President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) claims to have a clear position on the war in Ukraine. Without aligning himself with Western sanctions against Russia, Lula never stopped treating Russian military intervention as illegal and defending peace negotiations as the only possible way of resolving the imbroglio between Moscow and Kiev. His statements, however, differ from the unison tone of the West by pointing only to the responsibilities of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin.
Still in the electoral campaign, contrary to the prevailing narrative, Lula said in May 2022 that the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and the western bloc are also responsible for the war.
“Putin should not have invaded Ukraine. But it’s not just Putin who is to blame, the US is to blame and the European Union is to blame. What is the reason for the invasion of Ukraine? Is it NATO? The US and Europe could have said: ‘Ukraine will not join NATO’. It would be resolved”, said Lula at the time.
In this way, the president was able to navigate the divide between Moscow and the West without burning bridges and maintaining the line of neutrality and defense of a multipolar world. However, with new, more emphatic statements made to journalists during his trip to China and the United Arab Emirates, Brazil’s neutrality was put in check, judging by the negative reaction of the western powers.
The controversy reached its peak with the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister, Serguei Lavrov, to Brazil at the beginning of the week, as the first stop on the tour of official visits by the minister to Latin America, which included visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. On the Russian side, the objectives are more evident. Isolated in the international community, Russia seeks support in regions that still maintain an open dialogue with Moscow. Not by chance, with the exception of Brazil, the countries chosen for the trip have antagonistic policies to the USA.
:: Russia says it’s ‘too early’ to assess Brazil’s proposal for peace in Ukraine ::
In an interview with Brazil in Factthe professor of International Relations at the University of Saint Petersburg, Victor Jeifets, said that Lavrov’s tour of Latin America is in line with the new conception of Russian foreign policy.
In September 2022, Putin approved a new Russian foreign policy doctrine aimed at increasing cooperation with China, India, countries in the Middle East and Latin America, in the context of promoting an international order based on multilateralism. In this sense, Brazil is seen by Moscow as a leader of what is understood as the Global South, an International Relations concept that encompasses peripheral and developing countries.
“I believe that for Lavrov it is fundamental to publicly announce Russia’s point of view and in practice seek to ‘rebrand’ Russia’s position in relation to the multipolar world […] Russia sees in Latin America a dialogue partnership, one of the pillars of the multipolar world, and Brazil is one of the pillars of leadership in this sense”, says Jeifets to Brazil in Fact.
At the same time, the analyst points out that Brazil was used as a platform for Russia to expose its defense of the war in Ukraine, but that this configures a normal practice, considering that in Latin America “there are more countries willing to listen to Russia”.
During the meeting between the Russian minister and the Brazilian chancellor, Mauro Vieira, Brazil’s position was marked by the reiteration of defending a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine and by the criticism of Western sanctions against Moscow.
“Recalling President Lula’s manifestations in the sense of seeking to facilitate the formation of a group of friendly countries to mediate the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. I also reiterated the Brazilian position on the application of unilateral sanctions. Such measures, in addition to not relying on the approval of the United Nations Security Council, have negative impacts on economies around the world and, in particular, on developing countries, many of which have not yet fully recovered from the pandemic,” Vieira said in a statement to the press after the meeting.
The Russian minister, in turn, highlighted the convergence of positions between Brazil and Russia in international politics.
“We affirm that Russia’s and Brazil’s approaches to events now taking place in the world are consonant. We are united by a common desire to contribute to the formation of a more just, truly democratic and polycentric world order,” said Lavrov.
This statement by the Russian minister was translated and disseminated by the Brazilian press with one amendment. The national press claimed that Lavrov pointed to the existence of a “single vision” of Brazil and Russia for the war in Ukraine. That is, translation nuances were used to create a narrative that Brazil would be aligned with Moscow in the context of the war in Ukraine.
Last Tuesday, the 18th, Lula spoke again on the subject, declaring that he condemns the “violation of the territorial integrity” of Ukraine and again said that his defense is for a “political and negotiated” solution to the war.
Tension with USA
The Russian-Brazilian interaction in the context of the war caused a negative repercussion in the White House. US National Security spokesman John Kirby went so far as to say that Brazil was “parroting” Russian and Chinese propaganda.
For the former director of the White House National Security Council for Brazilian and Southern Cone Affairs, Nick Zimmerman, “Lula’s statements were not perceived as neutral or accurate.” To the Brazil in Factthe analyst pointed out that the US perception is clear that Lula’s statements establish a false equivalence, given that Ukraine “was invaded by Russia and is trying to defend its existence and territory”.
At the same time, Zimmerman, who is currently an analyst at the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute, points out that “the US understands that Brazil is a sovereign country with its own national interests”.
“Different perspectives among large countries are normal and the US will continue to prioritize its relations with Brazil. It is enough to see that the White House has just announced a new initiative to support the Amazon Fund”, he stated.
In the same week of Minister Lavrov’s visit to Brazil and the consequent uncomfortable reaction from the White House, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, announced the donation of R$ 2.5 billion to the Amazon Fund “to help Brazil with the effort to end deforestation by 2030”.
Brazilian approach is closer to China
It is symbolic that more proactive statements by President Lula were made precisely during his visit to Beijing, a trip marked by the signing of 15 bilateral agreements with China.
For the professor of International Relations at the University of Saint Petersburg, Victor Jeifets, “Lula is not so much closer to the position of Russia as he is far from the position of the western bloc”. “It seems like it’s more accurate to phrase it that way,” he points out.
According to the researcher, the horizon that President Lula seems to aim for is to create a Brazilian role in countries “not aligned” with parts of the war when there is a possible scenario for peace negotiations.
“It is likely that Lula now does not expect his peace plan to succeed, he probably understands very well that the ‘Crimea in exchange for peace’ formula cannot mean either a peace agreement or even a quick interruption of military actions. Lula understands perfectly well that the Ukrainian elites will not agree to this, which the [presidente] Biden has already hinted during his visit that he will not support this plan.”
According to Jeifets, the position of neutrality and equidistance of the Brazilian government is maintained, because “Lula made it very clear that he does not consider the possibility of changing borders through military means”. At the same time, according to the analyst, the point is that Lula seeks support from countries in the Global South.
“If before he spoke of mediation, now the discourse is more inclined towards the formation of a group of States that want to see the ‘extinction of the fire’, which seems to me to be the main objective. […] Lula and Xi Jinping do not have a response from Moscow or Washington, or from Brussels, but they have the support of a large number of countries that do not support Moscow’s position, that is, they do not support the annexation of territories through the power,” he adds.
After the controversy over the Brazilian position regarding the war in Ukraine, Brazilian diplomacy has already signaled to the West its commitment to neutrality. It was confirmed last Friday (22nd) that the head of the Special Advisory Office of the Presidency of the Republic for International Affairs, Celso Amorim, will travel to Kiev to meet with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.
In this context, expectations are growing about Brazil’s participation in the G7, which takes place between May 19th and 21st. Lula was invited to participate in the summit of the most developed countries and the war in Ukraine will be one of the main topics. At the same time that the invitation to Brazil is a demonstration of the protagonism of Brazilian foreign policy, last Tuesday (18), the heads of G7 diplomacy spoke of “severe costs” for third countries that can offer assistance to Russia in the context of the Ukrainian intervention.
Editing: Thales Schmidt