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Spain set to send troops and warships to aid NATO in Ukraine-Russia conflict

Spain’s Defence Ministry has announced it will deploy two frigates and troops to the Black Sea to assist NATO amid rising tensions and concerns that Russia will invade Ukraine. 

NATO frigate Sps Blas De Lezo of Spain docked in Istanbul in 2015.
NATO frigate Sps Blas De Lezo of Spain docked in Istanbul in 2015. The warship will be sent to the Black Sea in "three or four days". (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)

Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles on Thursday confirmed that in “three or four days” Spain will send its Blas de Lezo military ship to the Black Sea in Bulgarian waters, to join the already dispatched Acción Marítima (BAM) Meteoro frigate which is docked there.

Robles added that Spanish authorities are also offering to send fighter planes to the region to assist NATO in protecting Ukraine from a potential invasion by Russia.

How many more Spanish military troops would be deployed along with Blas de Lezo’s 250 marines is yet to be confirmed, but Spain already has 360 NATO-aligned soldiers in Lithuania and six Eurofigher jets in Romania surveilling the Black Sea.

“Spain has participated in all NATO deployments as a serious ally for a number of years, and in this specific case the deployment of the frigate has been brought forward within the framework of this agreement,” the Spanish Defence Minister said.

“Russia cannot tell any country what it can do, and NATO will defend any country that Russia wants to enter”.

The deployment of Spanish military troops to the region is causing further divisions in Spain’s coalition government, with members of far-left party Unidas Podemos criticising Spain’s involvement in the growing conflict and calling it a “grave error” and “strategically clumsy” as it will “increase the price of gas, fuel and cause inflation to rise”. 

Former Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias warned Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists that “pro-US furore cost (ex-PP Spanish Prime Minister) Aznar his job”, in reference to Spain’s involvement in the Iraq War, and “it would be very clumsy for the socialist part of the Spanish government to go against its partners and form the ‘war party with the PP”. 

Washington and Moscow’s top diplomats meet on Friday in Geneva in a last-ditch bid for a solution over Ukraine, with the United States increasingly fearing that Russia will invade despite warnings of severe reprisals.

President Joe Biden bluntly assessed on Wednesday that his counterpart Vladimir Putin is likely to “move in” on Ukraine and warned of a “disaster for Russia”.

The United States and its allies have warned of severe economic sanctions for an invasion.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that Biden’s remarks were destabilising and could “inspire some hotheads in Ukraine with false hopes”.

Russia, which already fuels a deadly insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014, has demanded guarantees that NATO never accept the former Soviet republic or expand otherwise in Moscow’s old sphere.

The United States has declared the idea a “non-starter” and accused Russia of undermining Europe’s post-Cold War order by bullying another country into submission.

Even while rejecting the core Russian demands, the Biden administration has said it is willing to speak to Moscow about its security concerns.

One proposal by the United States is to revive restrictions on missiles in Europe that had been set by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War deal trashed by former president Donald Trump’s administration as it accused Moscow of violations.

The Biden administration has also offered more transparency on military exercises. Russia has not rejected the proposals but says that its core concern is Ukraine and on Thursday, announced massive naval drills in the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Mediterranean as a show of force.

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SPANISH POLITICS

Spain’s PP is hot on the heels of PSOE, but will they need Vox to govern?

With the next general election slated for December 2023, recent polling shows Spain's Conservatives gaining ground on the Socialists. Spanish political correspondent Conor Faulkner looks at whether the PP will need far-right Vox to govern, as they now do at a regional level.

Spain's PP is hot on the heels of PSOE, but will they need Vox to govern?

Recent polling from Spain’s CIS (Centre for Sociological Research) shows the incumbent PSOE-led government with a slight, but shrinking, advantage over opposition parties.

On 30.3 percent, Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE would form the government if elections were held today, but that score is unimproved since April and, crucially, the centre-right party Popular Party is gaining, polling at 28.7 percent in May, with the difference between the two now only 1.6 percent.

In fact, PP have been on a steady rise since a turbulent start to 2022 in which former leader Pablo Casado was forced to resign after becoming entangled in intra-party infighting with PP’s regional President in Madrid, Isabel Ayuso.

Casado was replaced by Galician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, considered to be a more traditional centre-right candidate in the mould of Rajoy, who served as President of Galicia between 2009-2022.

PROFILE: Feijóo, steady hand on the tiller for Spain’s opposition party

Whereas Casado was often drawn into scandal and outflanked on cultural issues by far-right Vox, Feijóo is considered a more conventional conservative less prone to populism, and his short tenure as leader has put the PP back on the road to electoral respectability. 

PP were polling around 21 percent in February, amid the public infighting, but since then have steadily risen to the 28.7 percent that they would get if an election were held today, according to recent CIS numbers.

Yet, while many view Feijóo as more centrist than his predecessor, at the regional level far-right Vox have entered into a regional government coalition with PP in Castilla y León.

With important regional elections looming in Andalusia in June, and a general election further down the line in December 2023, it remains unclear if PP would be forced to rely on Vox to overcome PSOE’s thin polling advantage and form a national government.

Crucially, PP’s recent rise has not chipped away at Vox’s polling numbers. According to the CIS, Vox’s polling numbers grew from 14.8 percent in April to 16.6 percent in May, and with centrist Cuidadanos all but electorally wiped out, hovering around 2 or 3 percent all year, and the far-left, junior coalition partner Podemos falling further in the polls, to below 10 percent, the CIS estimate a higher probability of a right-wing PP-Vox (45 percent) than they do a PSOE-Podemos (39.9 percent) government.

With Vox now firmly established as Spain’s third political party and already on the offensive in Castilla y Leon’s regional government – including its Minister of Industry, Commerce and Employment in the assembly recently declaring war against “the virus of communism” – all eyes will be on the upcoming Andalusian regional elections to see if PP is again forced to rely on Vox members to form a government.

Vox’s anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, climate-sceptic populist policy programme is controversial, and the prospect of them as junior coalition partner in a national government would be an abrupt change from a government that wants to introduce menstrual leave and provide financial aid to renters.

Their entry into government at the regional level in Castilla y León was the first time they have officially entered into an executive, at any level, although PP have relied on Vox votes in regional assemblies in both Murcia and Andalusia in the past.

READ ALSO: Spanish cabinet approves paid ‘menstrual leave’

Whereas under Casado’s leadership PP were often forced rightward on cultural issues in an effort to stop Vox shaving away at their core electoral base, under Feijóo the future is less clear. Although Feijóo is considered more centrist than his predecessor, Vox’s steady rise since its emergence into Spanish politics since 2014 worries many on the left and centre, particularly as it has now officially entered into government at the regional level.

Yet, Feijóo seems keen to draw some distinction between the two parties. “The leaders of Vox cannot prove experience in management [of the country] because they do not have it, [and] it seems that they do not like the European Union… the State of Autonomies does not satisfy them either,” he said this week, but did recognise their electoral gains as “obvious.”

“The difference between Vox and the PP,” he continued, “is that a good part of Vox leaders came from the PP and left the common home.”

“We are very interested in those votes that those leaders have because they were votes that the PP had. And, as you will understand, we are here to win,” he added.

What exactly that means for the future political makeup of La Moncloa – whether Feijóo intends to win back those votes for PP or keep them in the ‘common home’ and work with Vox in coalition – remains unclear.

With the Sánchez-led coalition having had almost its entire term swallowed up by the global pandemic, then war in Europe, and now a cost of living and inflation crisis, it seems likely the left could lose the next general election and the Spanish right will return to power.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether that means a PP government or a PP-Vox coalition and the prospect of the far-right in government. All eyes will be on Andalusia in June to see how Feijóo pivots his party as it looks ahead to general elections next year. 

READ ALSO: What a Vox government could mean for foreigners in Spain

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