Discussions / Russia's War Against Ukraine from the Perspective of the Global South

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Brazil-Russia relations and the Ukrainian Crisis

The Ukrainian crisis escalation in February 2022 can be understood as the continuation of the conflict established with the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the intensification of disputes over the Donbass region. In the same period, Brazil went through significant political changes. However, it is worth noting that the political-ideological oscillations in Brazil did not mean, in general, significant differences toward the stance taken by Brasília regarding the Ukrainian crisis and its escalation, when considering the main paradigmatic lines that have guided the country’s foreign policy. Thus, Brazil’s response to the war reproduces general principles of Brazilian foreign policy, but finds challenges raised by the demand for a pragmatic position toward Brazil-Russia relations in the face of Brazil’s domestic political changes.

Regarding the escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Brazil has remained relatively consistent over time, based on the defense of peaceful dispute settlement mechanisms, and standing for the need of conflicting parties’ non-isolation in the international system. In 2014, when Crimea was annexed, Brazil did not agree with the western powers’ isolation of Russian, and signed the declaration of the 2014 BRICS meeting, hosted by Brazil, in support of Russia.[1]

Despite having a very different domestic political scenario in 2022, in the last year of Jair Bolsonaro’s government, Brazilian neutrality prevailed. Even though ideological affinities with Russia were initially highlighted after a presidential visit in February of that same year, the former Brazilian president and his supporters chose to express a neutral stance.[2] The opposition to the Bolsonaro government in the National Congress followed the trend toward a pragmatic approach, without assuming an open defense of Ukraine and an anti-Russian position. This implied few domestic costs for the chancellery, since it did not generate conflicts between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Legislative branch concerning the neutral stance that Brazil tried to assume in the international arena. The same behavior can be observed among business interest groups,[3] focused on agribusiness and its dependence on Russian fertilizers and inputs connected to agricultural production, including sulfur, earth, stone, cement, and inorganic chemicals, which comprise some of the top ten Russian products imported by Brazil in 2023.[4]

The Lula da Silva presidency, from January 2023 on, sought to use the escalation of tensions in Ukraine as a space to reaffirm Brazilian agency in international politics, understood to have been weakened by the previous government chancellery.[5] In this sense, the new ministry sought to promote the creation of a group of countries associated with neutrality to seek mediation in the conflict.[6] However, the idea did not find the expected support, especially from Ukraine, which tends to see Brazil’s stance of neutrality as a position that favors Russia. Within the scope of domestic political forces, there remains a notable tendency to defend the position of neutrality on both left and right wings—generally in line with the tradition of pragmatism in Brasília’s foreign policy. The Workers’ Party government also finds agribusiness an important sector, and values the relationship with the Russian fertilizer and input market.[7]

After the Russian military offensive into Ukrainian territory in February 2022, Brazil took a stand in favor of most of the resolutions passed by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in extraordinary sessions on the situation in Ukraine. The country expressed itself in favor of the document demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops;[8] the document indicating the humanitarian consequences of the offensive;[9] the document declaring the Russian annexation of the territories of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia as illegal;[10] the document discussing instruments for remediation and compensation for the damage suffered by Ukraine in the context of the offensive;[11], and the document proposing a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine, largely promoted by the Brazilian chancellery.[12] The same trend can be observed in the Brazilian position expressed in the Security Council during its mandate as the rotating chair. In these documents, the country demonstrated a tendency to approve resolutions condemning Russian aggression, but always seeking to promote a negotiated solution to end the conflict.

In international forums, other BRICS countries positioned themselves against condemning Russia or abstained. As stated before, however, Brazil’s position is consistent with its tradition of peacekeeping through non-military means. Brazil’s refusal of the German proposal for sending arms to Ukraine is also indicative of this trend. Seeking to support the non-isolation of states in the international system, Brazil abstained from the General Assembly vote on the decision to suspend the Russian Federation from the UN Human Rights Council, approved on April 7th, 2022.[13] Brasília also abstained from the UNGA resolution on creating a register of injuries committed by Russia in Ukraine (Resolution L6/2022), and from the November 14th vote for similar reasons, arguing that the document did not propose a constructive dialogue nor was it clear on the central role the UN should have in the process of data collection.[14] In other institutional spaces (such as multilateral forums of the UN), and regional forums (such as the Organization of American States), Brazil continued to abstain from decisions that dealt with this topic, considering that the only appropriate spaces to discuss it was the UN General Assembly and Security Council.[15]

The new millennium witnessed the rhetorical alignment between Brazil and Russia in the international system. The translation of this narrative into common positions and in-depth cooperation finds possibilities and limits in the context of the relations that both states maintain with other powers like China and the US, and the escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian crisis.[16] The Kremlin demonstrates a more emphatic enthusiasm for rapprochement with Brazil, seeking to circumvent sanctions and international isolation through multilateralism and polycentrism. Therefore, Russia sees a low cost in supporting Brazil, since it is a country with which it keeps a positive trade relationship and has no political quarrels to solve. Moreover, a closer relationship with Brazil can benefit Russia with a potential ally in its revisionist international order. Brasília, on the other hand, is in a more faltering position regarding its relations with Moscow. For Brazil, the cost of a direct alignment with Russia is higher. Even with the possible resumption of a leading role for the BRICS in the Brazilian foreign agenda with Lula government, it is expected that Brazilian foreign policy will tend to maintain a pragmatic strategy and use relations with Russia as an element of bargaining and greater autonomy for Brazilian foreign policy, without direct and immediate alignments.


AUTHOR BIO

Daniela Vieira Secches has a PhD in International Relations from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais (PUC Minas), a Master in Political Science from Masaryk University, Czech Republic, a Bachelor in Law from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and in International Relations from PUC Minas. She is the Coordinator of the International Relations Undergraduate Program at PUC Minas (Praça da Liberdade Unit), Adjunct Professor I of the Department of International Relations at PUC Minas, Permanent Professor of the Graduate Program in International Relations from PUC Minas, and Member of the Middle Powers Research Group (GPPM) and the Brazilian International Relations Association Directive Board (2024–2025). Her areas of interest include the east European States, and discussions on theory and method in the field of International Relations.


CITATIONS

[1] “VI Cúpula BRICS—Declaração de Fortaleza—15 de julho de 2014,” Ministério das Relações Exteriores, last modified on October 31, 2022, https://www.gov.br/mre/pt-br/canais_atendimento/imprensa/notas-a-imprensa/vi-cupula-brics-declaracao-de-fortaleza-15-de-julho-de-2014.

[2] Guilherme Stolle Paixão e Casarões, and Déborah Barros Leal Farias, “Brazilian Foreign Policy under Jair Bolsonaro: Far-right Populism and the Rejection of the Liberal International Order,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 35, no. 5 (July 2021): 741–61, https://doi.org/10.1080/09557571.2021.1981248.

[3] Guadalupe González, Monica Hirst, and Eduardo Morrot, “O Brasil e o México diante da guerra na Ucrânia: um caso de indiferença recíproca,” CEBRI-Revista 2, no. 5 (Jan-Mar, 2023): 169–94, https://cebri.org/revista/br/artigo/80/o-brasil-e-o-mexico-diante-da-guerra-na-ucrania-um-caso-de-indiferenca-reciproca.

[4] “Exportação e Importação Geral,” Comex Stat, accessed on December 23, 2023, http://comexstat.mdic.gov.br/pt/geral.

[5] Oliver Stuenkel, “Lula’s foreign policy: normalisation and friction,” Real Instituto El Cano, June 22, 2023, https://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/en/analyses/lulas-foreign-policy-normalisation-and-friction/.

[6] Daniela Almeida, “Lula defends creation of a group to negotiate an end to Ukraine’s war,” Agência Brasil, February 24, 2023, https://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/en/politica/noticia/2023–02/lula-reinforces-groups-suggestion-negotiate-end-war-ukraine.

[7] González, Hirst, and Morrot, “O Brasil,” 169–194.

[8] “Resolution ES 11/1,” UN General Assembly, adopted March 2, 2022, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N22/293/36/PDF/N2229336.pdf?OpenElement.

[9] “Resolution ES 11/2,” UN General Assembly, adopted March 24, 2022, https://documents-ddny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N22/301/67/PDF/N2230167.pdf?OpenElement

[10] “Resolution ES 11/4,” UN General Assembly, adopted October 12, 2022, https://documentsddsny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N22/630/66/PDF/N2263066.pdf?OpenElement.

[11] “Resolution ES 11/5,” UN General Assembly, adopted November 15, 2022, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27–4E9C-8CD3-

[12] “Resolution ES 11/6,” UN General Assembly, adopted February 23, 2023, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/LTD/N22/679/12/PDF/N2267912.pdf?OpenElement.

[13] “Resolution ES 11/3,” UN General Assembly, adopted April 7, 2022, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N22/312/47/PDF/N2231247.pdf?OpenElement.

[14] “General Assembly Adopts Text Recommending Creation of Register to Document Damages Caused by Russian Federation Aggression against Ukraine, Resuming Emergency Special Session,” Meetings Coverage and Press Release, United Nations, published November 14, 2022, https://press.un.org/en/2022/ga12470.doc.htm.

[15] González, Hirst, and Morrot, “O Brasil,” 169–94.

[16] Nikolai Dobronravin, “Russian-Brazilian Relations,” in Rethinking post-Cold War Russia-Latin America Relations, ed. Vladimir Rouvinski and Victor Jeifets (New York, 2022), 254–67.

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