Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov arrives in Brasilia today for meetings with his Brazilian counterpart, Mauro Vieira. The visit is the latest in a series of diplomatic overtures that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has made towards Russia in recent weeks, angering Western countries.
Since he took office in January, Lula has increasingly positioned Brazil as a potential broker between Russia and Ukraine. “President Putin doesn’t take any initiatives to stop the war. Zelensky from Ukraine doesn’t take any initiatives to stop the war,” Lula told reporters in Abu Dhabi on 16 April after a state visit to China and the UAE – a provocative failure to differentiate between the two leaders. The day before, in Beijing, Lula also said that the US “needs to stop encouraging war” by providing weapons to Ukraine.
Under Lula and his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil has not followed Western countries in imposing sanctions on Russia. It has also refused to supply ammunition or weaponry to Ukraine.
Brasilia’s position is partly borne of realpolitik – Brazil’s largest trading partner is Russia’s ally, China – but also ideology. Lula is a long-standing critic of US foreign policy and has frequently sought to encourage the development of a “multipolar” world order in which America has less geopolitical influence. This suspicion is in part a result of the US’s history of interference in Latin American affairs, including in Brazil.
Brazil’s attitude is emblematic of a broader trend. While just a handful of countries, such as Syria and Belarus, openly side with Russia, many more are ambivalent about endorsing the West’s narrative on Ukraine and officially embrace neutrality. Crucially, these include some of the world’s largest countries, including India and Brazil. Documents leaked earlier this year, reportedly by a serving US airman who has since been arrested, indicate that even close US allies such as South Korea have been reluctant to arm Ukraine.
Russia hasn’t had many wins to boast of recently. Still, as Lavrov lands in Brazil, he can at least take solace in the fact that billions of people live in countries reluctant to condemn his government.
This article first appeared in the World Review newsletter. It comes out every Monday; subscribe here.