Russian concerns on Ukraine must ‘be taken into account’, says Brazil

The west must take “into account” Russian president Vladimir Putin’s security concerns and stop the slide towards a Versailles-style victors’ peace in Ukraine, said Brazil’s top foreign policy adviser.

Celso Amorim, a foreign minister during President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s first two terms and current adviser on international affairs to the leftwing leader, said the west’s belligerent stance against Moscow risked provoking a wider conflict.

“We don’t want a third world war. And even if we don’t have that, we don’t want a new cold war,” Amorim told the Financial Times. “All concerns of countries in the region should be taken into account, if you want peace. The only other alternative is total military victory against Russia. Do you know what comes after? I don’t.”

Although Brazil has officially condemned Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Lula has been accused of maintaining “pro-Russian neutrality”. He has repeatedly claimed that Kyiv bears equal responsibility with Moscow for the conflict and has accused Washington of “encouraging” the violence. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, visited Brasília last month.

Amorim said national security is one of Moscow’s chief “concerns”, referring to its complaints of “encirclement” by western powers and Nato.

“We cannot judge the situation by the last 1.5 years. This is a situation of decades. [Russia has] concerns that have to be taken into account. That is not the fault of Ukraine. Ukraine is a victim, a victim of the remnants of the cold war.”

Since returning to the presidency for a third term in January, Lula has sought to bolster Brazil’s international standing and reassert its traditional status as a non-aligned democracy. He has been an outspoken proponent of a “peace club” of nations to discuss ending the war in Ukraine.

At the G7 meeting in Hiroshima earlier this month, a meeting between Lula and Volodymyr Zelenskyy was cancelled after the Ukrainian president was late, according to Brasília.

Like other Latin American countries, Brazil has refused to send weapons to Ukraine and denied a request from Germany to re-sell it tank ammunition.

When Lula last month claimed the US was “encouraging the war”, the White House accused the Brazilian leader of “parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda”. But Amorim, who has visited both Kyiv and Moscow in recent weeks, said Brasília was concerned by perceived western efforts to weaken Russia, suggesting it would only provoke a larger conflict.

“I am reminded of the situation in Germany after the first world war: The objective was to weaken Germany at [the Treaty of] Versailles and we know where that led.”

The former foreign minister denied that the legacy of US involvement in Latin America during the cold war had coloured Lula’s view of Washington, pointing out Brazil’s “good relations” with the US and that the president’s second state visit was to the American capital.

Paulo Velasco, a professor of foreign policy at Rio de Janeiro State University, said Lula’s approach to the Ukraine conflict was in line with traditional Brazilian diplomacy, which avoids “extreme positions that could compromise efforts to reach an understanding”. 

“Brazil believes that sanctions are rarely the best path,” he said. “They tend to isolate the state engaging in deviant behaviour, undermining its trust of the international community, which is essential to come to peaceful agreements.”

Other experts point out that Brasília is motivated by more pragmatic concerns, including its trade relationship with Russia.

“Like the vast majority of global south countries, Brazil wants to make sure it can preserve its business ties with Russia. Russia has been an all-weather friend — low intensity but all weather,” said Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo.

Bilateral trade is worth about $10bn, with large amounts of fertiliser for Brazil’s booming agribusiness sector — worth almost 30 per cent of GDP — coming from Russia.

Brazilian neutrality towards Russia has broad, cross-party support and is a rare point of continuity between Lula and the previous rightwing presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. Shortly before the invasion of Ukraine last year, Bolsonaro visited Moscow to secure fertiliser supplies.

Stuenkel added that neither country wants to disrupt their relations within the Brics group of nations, which also includes China, India and South Africa.

“Non-alignment is seen as a safe bet in a world where great power competition will increase. From the Brazilian point of view, the rise of China and re-emergence of Russia is not actually bad . . . that is why [Brasília has] no interest in joining [a] western coalition against Russia.”

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