Russia’s minister of foreign affairs, Sergei Lavrov, is due to arrive in Brasília on Monday for talks with his Brazilian counterpart, Mauro Vieira, in the latest of a series of bilateral encounters likely to ruffle the US.
Lavrov arrives just as Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, returns from a state visit to China, and both missions are part of a diplomatic reset Lula has pursued since returning to power this year, as he strives to recover Brazil’s international reputation after his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, dismantled Brazil’s established tradition of cooperation.
For Brazil, that means rebuilding and maintaining ties with all partners, regardless of geopolitical tensions elsewhere.
“To return to international politics, Brazil must have positive relationships with all countries,” said Rubens Duarte, coordinator of Mundolab, a Brazil-based research centre for international relations. This is coherent with Brazil’s traditional pursuit of multilateralism, he added.
It is a pragmatic approach too: Brazil’s top trading partners are China and the US, while the South American country relies heavily on Russia for fertiliser imports.
But Lula also harbours more ambitious foreign policy objectives and even aspires to Brazil playing a peace-brokering role in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Lula first floated the possibility during a meeting with Olaf Scholz in January, when he rebuffed the German chancellor’s request for Brazil to contribute ammunition to Ukraine’s war effort.
He has since raised the idea of a “peace club” of neutral countries with a number of foreign leaders including the US president, Joe Biden, and, during his postponed trip to Beijing last week, Xi Jinping. He sent his top foreign policy adviser, Celso Amorim, to discuss prospects for peace with Vladimir Putin on a discreet trip to Moscow at the end of March.
Gestures like these and Lavrov’s visit – part of a Latin American tour that will take him to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, bastions of anti-US sentiment – do not sit well in Washington.
Although Brazil voted to condemn the Russian aggression at the United Nations in March, Lula has often been ambivalent about the conflict. He recently suggested Ukraine should consider giving up Crimea to achieve peace and Speaking to reporters in China on Saturday, he said the US should “stop encouraging the war” and that the European Union “must start talking about peace”.
“Lula’s approach to the issue in Ukraine, both in substance and rhetoric, is causing a lot of mistrust in Washington and other western capitals in Europe,” said Bruna Santos, director of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based thinktank.
In Brazil, the approach to the war in Ukraine is seen as part of a longstanding foreign policy tradition of neutrality.
And this would not be Brazil’s first attempted foray into international peace negotiations under Lula: during his first stint in office, between 2003 and 2010, his government sent a peacekeeping mission to Haiti and in 2010 attempted to broker a nuclear deal with Iran alongside Turkey.
“Brazil’s relations with Russia are very solid, […] but I don’t think this really changes Brazil’s position. Even if it was a war involving countries that Brazil does not have a strong relationship with, it wouldn’t change, as Brazil has always had a position as a peacemaker, as a mediator,” said Guilherme Casarões, a professor of international relations at the Fundação Getulio Vargas university.