Costa meets in Lisbon with NATO leader with Ukraine and Africa on agenda

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The prime minister, António Costa, meets today in Lisbon with the secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, as part of the round that the Norwegian leader is conducting before the organization’s summit in July, focused on support for Ukraine.

On the eve of Stoltenberg’s visit to Lisbon, Foreign Minister João Gomes Cravinho said that the NATO Secretary General’s visit would focus on Ukraine, but would also address Russia’s presence and “destabilizing objectives” in Africa.

O primeiro-ministro, António Costa
O primeiro-ministro, António Costa

The head of Portuguese diplomacy also said that Portugal will continue to support Ukraine “on the four fronts [political, military, economic and humanitarian],” even if Portuguese ‘stocks’ are not “unlimited.

In recent weeks, Stoltenberg has been very active in the preparations for the upcoming NATO summit on July 11-12 in Vilnius, Lithuania, and has already confirmed that the possibility of Ukraine joining the Atlantic Alliance will be one of the meeting’s items.

This is an idea that is supported by several member states of the Atlantic Alliance, starting with the Nordic countries and Poland, but which still merits reluctance from other countries in the organization, including Portugal, which fear an escalation of the ongoing conflict in Ukrainian territory, involving Western countries and Moscow.

On Monday, NATO’s secretary general expressed support for concertation at the next summit on a multi-year program of support for Ukraine that would allow Kiev to advance to the organization’s standards, both in equipment and military doctrine, and thus become fully operational with the Alliance.

At the latest NATO Military Committee meeting in Brussels, Stoltenberg called for continued support for Ukraine in the conflict against Russia and “political courage” for the 31 allies to increase defense spending to a minimum of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and increase arms production.

In Monday’s remarks, the NATO secretary general returned to the subject and called for that indicative figure “not to be a ceiling, but a minimum that all allies should provide immediately and not in a decade.”

Portugal was the 9th NATO member state to devote the least percentage of GDP to defense in 2022, although it has moved slightly closer to the target of 02% of GDP (1.38%) and plans to increase spending to 1.66% this year – a goal that was initially set for 2024 – and to reach 2% by the end of the decade.

By the end of April, member states have provided Ukraine with more than 1,500 armored vehicles and 230 tanks since the beginning of the invasion of the Russian Federation in February last year.

These quantities, according to Stoltenberg, “correspond to 98% of the equipment promised” to Ukraine’s Armed Forces to help repel the Russian invasion, including the dispatch of modern tanks, such as the German-made Leopard 2, which Berlin was reluctant to authorize, but which it did, including three Portuguese vehicles (in addition to M113 armor, electric generators, ammunition, and rescue vehicles), as well as the UK’s Challenger 2 and, in the future, the US Abrams.

However, the secretary general of the Atlantic Alliance warned against “underestimating Russia,” since “what it is failing in quality” on the battlefield, “it is making up for in quantity,” when the Kiev authorities insist that they need more military equipment to start the counteroffensive against Russian lines.

A sensitive issue that has been in focus in recent days is the training of Ukrainian pilots and the supply of F-16 fighter jets to Kiev, which countries such as the UK or Poland are ready to move forward, but which other member states of the organization, including Portugal which owns these aircraft, are hesitant, fearing an escalation of the conflict.

The Russian military offensive on Ukrainian territory, launched on February 24 last year, has plunged Europe into what is considered the most serious security crisis since World War II (1939-1945).

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