What If It Were Portugal?

MANUEL DE ALMEIDA/LUSA

Oliver Alexander, a Danish businessman working in a beachfront apartment in southern Portugal, is watching war play out more than 2,000 miles away in something like real time.

With Twitter on his computer and Telegram on his phone, a flood of videos allow him to identify Russian tanks rolling over Ukrainian bridges and Russian helicopter gunships blasting away at a Ukrainian airport.

Yet for all the visuals surging across the Internet, Alexander is unsure whether they are helping most people understand events in far-off battlefields. The intensity and immediacy of social media are creating a new kind of fog of war, in which information and disinformation are continuously entangled with each other—clarifying and confusing in almost equal measure.

Alexander has become an expert at seeing the often-subtle differences between Russian and Ukrainian tanks and weaponry. He’s learned to identify key Ukrainian landmarks. Most of all, he’s learned to study the latest videos for clues to what’s happening on the ground, while ignoring the written or spoken commentary he says is often misleading.

–Craig Timberg and Drew Harwell, The Washington Post

In a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal organized a demonstration in three key points of the country: Lisbon, Porto, and Vilamoura. In Lisbon, about 100 people voiced their anger and called for an end to the conflict in Ukraine and a return to peace.

“Our Ukrainian brethren here in Portugal objected to Putin’s aggression against Ukraine – a peaceful, democratic, sovereign nation – and, in front of the Russian Embassy in Lisbon, objected to the increased threats their homeland has been suffering at the hand of the ruthless tyrant next door.”

Spanish and Portuguese officials called for Europe to co-operate more closely on managing energy supplies after major producer Russia’s invasion of Ukraine heightened fears of disruption, noted The Globe and Mail (UK) newspaper.

“Unlike many European countries, which, in total, relies on Russia for 40 percent of its gas, neither country on the Iberian Peninsula counts Russia among its main providers.”

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that the Portuguese deep-water port of Sines – the closest European port to the United States – has the “infrastructure to host and export natural gas to Europe.” Costa told those attending a news conference that this would allow for energy imports from the United States and Africa.

Like Ukraine, Portugal is a peaceful, progressive, and democratic nation. While it doesn’t share a border with Russian (or anywhere close), Portugal’s strategic position as the westernmost country in Europe, whose coastline abuts the Atlantic Ocean, makes it a strategic target for the Russian expansionist who wants to rule over the world.

The uncertainty over the sense in perpetuating dependency on the Russian gas that flows into Europe will ultimately return focus on the long-held American dream of shipping endless container loads of liquified natural gas (LGN) into Europe through the Alentejo coastal town of Sines. The USA’s ambassador to Portugal during the Trump regime was intent on forging this deal: a pipeline running from Sines into Spain, over the Pyrenees into France.

“Global dependence upon oil, gas, and coal is not only accelerating environmental catastrophe,” commented George A. Polisner in response to a Portugal Living Magazine Facebook post. “It transforms wealth to criminals, racketeers, and those who profit from planetary harm.”

Portugal presents itself as an international technology center open to foreign investment. Located at the southwestern tip of Europe, the diminutive nation is a strategic crossroads to Africa and the Americas, featuring a great quality of life, excellent infrastructure, and high levels of security, political stability, and sustainability.

Is it any wonder, then, that more than 550 German companies operate in Portugal, where they find a well-educated, multi-lingual workforce of problem-solvers with an appetite for innovation in engineering and research?

Unless otherwise contradicted, Portugal currently represents no threat to Russia, nothing more than, perhaps, a thorn in Putin’s side:

• According to Spokesperson Ned Price, USA Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Portuguese MFA Political Director Rui Vinhas. Sherman and Vinahs condemned Russia’s “premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack” against Ukraine in violation of international law. They underscored their commitment to imposing – together with like-minded partners – swift, coordinated, and severe costs for Russia’s actions. The Secretary and Ambassador agreed on the urgent need for all members of the international community to condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine, and to raise their voices against “blatant rejection of the fundamental principles of international peace and security.”

• Former member of the European Parliament Ana Gomes asked the Portuguese government to sanction Roman Abramovich and withdraw his Portuguese citizenship. “Gomes published several tweets on the pretext of golden visas granted to Russian citizens in Portugal, reported The Portugal News. She tweeted: “We wait for @antoniocostapm to publish a list of ALL #VistosGold beneficiaries and resident family members so that we can be sure that we are not giving national and European protection to more mafiosi, kleptocrats, oligarchs, etc.”

• Russia says that Portugal has extradited Stepan Furman, a “notorious criminal figure,” to Moscow for being a “thief-in-law,” the highest title in the criminal world’s hierarchy in the former Soviet Union, alleges North.Realities. According to the Russian Interior Ministry, the probe against the 58-year-old Furman, known among criminal groups as Stepan Murmansky, was launched in 2019 right after being a “thief-in-law” was criminalized in Russia that year. The ministry said that Portugal was the first European nation that had extradited a criminal wanted in Russia on the simple charge of holding the title. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Contral (OFAC) describes the thieves-in-law as a “Eurasian crime syndicate that has been linked to a long list of illicit activity across the globe,” saying that the syndicate poses a threat to the United States and its allies.

Russia and Portugal established diplomatic relations in the last quarter of the 18th century. Since that time, they experienced natural periods of rise and fall. Russia and Portugal are not comparable on many parameters: size of territory, population and workforce, the volume of economy, etc. In its turn, the Portuguese nation also can boast of considerable achievements.

Political or ideological considerations have always dominated in bilateral relations, which, for a long time, have prevented building cooperation in accordance with strategic interests.

The membership of Portugal in NATO and accession to the European Communities in 1986 obliged Lisbon to form its relations with Moscow in line with overall negotiation processes of these international associations and with an eye on the partners’ position.

In certain periods, this fact made it difficult to engage in a constructive dialogue, forcing both sides to see each other through the prism of global confrontation between two hostile social and political systems.

At the same time, there has never been acute, intractable disagreements or open conflicts between the two countries. High-level visits and the ruling elites’ interest degree were of great importance for the development of the bilateral relations. In this respect, the period of 1990s and 2000s belonged to the most fruitful. The legal base of cooperation was expanded, important treaties were signed, an exchange of the heads of state visits took place during this time. However, in years following the global financial and economic crisis, Russia–Portugal political relations stalled, later hampered by the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis and the sanctions war. 

N. Yakovleva (2017)
World Economy and International Relations (Monthly Journal of IMEMO)
(Founded by the Russian Academy of Sciences. IMEMO is a non-profit organization which acts within the Charter of the Russian Academy of Sciences.)

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the country’s only English language, full-spectrum magazine. Read our current issue and subscribe — for free! — at: https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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