More than a year into this terrible war, formally triggered by Russia invading Ukraine and sustained with active support from the Western consortium, the now distant attempts at negotiations aborted in Turkey would suggest that reopening a peace process is unfeasible in the short term. Especially considering neither side is willing to budge on its initial positions. China and Brazil’s ceasefire initiatives have therefore become a near-moral obligation.
On 10 February, Lula da Silva was received at the White House by President Joe Biden with the pomp that an important regional leader deserves. At the dawn of the multipolar world, which primarily affects the United States, the president of the world’s largest military power and his visitor agreed to join forces in the fight against the climate crisis and the global far right, and for the development of human rights. Nevertheless, the friendly meeting was marred by obvious differences of opinion when it came to the thorniest issue: the war in Ukraine. Lula da Silva’s speech moved from initial criticism of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government’s unwillingness to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict, to condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian territory. Officially, Brazil remains neutral in the conflict and advocates forming a working group with countries wanting a ceasefire in the region. The Brazilian president had already announced that during his trip to China on 28 March, he would discuss the 12-point ceasefire plan put forward by Chinese diplomacy with Xi Jinping.
Perhaps this not total alignment with US positions is behind the Brazilian delegation’s disappointment in Washington. Another reason is the promise of a mere $50 million contribution to the international fund to protect and preserve the Amazon. Brazilian diplomats had expected the US government to commit to a much larger sum towards the environmental cause, championed with great fanfare in international forums by figures such as the Democratic administration’s Special Representative for Climate Change, John Kerry, and former Vice-President Al Gore. US disdain for Brazil’s flagship proposal is even more evident considering the fund has received financial backing from countries such as Norway ($482 million) and Germany ($200 million). The Biden administration sent a clear message to the Brazilian government with its meagre contribution: it either aligns itself first with US geopolitical interests or there will be no agreement on other important issues, even if, such as the climate emergency, they are of vital interest to humanity.
A week before visiting Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had already been in Brazil lobbying the Brazilian president to send ammunition for his Leopard 2 tanks in Ukraine. The request was firmly rejected. The demand to send ammunition from the battered Brazilian army to Ukraine would appear to be a Western trap to directly involve the South American country in the war effort. No one in their right mind believes that a few crates of ammunition from Brazil’s obsolete army would change the course of the conflict in the slightest. Lula da Silva emerged more or less unscathed from the German chancellor’s visit, but at the joint press conference after the meeting he had to deal with a visibly irritated German journalist who questioned him about Brazil’s refusal. The president patiently explained to the German reporter that, since 1870 (the end of the shameful war that pitted Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina against Paraguay for the interests of the British crown), his country has had no direct military confrontations with another foreign nation. He also made it clear that Brazil was not going to take part, directly or indirectly, in the conflict, and that the only battle he is currently interested in is the fight against hunger. Despite the Brazilian government’s pedagogical efforts, the storm did not subside. The week after his return from the United States, Lula da Silva learned with disappointment that the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland — a veteran American diplomat responsible for organising the 2014 Euromaidan coup against former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych — had said that the South American country should “put itself in Ukraine’s shoes”. Soon after, Japan’s ambassador in Brasilia, Hayashi Teiji, when speaking to the Brazilian press, made no attempt to conceal his conversations with political circles close to President Lula to gain his support for the Ukrainian cause. Meanwhile, in a brief meeting with his Brazilian counterpart, Mauro Viera, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba invited the Brazilian president to see the terrible consequences of the Russian bombings on the ground. Zelenskyy himself also called the Brazilian president to invite him to Ukraine. Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts were aimed at raising the Brazilian president’s awareness with a tour of the sites bombed by the Russian air force. All this heavy diplomatic artillery that Western countries are deploying in Brasilia and in international fora is trying to pressure the Brazilian government to take Ukraine’s side by all means possible. It is undeniable that in such a pluralistic cabinet there are members of government, like Brazil’s foreign minister (the Itamaraty), Mauro Viera, who advocate a more pragmatic stance that would bring Brazil closer to the United States’ position. It is likely that the country’s various negotiations with its Western partners, such as the trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union, which the new government is so eagerly awaiting, will not be concluded without a clear concession from the Brazilian government on the Ukrainian issue. At the Munich Security Conference on 18 February, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, flanked at the table by her American counterpart Antony Blinken and Dmitro Kuleba in a clear warning to the countries of the Global South, such as Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Argentina, Pakistan and many others, warned that neutrality in this war is not an option; in other words, you are either with us or against us. This is very presumptuous on her part given that more than 80% of the world’s population currently lives in the orbit of countries that remain neutral in this conflict.
It is true that the pressures exerted on the new Brazilian government have significantly modified its initial radical position and have even provoked a slight change in the international position of Brazilian diplomacy. An example was the Brazilian ambassador’s inexplicable favourable vote in the non-binding resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on 23 February condemning and proposing the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory. It is however unclear whether Itamaraty staged a surrender to US pressure at the UN after the visit to Biden, or whether the vote on 23 February was part of a complicated pendulum policy of Brazilian diplomacy that seeks to strike a balance between US/EU and Chinese/Russian interests. Some critics fear that Brazil’s dissonant vote at the UN and the US are leading Brazil to sabotage the BRICS’s diplomatic position on the Ukrainian issue. The fact is that, as of today, Brazil’s greatest triumph in matters of international military conflict remains: its traditional neutrality, which gives it room for manoeuvre to promote its initiative to create a group of nations that advocate a ceasefire between the opposing sides. While EU countries compete to send the most military equipment to Ukraine, Brazil has steadfastly refused to do so despite a direct request from a NATO member state and heavy pressure from the countries sponsoring the armed conflict. Meanwhile, Western leaders continue their particular pilgrimage to Kyiv. Immediately after President Biden’s surprise trip to Kyiv on 20 February to back Zelenskyy and pledge more than 470 million euros in aid, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez rushed to Kyiv on 23 February to do the same. No doubt, he was trying to be first in line and make himself look good to NATO and the United States with his offer of ten Leopard tanks, four more than those agreed upon a few days earlier with the Ukrainian authorities. Sánchez did not utter a single word on how to stop the escalation of the conflict; on the contrary, the focus of the debate among European leaders is unanimously on how to defeat Russia – with or without humiliation – as President Emmanuel Macron, who advocates the second option, insists.
In the face of Europe’s war frenzy and it becoming increasingly involved in the war materially and diplomatically, the tendency of Latin American governments is to be cautious. Convincing Brazil to enter the battlefield would therefore be an important advantage for the European Union and the United States, as it would make it easier to convince other fractious countries in the region. However, despite attempts by NATO and its European servants to prevent the formation of a negotiating table, President Lula da Silva’s diplomatic efforts for peace have reached the ears of the Russian authorities. So much so that, in statements to Russia’s TASS news agency, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin said that they take the Brazilian government’s peace proposal seriously. The Chinese government, through its peace plan made public on 24 February, also continues to urge a political solution to the conflict, despite the rejection of NATO President Jens Stoltenberg and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who hastened to declare incongruously that, by not condemning Russia, China has been discredited as a country to lead the peace process.
Another major reason that makes Brazil a serious opponent of war is its position in BRICS, as none of these countries have sided with the US/NATO-EU alliance in directly confronting Russia. Preserving good relations with China, Russia, South Africa and India is a priority for Brazilian diplomacy. So much so that Lula da Silva has managed to confirm the appointment of former president Dilma Rousseff to head the Shanghai-based BRICS bank. Rousseff, who is not inclined to accept honorary positions, represents the Brazilian government’s desire to have a high political profile in an important financial institution located in the heart of Asia. If Brazil wants someone like the former president, who does not deny her good relations with China, to head the bank, it is because it is making a fundamental bet on trade and diplomatic relations with the BRICS and is playing its trump card in the construction of a multipolar world.
More than a year into this terrible war, formally triggered by Russia invading Ukraine and sustained with active support from the Western consortium, the now distant attempts at negotiations aborted in Turkey would suggest that reopening a peace process is unfeasible in the short term. Especially considering neither side is willing to budge on its initial positions. China’s and Brazil’s ceasefire initiatives have therefore become a near-moral obligation. In spite of the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy stating that this war must be won against Russia on the battlefield, there is near general consensus in the rest of the world that it is not likely to be resolved on the battlefield in the short to medium term, so the inevitable outcome would be the negotiating table. Moreover, given the evident escalation and frivolity towards the dangerous game of nuclear weapons deterrence, which terrifies the world and is once again in the discourse of heads of state such as Russia and France, there is no time to lose. It would seem opportune to give Xi Jinping and Lula da Silva’s plans some leeway as they are leading the search for a negotiated solution to the conflict.