Parliament holds a one minute's silence for the victims of the terrible war in Ukraine
Parliament holds a one minute's silence for the victims of the terrible war in Ukraine

Relations will be revised if China offers Russia weapons – minister

Portugal marks one year of Russian attacks on Ukraine

Marking one year of war in Ukraine, the media today is full of stories – almost all of them centring on political positions.

Lusa news agency is sending out piecemeal the results of a comprehensive interview with minister for foreign affairs, João Gomes Cravinho, while the country’s defence minister, Helena Carreiras, is actually on an official visit to Kyiv.

The various forms of support Portugal has given this conflict are recalled; a one-minute’s silence is to be held in parliament, but the bulk of statements are left to João Gomes Cravinho, himself a former minister for defence, and a man with no qualms in calling Vladimir Putin “absolutely delusional”.

Maintaining this apparent ‘tough talking posture’, he has told Lusa that “China is trying a balancing act in relation to the conflict in Ukraine and that if it supplies Russia with arms, Portugal and the European Union will have to review relations with Beijing.

“I don’t think China will move towards military support for Russia. It would radically change the way China is seen in the world, it would be a big mistake and would also obviously change the way it relates to Europe, and Portugal would naturally be affected by this process,” he told the State news agency.

“China is in a difficult situation, of some balance,” but if it takes the step of militarily supporting Russia, there will be consequences: “We would have to review our ties with China. We would have to review the meaning of our political and economic relationship with China” he said.

These are categoric words, but in the context in which China owns myriad businesses in Portugal – not least the power grid (REN) and large chunks of power company EDP, are they just words?

Cravinho goes on: China and Russia entered into “a partnership without limits”, an expression used shortly before the war, but it is not clear that Beijing knew of the Russian President’s intentions towards Ukraine, and indications are that “it was not exactly pleased” when it found out. 

In a week in which Beijing and Moscow’s diplomacies have deepened relations, the Portuguese minister addressed the ‘peace plan for Ukraine’ that China proposes, “expressing doubts about its credibility”, says Lusa.

“There is a very strong link between the two countries, and China has less credibility when it says it wants to present a peace plan,” the minister said, noting that, on the other hand, the Chinese authorities point to several “important principles,” such as territorial integrity, respect for the United Nations Charter and the peaceful resolution of international disputes.

In this sense, “if a Chinese proposal respects these principles, it could be an interesting proposal,” he noted: “Let’s see if it is a proposal that manages to attract the attention of President Putin”.

Mr Gomes Cravinho “also left a message to Iran, which “is making a very serious mistake” by getting involved in military support for Russia.

“Iran’s situation was already very difficult. The EU’s tenth package of sanctions (to be declared today) already contains sanctions aimed at seven Iranian entities to penalise them for supporting Russia,” he told his interviewers.

Regarding the sanctions against Russia, Cravinho describes their impact as “much greater than what we see”. In addition to sanctions on individuals and oligarchs, who “can no longer access their homes in Malaga”, totalling 1,400 people from the Russian elite who “can no longer afford the lifestyle they had before”, there are “much greater consequences” on industrial capacity, which is fundamental to the war effort.

The minister pointed to the specific case of automobile production, which is facing a shortage of parts and interrupted supply chains. When talking about car manufacturing, he explained, it is not a question of cars being dangerous in themselves, but because there are many components “that are dual-use and can be used in the manufacture of equipment that has military functionality.”

Russia’s ability to feed its economy and its industry in particular “has been severely” hit, Gomes Cravinho insisted, which lead again to Iran, to which Russia has to resort for the purchase of ‘drones’ because it no longer has the necessary ‘chips’ to make them itself.

According to Lusa, the Socialist minister is confident that “public opinion in most European countries” is on-board with “the conviction that it is necessary to support Ukraine for as long as necessary”, pointing to positive facts like the rate of inflation “now falling”; the worst (in terms of economic repercussions of the war) is “possibly over”.

Even accepting that stocks of military equipment are not limitless – and that country’s like Portugal have a great deal less to offer than wealthier NATO members and allies – Gomes Cravinho stressed that Kyiv is right: military equipment should be supplied quickly, given the imminence of a potential new Russian offensive in the spring, and, “at this moment, it is essential that combat vehicles arrive on the ground as quickly as possible”. (see box)

Commenting on Russia’s ‘strength’ (and touching on the horror of “absolutely incredible and absolutely unacceptable casualties” by a power that “does not attach importance to human life”), he did voice the surprise so many felt: “the military capability of the Russians, after all, was much less than what I imagined and what President Putin imagined.”

The Russian leader – “today we realise this – was the target of misleading information from his own military services about his capacity” and the chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, General (Valery] Gerasimov), who was regarded as “a great military genius”, ended up with “a reputation that looks nothing like that”, the minister continued.

About a month into the invasion, Russian forces could not break through Kyiv’s defence lines and abandoned the immediate vicinity of the capital to concentrate on the southern fronts of the country, where they lost territory that had been conquered in the meantime and in the east, the scene of violent fighting in recent months, with few gains and at the cost of heavy casualties on both sides.

This is another “very interesting point worth exploring (…) Why was Russian capability overestimated?” He quizzed. “What happened to the investments that were made in the Russian armed forces? Did they reach their destination, or were they diverted to other purposes?”

Box: Portugal will continue to provide military support to Ukraine 

This is the overriding message from Portugal’s foreign affairs minister, albeit supplies are not limitless.

Portugal’s support “is always being calibrated” , he said.

“If we look at what Portugal has given in military terms, in terms of our GDP in ‘per capita’ terms, we see that Portugal is among the most generous. Our size, of course, does not allow us to be the biggest donors, but on our scale, we are being very generous.” 

This generosity will continue as long as necessary, although: “It is clear that we cannot invent new ways of giving every day, our own stocks are not unlimited, but I believe that we will continue to respond”.

The head of the Portuguese diplomacy pointed out that although it is “evident that as bilateral capabilities are diminishing, as is normal” – because much equipment has already been provided – “in the multilateral framework, Portugal will continue to be part of those who consider it fundamental to support Ukraine.”

The foreign minister referred to the process of a joint procurement by the European Union of military equipment, and of munitions in particular, of which “Portugal is part” and, in that sense, as the situation changes, new ways of responding to Ukraine’s needs are being identified.

In addition to M113 armoured vehicles and electric generators, Portuguese military personnel stationed in a NATO contingent in Romania and F16 fighters present in Lithuania, Portugal will send three German-made Leopard 2 heavy tanks to the Kyiv forces.

The supply of these tanks, like the US Abrams, was strongly resisted by  authorities in Berlin and Washington, which at the end of last month gave in to strong pressure from Ukraine and several allied countries.

While refusing to comment on the reasons for the German and US resistance, João Gomes Cravinho said that Portugal “was always open to considering the various proposals” from the Ukrainians, but from an overall perspective.  

“With the scale we have, the capabilities we have, we cannot move forward alone. For example, sending three Leopards to Ukraine would not make sense if it were not in a broader framework because nothing can be done with just three tanks.

In addition to heavy tanks, Kyiv’s forces are asking for more military equipment to deal with the intensification of the Russian offensive, such as fighter planes and long-range missiles.  

Long-range missiles are something Portugal does not have. As for the F-16 fighter planes, Lisbon’s conviction is that “there is no military justification at this time that would require this type of donation” to Ukraine.

“We have F-16s, it is a limited number, so I don’t know if there will ever be that possibility, but our position always has to consider the situation, and there is currently no joint conviction on the part of European Union countries and on the part of NATO countries that this is the best way to support Ukraine.” 

Putin will lose this war

Despite predicting that the conflict will go on for quite some time, the head of Portuguese diplomacy has no doubt that “President Putin will lose this war” because “there is great determination, there is a Ukrainian capacity for resistance, which can only be understood when we remember that they are defending their land and some incompetence and lack of motivation on Russia’s part, who are invading a foreign land and using conscripts who barely know what they are doing there“.

The Russian leader “unfortunately has so far given no sign of having understood this, which is something that much of the world has already understood, including some of its allies,” said the minister, stressing that “it is extremely important that the message be reiterated until the day President Putin starts making plans to leave Ukraine, where he should never have entered.”

As for the possibility that the outcome of the conflict may lie in Moscow through a change in the Kremlin leadership, João Gomes Cravinho maintained that Putin “has done something extremely risky and poorly thought out, and in those circumstances, it may be his own power that is at risk“.

However, he also stressed that “this is not a war against Russia, it is not a war against President Putin“, but a war “of defence for the territorial integrity of Ukraine” and what the consequences will be for the Russian president “is a purely secondary matter”.

This attitude mirrors the answer President Zelenskyy gave in an interview with Sky News earlier this year where he said that “after a full scale invasion” President Putin, to Mr Zelenskyy, “is nobody”.

Source material: LUSA