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POLITICS

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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POLITICS

Why Madrid has become a haven for Latin American dissidents

Well-known faces of Cuba's protest have in recent years gone into exile in Madrid, which is rivalling Miami as a haven for Latin American political opponents.

Why Madrid has become a haven for Latin American dissidents

“Miami has always been the destination of those who suffered from Latin American dictatorships,” Cuban dissident and playwright Yunior García, who went into self-imposed exile in Madrid in November, told AFP.

But now “many Latin Americans are choosing to come to Spain,” added García, one of the organisers of a failed mass protest last year in the Communist-ruled island.

The Spanish capital is especially attractive for an artist and dissident fleeing a dictatorship because of its “bohemian” atmosphere, García said.

Spain has long drawn migrants from its former colonies in Latin America who have often sought work in low-wage jobs as cleaners or waiters — but in recent years prominent exiles have joined the influx.

Award-winning Nicaraguan writer and former vice president Sergio Ramírez and Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo López, a former mayor of Chacao, an upmarket district of Caracas, are among those who have moved to Madrid.

“Madrid is the new Miami, the new place where so many hispanics come fleeing dictatorship,” said Toni Cantó, the head of a Madrid regional government body charged with promoting the region as the “European capital of Spanish”.

Many Latin Americans are able to establish themselves easily in Spain because they have double citizenship, in many cases because their ancestors came from the country.

Others like García arrive on a tourist visa and then request asylum.

Sometimes, especially in the case of prominent Venezuelan opposition leaders, the government has rolled out the welcome mat and granted them Spanish citizenship.

Cuban political dissident Carolina Barrero is pictured during an AFP interview in Madrid. Spain has long drawn migrants from its former colonies in Latin America who have often sought work in low-wage jobs, but in recent years prominent exilees have joined the influx. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

‘Good option’

Contacted by AFP, Spain’s central government declined to comment.

But shortly after García arrived in Spain, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares told parliament that Latin Americans “share our values, they look naturally to Europe”.

For Cubans, getting a visa to enter the United States has been even more complicated in recent years since Washington closed its consulate in Havana in 2017. It only partially reopened in May.

“Spain is a very good option,” said Cuban journalist Abraham Jiménez, who fled to Spain in January when he finally was able to obtain a passport after years of being denied one.

Spain has received previous waves of Cuban dissidents in the past.

Under an agreement between Cuba, Spain and the Catholic Church, in 2010 and 2011, more than 110 Cuban political prisoners arrived in Madrid, accompanied by dozens of relatives.

There are now about 62,000 Cubans officially registered in Spain, with Madrid home to the largest community.

Cuba is “a pressure cooker, and ever time pressure builds” Havana eases it by forcing dissidents into exile, said Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, the head of the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory for Human Rights who fled to Spain in 2008.

Cuban journalist Mónica Baró is pictured at her home in Madrid. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

‘Lost everything’

Cuban independent journalist Mónica Baró said she left Cuba for Madrid in 2021 because she said she could no longer bear the “harassment” of Cuban state security forces.

Madrid shares the same language and has a “shared culture”, as well as a well-established network of Cubans, that has helped her overcome the “traumas” she brought with her, Baro added.

But not knowing if she will ever see her parents, who remained in Cuba, again saddens her.

“When you leave like I did, you have the feeling that you buried your parents,” said Baró, who faces arrest if she returns to Cuba.

García said he welcomed the absence in Madrid of the deep “resentment” and “rage” towards the Cuban regime found in Miami among its much larger community of Cuban exiles, which he said was “natural”.

These are people “who had to leave on a raft, who lost everything they had in Cuba, whose family suffered jail time and sometimes death,” he said.

Madrid on the other hand, provides “tranquility to think things through,” he added.

“I don’t want anger, resentment, to win me over,” García said.

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