In a fascinating diplomatic display on Wednesday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has resisted domestic calls as well as pressure from US officials to cancel his Moscow visit, got on his knees with Putin and declared Brazil “in solidarity” with Russia. Putin then named Brazil as Russia’s most important partner in Latin America.
Bolsonaro did not specify in regards to Brazil’s solidarity with Russia, but his comments and visit to Putin are sure to be interpreted as tacit support for Russia at a time when the West is describing it as a belligerent military power preparing to plunge Europe into war.
For Brazil, the meeting was a remarkable turnaround for a president who had spent years embracing the American flag, cultivating a network of republican contacts and evoking Soviet-style socialism and communism as global evils that Brazil should renounce. He also betrayed, once again, Bolsonaro’s personal approach to foreign policy. He loved the United States when President Donald Trump was in charge. He loves it a lot less without him.
Now he has succeeded in bringing the largest and most powerful country in Latin America into the arms of one of the United States’ greatest foreign enemies.
“We are in solidarity with Russia,” Bolsonaro told Putin. We very much want to cooperate in many areas – defense, oil and gas, and agriculture. Meetings happen.”
The meeting reversed Putin’s apparent gambit to establish stronger relations in Latin America, far from Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, thus circumventing the West’s attempts to isolate his country. In recent weeks, Putin has made calls to several Latin American leaders and welcomed Argentine President Alberto Fernandez to the Kremlin. In their meeting, Fernandez He said According to the Kremlin, he is “constantly working to rid Argentina” of its dependence on the United States.
Putin’s meeting with Bolsonaro also hinted at how cold relations between the United States and Brazil have been since Trump’s 2020 electoral loss. Bolsonaro for the first time echoed Trump’s unfounded allegations that widespread fraud undermined the presidential election. Then he was one of the last foreign leaders to recognize Joe Biden as president. More than a year into Biden’s term, the presidents of the two largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere have yet to speak.
US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said there have been at least two high-profile US attempts to persuade Bolsonaro to cancel the trip. Bolsonaro was told that such a trip would legitimize Russia and make it appear less isolated at a time when the West was uniting to thwart a potential Russian invasion. But Bolsonaro, reportedly upset by what he saw as a cold relationship with Washington, decided to go ahead with the trip.
Neither Bolsonaro’s presidential office nor Brazil’s foreign ministry responded to requests for comment.
News of the Moscow meeting has gripped Brazil, as concerns about the potential diplomatic fallout have been mounting for weeks. Brazilian officials have repeatedly said that Bolsonaro will walk away from the Ukraine crisis. They said he wanted to talk about energy and agriculture. Bolsonaro said that if Ukraine came, he would only support peace, diplomacy and the sovereignty of all countries. Continue to strive to show impartiality, the State Department issue a message Promotion of Brazil’s relations with Ukraine.
Felipe Laureiro, a historian at the University of São Paulo, said the trip was nonetheless fraught with danger. “I was saying that one of my biggest fears was that Bolsonaro could say something at this very tense moment that would conflict with Brazilian diplomacy,” he said. “And that’s exactly what he did.”
Once Bolsonaro entered Russian airspace, he triggered the military crisis. And he posted a picture on Twitter for CNN showing news of a possible Russian withdrawal of troops from Ukraine’s borders. Then his allies immediately jumped into the narrative, crediting Bolsonaro with avoiding war. The hashtag #BolsonaroAvoidedAWar has started appearing on social media. Former Environment Minister Ricardo Salles tweeted a fake cover of Time magazine, declaring Bolsonaro the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Analysts said Bolsonaro’s comments on Wednesday would undermine the Brazilian government’s defense that it does not take sides in the Ukraine crisis, and he once again emphasized the risks of impromptu diplomacy at the highest levels.
“Unwise words or reckless actions may have unintended questions,” said Mauricio Santoro, a professor of political science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. It was a mistake that would have negative repercussions in the West. … In the context of the current crisis, this can be interpreted as a statement of support for Putin in relation to Ukraine.”
In economic terms, analysts said the decision to visit Russia was meaningless. Russia and Brazil have many trade relations, and Brazil sells $1.6 billion worth of goods each year to Russia. But Brazil sells roughly $31 billion in goods to the United States annually, far exceeding any of Brazil’s business with faraway Russia.
However, in the context of Brazil’s tumultuous political scene, the rationale behind the trip seems clearer. The pandemic and subsequent economic turmoil left Bolsonaro politically wounded. His approval rates are in his twenties, and he’s quickly headed toward a polarizing reelection campaign. Analysts said he needs to show international strength to legitimize his status as a world leader.
But Lorero said the talks left him turbulent. For several months, Bolsonaro sought to undermine the integrity of the Brazilian electoral system. The Brazilian president has said that large-scale fraud will pervade his opponents. Bolsonaro has said in the past that the only way he would lose was if the elections were stolen. Loreiro said he does not believe Bolsonaro will give up power easily.
One topic that Bolsonaro discussed with Putin? Electronic security.
“We know that Russia is one of the most equipped and knowledgeable countries in the world in the field of digital weapons and has good experience in electoral interference in foreign countries,” Loreiro said. “This worries me.”
Gabriela Sa Pessoa contributed to this report.