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Assessing Brazil’s Potential to Act as a Peace Enabler in the Russo-Ukrainian Conflict

05 Jun 2024
By Dr Danilo Marcondes and Dr Antonio Ruy de Almeida Silva
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva meets with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, at the Alvorada Palace. Brasília. Source: Lula Oficial /

The 2022 election of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva signalled Brazil’s return to the international stage, coinciding with its roles in the UN Security Council and G-20 presidency. However, Brazil faces challenges balancing domestic issues and international responsibilities, including regional conflicts and the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The result of the 2022 presidential elections in Brazil was celebrated domestically and overseas by those who were looking forward to Brazil’s return to the international stage after the country’s isolation under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. The narrow victory of the Workers’ Party candidate, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, and his January 2023 inauguration, coincided with a particularly auspicious moment for Brazil’s international engagement: the country was occupying a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (it left the Council at the end of December 2023) and the country was also due to occupy the presidency of the G-20 (for 2024) and serve as the host of the 30th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 30), to be held in the Amazonian city of Belém in 2025.

Brazil’s return to the global stage, its participation in groups such as the G-20, the G-77, IBSA (India Brazil, South Africa Dialogue), and BRICS, combined with the characteristic of being one of the few countries in the world with diplomatic relations with all United Nations member states also meant that Brazil could play a role regarding the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. For Brazil, the challenges in playing a more active role regarding the conflict include both domestic and international dimensions. At the domestic level, one of the biggest challenges is achieving economic development and reducing social inequalities in a country that, according to the World Inequality Lab, is one of the most socially unequal countries in the world. Given the magnitude of this challenge, Lula has been criticised for giving too much priority to presidential diplomacy in his first year in government and travelling abroad several times.

Internationally, the competing issues that hold back Brazil in developing a more active role in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict are related to the need to address issues close to home. These include: 1) the rivalry between Venezuela and Guyana on the Brazilian border, as Brazilian mediation credentials could be more useful regarding neighboring countries, and 2) the need to balance the bilateral relationship with Argentina, as right-wing President Jair Milei has explicitly criticised President Lula and expressed an interest in obtaining global partner status with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In addition, President Lula is working to persuade Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, a historical ally of the Workers’ Party, to ease the repressive measures against the opposition. Meanwhile, the ongoing security challenge in Haiti, where Brazil held the command of the military component of the UN mission (MINUSTAH) for 14 years (2004-2017), also highlights regional demands for Brazil’s engagement.

Additionally, recent international events have also captured the attention of Brazilian authorities, with a potential for domestic repercussions. Brazil’s condemnation of Israel’s military actions in Gaza may become a focal point in domestic political debate, potentially undermining Lula, as Bolsonaro and other right-wing politicians in Brazil remain close allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Looking ahead to the 2024 and 2025 domestic elections, conservative religious groups, particularly among the fast-growing neo-pentecostal communities, have explicitly endorsed Israeli policies, further complicating the situation.

Brazil may also face conflicting issues related to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. For instance, as the host of the G-20, Brazil may welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin to the high-level summit in Rio de Janeiro in November 2024. However, since Brazil is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, representatives of the Ukrainian-Brazilian community have urged Brazil’s Minister of Justice to arrest Putin if he enters the country. According to the media, Brazilian officials prepared a document which legally sustains the justification for not arresting Putin in his visit for the G-20 summit, based largely on the fact that Russia withdrew its signature from the Rome Statute in 2016.

In recent developments, Brazilian authorities confirmed that President Lula will not be present at the June 2024 Summit on Peace in Ukraine hosted by the President of Switzerland. Brazilian leaders have justified the decision by claiming that not all parties involved in the conflict, particularly the Russian representatives, will be present. It is important to note that in addition to the absence of Lula, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as well as US President Joe Biden will not be attending the summit either. The Brazilian decision should not be understood as an effort to delegitimise the event, but as a strategy to avoid giving the summit the head of state endorsement the organisers desire. In previous events, held in Copenhagen in June 2023 and in Jeddah in August 2023, Brazil was represented by Lula’s special advisor, Ambassador Celso Amorim.

While Brazil will not provide high-level endorsement to the summit in Switzerland, Brazilian actors, including the press and legislators, continue to be the object of Ukrainian efforts to draw attention to the significant human and material damages caused by the prolonged conflict. One concrete alternative to the existing tension emerged in late May 2024, when Brazil and China announced a peace plan that included, among other items: 1) the hosting of an international peace conference with the participation of representatives from both Russia and the Ukraine, as well as mediating countries, 2) the creation of security zones on the Russo-Ukrainian border, 3) an agreement to guarantee the exchange of prisoners, and 4) the commitment to refrain from using weapons of mass destruction. President Lula has also confirmed that he will be attending the BRICS summit to be held in Moscow in October 2024.

Brazil’s support for the Chinese proposal can be described as a bold move, as it identifies the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory as part of the status quo. Nonetheless, it also illustrates how Brazil’s endorsement is valued by different key players. Brazil’s framing of a joint peace plan with China comes at a time when Brazil is officially celebrating 200 years of diplomatic relations with the US, which included a joint military exercise in the South Atlantic Ocean. The date also served as a celebration of common values, as politicians in the two countries have been sharing lessons learned regarding the impact of misinformation and of recent attempts to disrupt the democratic order in both countries. The Brazilian diplomatic capacity to deal with China and the US shows that Brazil, despite domestic challenges and concerns about regional issues, continues to be a country with the potential to act on global security issues in times of competition between great powers, including as a potential peace enabler regarding the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

Considerations presented here are personal and do not reflect the views of the institutions the authors are affiliated to.

Danilo Marcondes, PhD, is Assistant Professor at the Brazilian War College (ESG) in Rio de Janeiro. He can be reached at here

Admiral (Ret.) Antonio Ruy de Almeida Silva, PhD, is Senior Researcher at the Center for Advanced Strategic Studies of the Institute of Strategic Studies at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), Brazil.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.