Brazil’s newly elected President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva may be on the other side of the political spectrum from his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, but the leftist also known as Lula may be just as much of an ally to Vladimir Putin when it comes to the war in Ukraine.
In February, just days before his full-scale invasion, Putin welcomed Bolsonaro to the Kremlin in what looked like a meeting of wits between strongman leaders and subsequently Brazil’s incumbent president took a neutral stance. in the face of Russian aggression.
This week, Putin was quick to hail Lula’s victory which Russian state media reported with relish, as an interview he gave resurfaced in which he said it was not “not just Putin” who was guilty of the war. ‘Putin shouldn’t have invaded Ukraine,’ Lula said Time in May, before adding that the United States and Europe “should have said ‘Ukraine will not join NATO’ – that would have solved the problem”.
In August, Lula’s foreign policy adviser Celso Amorim criticized US sanctions against Russia and said that if elected, his boss would not approve of such moves. While the West is relieved by the election of Lula, especially for its environmental implications, when it comes to the war in Ukraine, the two Brazilian leaders, past and present, so different politically, are paradoxically neck and neck elbow on Ukraine.
“I don’t think this is another country that falls into Putin’s lap,” said Jonathan Eyal, associate director of London-based think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
“What is true, however, is that Lula’s statements gave added credence to Putin’s assertion that only western countries accused Russia of aggression, and that the global south somehow a different stance.”
“In this regard, it’s a victory for Putin,” he said. Newsweek. “Russia is not gaining anything new except maybe a diplomatic victory that someone else is now echoing Moscow’s rhetoric lines.”
“While Lula’s position is deeply disappointing, since he was not in power when the invasion took place, and therefore had much greater freedom to think outside the box… it is not surprising,” Eyal added.
Putin has repeatedly said that Moscow is at the forefront of a geopolitical shift away from the United States and the European Union. Meanwhile, Western condemnation of its war in Ukraine has been absent in other parts of the world, such as Brazil.
“It’s not just autocrats around the world supporting Putin or Russian narratives. Lula’s case indicates that left-wing progressives in the Global South are also sensitive to Russian views,” said Dionis Cenusa, risk analyst for the Lithuania-based Center for Eastern European Studies.
“It also means the West has weak diplomacy outside the Western world, even after more than eight months of war,” he said. Newsweek. “The US and EU are failing to extend Russia’s effective international isolation beyond the West, both in terms of strategic communication and sanctions.”
It is traditional for Brazilian governments not to take sides in any conflict that does not directly affect the country, and Lula has made no direct statements about his foreign policy. However, it is expected to focus on its relations with other emerging economies linked by the acronym BRICS, which includes Russia, China, India and South Africa.
Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho, Reader in Brazilian and Latin American Studies at King’s College London, said Newsweek: “We can expect the BRICS to be on Lula’s agenda again” and this will have “interesting consequences” because it could push Brazil “to decide which side to take this issue of the invasion of Ukraine”.
“It is also important to remember that (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky also congratulated Lula,” he said. This shows that the Ukrainian and Russian presidents are “thinking about how [Lula’s election] will influence relations between countries.”
Kathryn Hochstetler, professor of international development at the London School of Economics, said Lula enthusiastically welcomed BRICS countries during his previous term as president between 2003 and 2010.
“At the same time, however, Lula is much more committed to multilateralism than Bolsonaro was and is keenly interested in Brazil being seen as a global partner and not a pariah,” she said. Newsweek. “So not only will he look to the BRICS, but he is likely to significantly rebuild ties with the United States and Europe.”
Lula’s environmental policy has mainly focused on what it would mean for Amazon deforestation and indigenous rights and where he will reverse Bolsonaro’s policies and provide greater protection.
“But on other points of the environmental agenda, such as the development of Brazil’s oil and gas reserves, Lula will have more in common with Putin than with the Colombian (President Gustavo) Petro, who has called for a moratorium,” added Hochstetler.
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