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Six months into his third term, Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has placed the resolution of the Russia-Ukraine war at the top of his foreign policy agenda.
Publicly, Lula has often called for an end to the war and urged peace talks and negotiations. He has offered himself as a mediator, proposing a “G20 for Peace” or peace group with countries such as Indonesia, China, and India.
Under Lula, Brazil has joined a growing coalition of states offering to mediate the conflict. Some countries with historical ties to Ukraine and Russia, including France, Germany, and Israel; geopolitically ambitious states, such as Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Kenya, have shared their desires to engage diplomatically with both Moscow and Kyiv.
Brazil’s centre-left president has expressed his willingness to “talk to both sides,” while condemning the atrocities committed during the war. He has made clear his desire to avoid a “new Cold War” and adopted a framework of non-alignment on geopolitical matters involving the great powers.
How Lula Views the Ukraine Conflict
Shockingly however, in Beijing earlier this month, Lula also called on the United States, NATO, and the European Union (EU) to stop “encouraging the war” and “start talking about peace,” a remark almost universally condemned in the West.
On the front, both Russia and Ukraine have expressed some openness to talks and negotiations with preconditions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has floated the idea of talks only if all Russian troops withdraw from Ukrainian territory, with reparations and criminal proceedings against Russian military leaders. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has stated that peace talks with Ukraine could happen if Ukraine agreed never to join NATO or the EU. Putin, in a recent direct discussion with Lula, also expressed that “Russia is open to dialogue over Ukraine.”
Following his “neutral” stance on the war, Lula has also refused to send weapons to Ukraine, a response to a request from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. At a press conference, the president argued with Scholz that “Brazil has no interest in passing on ammunition [for] it [to] be used in the war.”
Lula has staunchly refused to impose sanctions on Russia, a stance echoed by all other BRICS members.
Accepting Russian Apologia
Despite claims of non-alignment, Lula is no neutral observer. Under his leadership, Brazil has actively whitewashed Russia’s crimes in Ukraine and supported the aggressor’s disinformation campaign.
This geopolitical reality is best illustrated by the recent visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Brasilia on April 17. At the meeting, Lula did not denounce Russia’s actions in any way but instead placed all the blame on Ukraine, the U.S., NATO, and the EU. Lavrov thanked Lula for his stance: “We are grateful to our Brazilian friends for their clear understanding of the genesis of the situation.”
In Brasília, both Lavrov and Lula agreed in condemning the West, with Lavrov arguing that the West is “trying to dominate the international arena.”
Earlier this year, Celso Amorim, Lula’s former foreign minister and now one of his top foreign policy advisers, visited Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin and Lavrov. The meeting was amicable, generating anger from the U.S. and other NATO members. Amorim then secretly met with Zelensky in early May in response to the backlash.
Amorim reiterated that “we don’t want a third world war, […] we don’t want a new cold war,” adding that Russia’s “concerns have to be taken into account.”
These actions demonstrate Lula’s willingness to work with only one side of the war — the side which initiated and is continuing this conflict — and blatantly accept the moral and geopolitical narrative it is creating.
Lula has given legitimacy to the Russian government’s claims in this war, accepting a narrative invented and propagated by the Kremlin that puts both sides on an equal footing of responsibility, despite Russia’s flagrant responsibility for initiating and continuing the invasion and occupation.
By meeting with Lavrov and Putin and refusing to meet with the Ukrainian government, Lula and his administration have positioned themselves alongside other Latin American governments favorable to the Kremlin. Lavrov also visited Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, all the U.S. adversaries, and Russian military, economic, and intelligence allies.
Other non-aligned countries, such as Indonesia and Singapore, have organized talks and meetings with both sides. If Lula claims to embrace neutrality, why has he not done the same?
The president has also adopted the Kremlin’s framing regarding territorial claims. In his suggested peace plan, Lula has described Volodymyr Zelensky’s demands as unreasonable, claiming that the Ukrainian president “cannot want everything.”
He added that “perhaps Crimea will be discussed, but what more [Putin] invaded, he has to think about,” suggesting that peace negotiations should include Crimea and other Ukrainian territories. His statement bluntly disregards Ukraine’s right to territorial integrity.
Lula’s arguments of equal fault between Russia and Ukraine and their allies are also troubling. He has stated that “it’s not just Putin who is guilty. The U.S. and the EU are also guilty,” blaming all parties for the war, despite one side having invaded a country while the other is defending its very existence with the backing of those supporting its survival.
Lula added that Zelensky is as responsible for the war as his Russian counterpart, despite Putin’s invasion being unprovoked and the war based on infuriatingly false claims of a Ukrainian invasion and Ukraine’s supposed genocide of Russian civilization.
Lula’s attempts at mediation are also dwindled by the fact that one side — the West and Ukraine — has denounced his half-hearted balancing act, while another — Russia and its allies — has embraced it with open arms.
Ukraine has called out Lula for equating culpability between “the victim and the aggressor.” Oleg Nikolendo, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, invited Lula to Kyiv to see the reality of the conflict on the ground.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby also accused Lula of “parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda without at all looking at the facts.” The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the U.S. is “disappointed” with the Brazilian government about recent declarations on the Russia-Ukraine war and stressed that peace discussions cannot be “based on rewarding Russia.”
If one of the two sides you are trying to mediate with actively rejects your calls for mediation and denounces your actions while the other praises them, you are doing mediation wrong.
Moreover, Lula’s proposed peace group has some toxic representatives for peace. China, one of the supposed future leaders of the group, is actively asserting its might in self-governed regions of Hong Kong and Tibet, pursuing a cultural genocide of Uyghur populations in Xinjiang, and may take on a military invasion of Taiwan in the near future.
Other “leaders for peace” include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both countries are currently engaged in a military offensive in Yemen, supported by military assistance from the U.S. and others, including Brazil. The campaign has disproportionately targeted civilians and fueled famine, disease, forced migration, and instability in the country.
Lula’s peace group is frivolous; so are his peace efforts. The group members use the war in Ukraine to pretend they are all for peace while actively promoting expansionism and brutality in their respective backyards.
By providing Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others with legitimacy in fighting for peace, Lula is whitewashing their crimes as aggressor states.
The U.S., NATO, and the EU have clarified that their central goal is protecting Ukraine’s right to exist and its territorial integrity. Their stance is a response to Russia’s unprovoked aggression, as the government has the entirety of the fate of the conflict in its hands. Russia started the war and can decide to end it.
Until then, the West must continue to come to Ukraine’s aid.
Lula could correct the record by making clear statements about the war, recognizing its geopolitical realities, and holding Russia accountable for beginning the war on false and non-defensive grounds.
Besides Amorim’s visit to Ukraine, the Lula government should also provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine and extend its humanitarian visa program to the war-torn country’s citizens. Like many countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom, Brazil could propose scholarships and work visas for students and technical professionals.
If Lula wants to support peace seriously, he should also consider sending military assistance to the Ukrainians; they are defending themselves against an aggressor state and safeguarding democracy and liberal institutions against backsliding, which Lula has repeatedly pledged to support.
Working toward peace requires accepting harsh truths, providing justice, and engaging with both sides — and Lula has a lot of work to do.
Edited by Ashley Renz