Spain’s coalition government splits over sending of lethal aid to Ukraine

Podemos calls for diplomatic response to crisis as Sánchez moves to send weapons

The two main parties in Spain's left-wing governing coalition are at odds over prime minister Pedro Sánchez's decision to send weapons to Ukraine.

Last week, Mr Sánchez, a Socialist, announced that Spain would send lethal aid directly to Ukraine to help it fight the Russian invasion. This marked a change of policy, given that only two days earlier Mr Sánchez had ruled out the possibility, and the move put Spain in line with the majority of EU countries.

However, Podemos, the leftist party which is the main junior partner in the coalition, has strongly criticised the move, highlighting ideological cracks within the government.

"The parties of war will tell you, 'very well, let's send weapons'," said Podemos leader Ione Belarra, minister of social rights, on Sunday, in what many saw as a reference to the Socialists.

“And I believe, even though we may have many media and political powers against us, that the most useful way of helping the Ukrainian people, without a doubt, is to put all efforts into diplomacy,” she added.

Another Podemos cabinet minister, Irene Montero, also warned that sending weapons "is not effective when it comes to stopping Putin or protecting the Ukrainian population".

The prime minister responded by staunchly defending his decision.

“We [Spaniards] know which is the right side of history and we will never move away from that,” Mr Sánchez said. “Our side condemns Putin’s war and stands next to the Ukrainian people.”

String of disputes

This is the latest in a string of disputes between the Socialist Party and Podemos since they formed the first coalition government of Spain's modern era in January 2020. They have clashed on issues such as the monarchy, a new law protecting LGBT rights and housing legislation, with Podemos each time positioning itself firmly to the left of its partner.

In the case of Ukraine, Podemos is in agreement with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French presidential candidate, and Jeremy Corbyn, the former UK Labour leader, in calling for a purely peaceful response to Russia's invasion.

The war has also created tensions between Podemos and labour minister Yolanda Díaz, an independent who, although not a member of the party, has been touted as a potential candidate for prime minister on its electoral ticket. But her support for providing weapons to Ukraine puts her at odds with the party.

"It's important not to open up divisions within the government because we already see the right and far-right taking advantage of any discord," said Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, who is a Podemos ally but also supports the sending of lethal aid.

Playing down tensions

On Monday, Podemos sought to play down the tensions, with party spokeswoman Isa Serra insisting that despite the spat her party still had faith in the coalition government.

Meanwhile, parties on the right have called for the sacking of ministers who disagree with the government line.

"It is unacceptable to have soldiers in Bulgaria, the Baltic republics and in the Mediterranean when part of the government understands the reasoning of Putin, the murderer and enemy of freedom," said Esteban González Pons, an MEP for the conservative Popular Party (PP).