Latin America Advisor

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Will Brazil’s Plan for Peace Talks on Ukraine Take Root?

photo of celso amorim Celso Amorim, the Brazilian government’s top foreign policy advisor, met last week in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. // File Photo: Brazilian Government.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva proposed the creation of a group of countries, potentially including China, India and Indonesia, in order to mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. China, Turkey and several other countries have also sought to make diplomatic pushes to end the war in Ukraine. What role are Brazil and other Latin American countries playing in the war? How are Lula’s proposals different from those of other countries? What are the reasons behind Lula’s efforts to position Brazil as a mediator of the conflict?

Peter Hakim, member of the Advisor board and president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue: “Lula is on a sensible track. Negotiations offer the best solution to the Ukraine-Russia war. The alternatives project a bleaker, more destructive outcome. Russia might win, ending Ukraine’s independence and humbling the United States and NATO. Like other recent conflicts, the war could persist for years. A prolonged stalemate or near defeat could provoke a nuclear response from a Russia in desperation. Could NATO quickly incorporate and extend protection to Ukraine? That’s not a solution that anyone should count on. Lula is today one of the few international leaders who might have the political muscle and credibility to manage a serious negotiation of the Ukraine-Russia war. Its success, or even real progress, although far from guaranteed, would enhance Brazil’s global stature and influence—which has declined sharply since he left office in 2010 and makes Lula’s peacemaking more difficult today. The conflict’s end would also hasten the recovery of Brazil’s weakened economy and, at the same time, boost economic prospects worldwide. But pursuing peace is not without risk for Brazil. Lula’s initial claim (now substantially softened) that Russia and NATO are equally responsible for the war, and his unwillingness to call out Putin for casting the first stone, puts Brazil’s largely positive relations with the United States and Europe in some peril. Similarly, any Brazilian statement of Russian sole culpability could endanger economic relations with Russia and perhaps China, both vital trading partners for Brazil. Lula’s intentions in seeking a negotiated peace are laudable. However, he may have jumped too quickly into a complex, dangerous situation. He needs to backtrack and gain a far better reading of how the key players—including the United States, China, Ukraine, Russia and European nations—are thinking about the war and possible peace initiatives and compromises. The recent Moscow visit of his key foreign policy advisor, Celso Amorim, may be an important step in that direction, but it must be followed by many others.”

Patrick Duddy, senior advisor for global affairs at Duke University, former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and former U.S. consul general in São Paulo: “President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s proposal to establish a peace club to broker an end to hostilities between Russia and Ukraine arises from both his international ambitions and Brazil’s interests. His efforts to end the fighting are unlikely to succeed in the near term. Lula seeks to re-establish Brazil’s leadership role in the Global South, and ending the war is important to the Global South. The war in Ukraine has precipitated rising prices for foodstuffs and energy as well as spot shortages of fertilizer, which affect the ability of other producers, including even Brazil, to compensate for falling agricultural exports from the combatants. Lula’s peace overture is less explicitly prescriptive than the plan China offered in February, but Ukraine and Russia are no more likely to embrace it. There are several reasons. While Brazil voted for the most recent U.N. resolution ‘deploring’ Russia’s invasion, Lula has argued in the past that Zelensky and Ukraine also bear responsibility for the conflict. Even more problematically, Brazil’s suggested peace club collaborators are BRICS countries (plus Indonesia) and thus, essentially, partners with Russia although not active supporters of Russia’s military operations. The U.N. resolution, which Brazil supported, expressly called for Russia to withdraw from Ukrainian territory. China’s peace plan did not. Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory is likely to be a non-negotiable condition for Zelensky—at least as long as Ukraine believes it is winning on the battlefield. For Putin, however, withdrawal to pre-2022 borders would be synonymous with defeat.”

Amanda Mattingly, managing director at ACM Global Intelligence: “Just as Brazilian President Lula da Silva has sought a global leadership role on climate issues, he is also trying to influence geopolitics through his proposal for peace talks to end the war in Ukraine. Even in his first term as president, Lula wanted a larger role for himself and Brazil on the world stage. Now that he is back in office after a period of isolation for Brazil under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, Lula is promoting the idea of a ‘peace club’ to resolve the conflict in Ukraine. In contrast to the United States, which has armed Ukraine, Lula is actively pushing for a mediated peace settlement. To that end, Lula recently sent his top foreign policy advisor, Celso Amorim, to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on April 14. Like other Latin American countries, Brazil has tried to maintain neutrality in the conflict given the important trade relationship it has with both Russia and China as well as its ties to the West, namely the United States. But Lula’s recent efforts to meet with world leaders, including U.S. President Biden, and his proposals for peace in Ukraine have thrust him into the global spotlight in a way that is different from other Latin American leaders and comes with risk as it is unlikely that his ‘peace club’ proposal will gain much traction. Instead of demonstrating that ‘Brazil is back,’ Lula runs the risk of looking naïve and lacking influence in the face of geopolitical realities.” 

Riordan Roett, professor and director emeritus of the Latin American Studies program at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies: “President Lula is attempting to restore the nonaligned position that Brazil occupied during his previous two terms in office. The visit of former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim to Moscow and comments by Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira indicate a return to multilateral diplomacy after the deeply ideological foreign policy of Jair Bolsonaro during his one term in office. Russia is an important trading partner—generous supplies of fertilizer are critical to the success of Brazil’s agribusiness sector. China is now Brazil’s largest trading partner with an insatiable appetite for commodities such as soybeans and iron ore. But a nonaligned position was feasible in the eight years Lula occupied the presidency; the world has now become dramatically polarized after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Biden administration has noted the efforts by Brazil to play a ‘mediating role’ in the conflict, but the war in Ukraine has become deeply bipolar between the United States and NATO and the Kremlin. But the White House has made it clear that Brazil needs allies to support its war against Russia. Soothing bromides will be met with indifference in the West and initiatives by the Global South will be acknowledged as useful but of no consequence in pursuing the defeat of Russia in Ukraine.” 

Gilberto M. A. Rodrigues, associate professor at the Federal University of ABC and researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development: “Since the beginning of his new government, President Lula has repositioned Brazilian foreign policy at a very high level as an influential player in international politics. The decision to remain nonaligned on the war in Ukraine serves a double interest: not breaking its strategic relations with the two power blocs in the dispute, while trying to reinforce the country’s position as one that can act as a trustworthy facilitator for a peace process. Supported by its condition as a rotating member of the U.N. Security Council, Brazil is today the representative of the Latin American region in the best condition to play this role. The group of ‘friends of peace’ proposed by President Lula may contribute to increase the legitimacy of the initiative and its regional diversity and dilute the pressures that the two blocs exert on the others to be more aligned to their positions. Any effective and sustainable peace process requires the involvement of China, as Russia’s main interlocutor and central guarantee of what could be a peaceful end to the war and the conformation of a new post-conflict international order. In this sense the movements of the Brazilian diplomacy—the quiet visit of Lula advisor Celso Amorim to Russia, and the coming high-level visit of Lula to China at the conclusion of his 100 days in office—strengthen Brazil’s place at the table of global interlocutors who will contribute to an outcome of the conflict.” 

Cecilia Godoy, analyst at FrontierView: “Since the breakout of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Latin American government responses have been mixed; in the immediate weeks following, about half of the region’s presidents did not explicitly condemn Russia’s aggression – Brazil’s then-President Bolsonaro included – motivated by principles of nonintervention and likely the scheduled large-scale Sputnik V deliveries to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic. However, as the conflict drags on, the region has become more active in spearheading attempts at peace talks. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was among the first to suggest creating a mediation committee to pursue a five-year truce to the conflict – an initiative backed by Colombian President Gustavo Petro. Since his inauguration, President Lula has made it clear he intends to position Brazil as an impartial regional and global powerhouse, but this anointed mediator role, while certainly in line with Brazil’s constitutional doctrine of neutrality, also safeguards Lula’s economic motivations. Not only do the United States and the European Union continue to be the leading markets providing foreign direct investment into Brazil, but also, Russia has for years been Brazil’s top fertilizer provider, vital to the agribusiness sector, which remains heavily dependent on imported inputs. Brazil’s eagerness to head negotiations for peace talks would undoubtedly go a long way in re-establishing its international prestige within diplomatic and security circles in the post-Bolsonaro context, but it also leaves the country very well positioned to economically withstand the fallout of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.” 


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