In the war in Ukraine, Brazil wants to embody a third way criticized by Westerners

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a joint press conference with Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte (out of frame) at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on May 09, 2023. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)
EVARISTO SA / AFP Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a joint press conference with Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte (out of frame) at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on May 09, 2023. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)


Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva poses as a mediator in the conflict in Ukraine (illustrative image taken in the Netherlands in May 2023).

INTERNATIONAL – The scene took place during the G7 in Japan, this Sunday, May 21. A surprise guest at this summit, which brought together the leaders of the seven largest economic powers in the world (who had themselves invited leaders from southern countries), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky entered a meeting room where all the heads of State hasten to shake his hand. All but one: Lula, who sat staring at his notes.

Images, which you can see below, ask. Has Lula snubbed his Ukrainian counterpart, as he tries to mediate the war between Russia and Ukraine and defends peace since returning to power in January, after beating outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro?

Christophe Ventura, director of research at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris) and specialist in Latin America, puts into perspective: “The video reflects a basic situation. It shows that Brazil is not an ally of Ukraine, that Lula does not need to have his picture with Zelensky. For his part, Zelensky’s priority objective at the G7 was to see his direct allies: the United States, France, Canada. Not the Brazilian president. Everyone did what they had to do. »

A meeting was however planned between the two men, but their respective overloaded agendas got the better of this first head-to-head. “I was upset, because I would like to meet him”, commented Lula at a press conference. To finally say a little later that he did not see the point of meeting the Ukrainian president immediately, because neither he nor Vladimir Putin want peace for the moment.

Ambiguous remarks criticized by the United States

This observation did not prevent him from receiving the head of Kremlin diplomacy Sergei Lavrov in his palace in Brasília in mid-April. Just before, he said during a visit to China: “The United States must stop encouraging war and start talking about peace, the European Union must start talking about peace. »

Remarks very badly received in Washington. “In this specific case, Brazil is echoing Russian and Chinese propaganda without taking the facts into account”, had regretted John Kirby, spokesman for the American National Security Council. Faced with criticism, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (his full name) had to backtrack and recall that he condemned the ” violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine by Russia.

These are not the only ambiguous declarations of the Brazilian president. At the beginning of April, he also felt that the Russian president could not “not to seize the territory of Ukraine”, but proposed to discuss the case of Crimea, illegally annexed in 2014. Because for Lula, Zelensky “ cannot want everything”.


These positions, widely criticized by Westerners, are in fact a reflection of Brazilian foreign policy based on the principle of “full respect for international law”, once again tempers Christophe Ventura, also author of Geopolitics of Latin America (Eyrolles editions, 2022).

It details: “For Lula, the conflict has its roots in NATO policy, in particular its expansion to Russian borders in recent years. This is what fed Putin and allowed him to justify his policy, then his invasion. However, Lula believes that the Russian reaction is the worst possible, because the invasion of Ukrainian territory amounts to violating international law. »

Result, “Lula believes that both parties are responsible for this war, highlights his non-alignment and does not want to follow the demands of one side or the other. For example, he refuses to send ammunition to the Ukraine or to apply sanctions against Russia because he considers that only the decisions taken by the UN are legitimate. This is where it gets stuck for Western countries”.

Brazil advocates a third way

This strategy can also be explained in a very tense context in Brazil, shaken by an economic crisis. “Brasília feels aggrieved by Western sanctions that are already affecting its trade relations with Russia. If the government adds more, it would affect imports of essential fertilizers for Brazilian agriculture. The country’s economy could collapse,” emphasizes Christophe Ventura.

In addition to the economic interests that prevent “wipe out relations between Brazil and Russia with a stroke of the pen”the Latin America specialist recalls that “the countries of the South have only limited confidence in the values ​​advocated by the West and which it has itself flouted by intervening in coups and dictatorships”.

This third way between Westerners and Russia, Lula tries to concretize it with his “group of countries for peace”, which should lead to a political G20. “The strength of Brazil is to be a force of proposals, it does not have the financial or military means to intervene in the conflict or impose peace”, recognizes Christophe Ventura. Faced with the endless military escalation, this initiative is struggling for the moment to succeed.

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