A few weeks ago on the brink of the current war in Ukraine, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro traveled to Russia. On the occasion, he remembered the historically good relations between Brazil and Russia but was vague concerning the looming tensions with Ukraine.
This week at a press conference, however, Bolsonaro was more explicit. He spoke about neutrality but clearly sided with Vladimir Putin by repeating Russian propaganda. According to him, what is happening in Ukraine is not a massacre but a conflict that will soon be over, once some provinces declared through a referendum that they wanted to be independent and allied with Russia.
His speech was met with criticism. The Ukrainian embassy in Brazil said that the president is misinformed. Yesterday at the extraordinary section of the United Nations General Assembly, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried to handle the situation. Brazil’s envoy to the UN made clear that the country condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine, despite calling for restraint. This episode illustrates well the many incoherencies of Brazilian foreign policy under Bolsonaro.
In the last three years, it has become clear that the president’s foreign policy stances are in complete dissonance with Brazil’s traditional diplomacy. Bolsonaro doesn’t understand international politics according to traditional paradigms such as realism or idealism. Quite the opposite. For him, like many on the alt-right, everything is ideological, a fight against so-called globalism. This is why he was so close to Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu. Now, for many of his supporters, Putin is the kind of man that the world needs, especially in light of the apparent weakness, as they say, of President Joe Biden.
In Brazil, some people both on the left and the right admire Putin and are buying the Russian narrative of the current conflict. For leftists, what is happening is a just reaction to American imperialism, and the anti-Americanism sentiment is stronger than ever.
Additionally, some fear Russian retaliation because Brazil’s agribusiness, an important sector of the economy, relies on Russian fertilizers. Bolsonaro is running for reelection in October and worries that losing these products might hurt his popularity, which is already low. It’s worth mentioning, however, that he previously wasn’t afraid of threatening Brazil’s economic interests because of personal ideological views on international politics.
Bolsonaro’s vagueness and hesitancy to condemn Russia’s aggression, therefore, is not justified, especially according to the Brazilian Constitution. The Law sets the main principles that the Brazilian foreign policy must observe. Among them is the defense of other countries’ sovereignty.