugal’s intelligence services are now well-warned.

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