By Nathália Urban
Amongst all the absurdities surrounding Jair Bolsonaro, perhaps the most extreme yet is the idea that he could have averted an escalation in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine with his visit to Moscow. Bolsonaristas have used social media this Tuesday (15/2) to claim that President Jair Bolsonaro avoided the war between Russia and Ukraine. The Brazilian representative landed on Tuesday at 3:58 pm (local time) in Moscow. He has a scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday (16/2). Before he landed, Bolsonaro’s twitter account announced that he was in Russian airspace, along with a photo of a CNN Brasil report about the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian frontier. Former Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles then tweeted “Biden and the western world should be thanking Bolsonaro for convincing Putin to give up the invasion, talkey?!?”. Salles, who left the post of environment minister in June 2021 after being the subject of a criminal investigation for involvement in illegal logging, even posted on his Instagram a crude montage of a fake CNN Brasil article entitled “Putin signals retreat in Ukraine and Bolsonaro avoids the Third World War”, in a statement, CNN said it had not reported the claims of the former minister.
The reality could not be more different from the Bolsonaristas’ delusions. Bolsonaro’s trip to Russia was even questioned by government ministers because it took place at a sensitive time for the region’s geopolitics. The US government itself tried to coerce Bolsonaro not to travel to Moscow. The trip was even the main topic of a phone call between US Secretary Anthony Blinken and Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos França. Bolsonaro himself even commented on possible pressure from the United States for the Brazilian government to reconsider the trip to Russia. “If Joe Biden invites me, I will be in the United States with great pleasure.” The trip had been announced in December.
The Moscow visit has been framed within a New York Times piece about Russia’s “courting” of Latin America, and speculation over possible electoral interference. NYT, the traditional vehicle for State Department narratives, warned: “U.S. officials believe Russia is aiding Venezuela’s military, in addition to using the country for intelligence operations and money laundering, according to a senior U.S. official.”
Quoting unnamed “U.S. officials” the article continues, with the loss of key ally Colombia a clear worry: “The U.S. is also concerned about Russian efforts to interfere in Colombia’s election in May, possibly to aid the leftist front-runner, who could be a more friendly negotiating partner for Mr. Putin than the current right-wing administration. U.S. officials have previously observed Russian online influence operations trying to sow unrest in South America.”
Brazil Russia Relations
Russia and Brazil have a neutral relationship historically, but both are part of the group of emerging economies that was christened BRICs (which also includes India, China and South Africa) and that, despite clashes between the members, continue with some proximity. In 2019, Putin was in Brasília for a BRICs meeting that Brazil hosted.
Russia is the 6th placed country from which Brazil buys most: there were US$ 5.7 billion in imports for 2021. Fertilizers account for more than 60% of everything that Brazil imports from Russia, according to the Ministry of Industry, Foreign Trade and Services. At the other end, only US$ 1.6 billion was exported by Brazil to the Russians, mainly agricultural products, led by soy and meat. Russia is the 36th country in terms of Brazilian exports (a list led by China and the USA).
Bolsonaro and Ukraine
After the announcement of Bolsonaro’s trip to Russia, Ukrainians became anxious.
For the chargé d’affaires at the Ukrainian embassy in Brasilia, Anatoliy Tkach, people of Ukrainian origin living in Brazil expect President Jair Bolsonaro to defend a peaceful solution to the conflict with Russia.
According to an interview Tkach gave to the newspaper O Globo, “a visit by the president of Brazil to Ukraine would balance his visit to the Russian Federation”. The visit was not confirmed so far, but on the day Bolsonaro left for Russia, the foreign ministry Itamaraty publicly reaffirmed its diplomatic ties with Kiev. Carlos França, spoke by phone today with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba.” Minister France “heard his counterpart’s assessment of the current situation on the border between Ukraine and Russia” and “reiterated the Brazilian position in favor of a peaceful resolution”, added the Itamaraty, which recalled that Brazil and Ukraine recently celebrated 30 years of diplomatic relations.
In addition to this official relationship between countries, congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, a pupil of Steve Bannon and the president’s “geopolitical” son, has never hidden his ties to the Ukrainian extreme right and his admiration for EuroMaiden. In July, Eduardo Bolsonaro visited Ukraine. The President of the Verkhovna Rada “thanked Brazil for supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. He also highlighted the strengthening of the development of partnerships in defense and security. Eduardo was part of a delegation that visited several Ukrainian Defense companies (Antonov, Luch and Arsenal) and had meetings regarding military defense exercises.