Lula's Brazil in the context of a global conflict

The relations with the US and European countries along with Russia and China.

Lula da Silva has returned to the presidency of Brazil in a completely different world than the one he left at the end of 2010. His election is not only new for Brazil, as he is a leader ascending to the presidency for the third time, an unprecedented event. His return changes Brazil's international position. The United States has taken this into account. President Biden expressed his support for Lula after the failed subversion attempt with the attack on the buildings representing democratic power in the capital Brasilia. 

 Lula has proposed, as one of the first objectives of his program, the blocking of the policy of deforestation and privatization of growing parts of the Amazon. He also promises to address the imbalances marked by the impoverishment of a growing part of the Brazilian population by restoring the Bolsa Familia - a social policy of great international resonance, dedicated to the escape from poverty of millions of families in the suburbs of big cities, from Rio de Janeiro in Sao Paulo.

1.   Lula's international initiative does not only concern relations with the United States and Latin America, but is part of a general framework for relaunching Brazil's international role.
On February 10, Lula went to Washington to meet President Biden who invited him after his appointment. The meeting discussed the climate and defense of the Amazon and, in general, the new Brazilian policy in contrast to Trump's previous US policy in favor of Bolsonaro.

Of course, the Ukrainian conflict was a central issue.  For the president of Brazil, it is necessary to help a mediation in the conflict. On this issue, points of view were clearly divergent. Biden does not believe Russian President Putin has any interest in peace.

Before the meeting with Biden the CNN had interviewed Lula about what was going to be the main topic of the meeting. And he had explained his position. “I want to  talk about peace with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. I want to talk about peace with President Biden, I want to talk about peace with (Chinese leader) Xi Jinping. I want to talk about peace with India, with Indonesia… because for me the world will only develop itself if we have peace”.

During his trip to Washington the Brazilian president also met with Senator Bernie Sanders, who had been Biden's alternative candidate in the last presidential elections, and the AFL-CIO union leaders to discuss the theme of peace.

Lula's rise due to his personal history and to the importance of Brazil in the American subcontinent creates a new situation not only within the country but also in the global balance, starting from the war in Ukraine. Up to now the war has had as main protagonists, on the one hand, Russia allied with China; on the other, the United States and European countries. The entry of Brazil and the authority of Lula introduce new factors in the development of the conflict.

Ultimately, Lula would like to see the opening of peace negotiations which should involve the most neutral global players. It was not a case that last month, Lula had proposed mediating in this conflict through a group made up of the United States, Germany, France, Brazil, India, and China.

The president of Brazil will be able to express himself as a representative of Latin America after the meeting in Buenos Aires on January 25, which saw the participation of all the countries of the  subcontinent. A meeting in which Lula underlined Brazil's willingness to consolidate relations between all Latin American countries, emphasizing the need for collaborative relations with Venezuela and Cuba. Indeed, a radical change in the context of Latin American relations.

When he had formally assumed the presidency, the leaders of Russia and China had congratulated him.

On December 20, Lula had a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin who called him to congratulate him on his re-election as president of Brazil, expressing his interest in "strengthening collaborative relations" between the two countries. Lula, as reported by the Russian press, had in turn expressed confidence in the consolidation and strengthening of agreements between the two countries on the international scene.

In turn, the President of China Xi Jinping congratulated his re-election, underlining the importance of the friendly relations between the two countries already defined within the framework of the BRIC group - the cooperation pact between Russia, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa.

2.   In the context of international relations, Lula is about to play an important role in the conflict affecting Ukraine. From this point of view, the relationship with Germany plays a leading role in the context of the conflict with Russia. A role that has created problems in Germany - the country that in almost 80 years since the end of the Second World War has never assumed direct responsibility for an armed conflict.

Hence Chancellor Scholz's refusal to use German Leopard 2 tanks without direct American participation in the confrontation with Russia through the collateral supply of American tanks. Direct American participation would function as a cover for German intervention, reducing its role to a relatively secondary function.

The problem has arisen since the summer of past year and the United States has always shown itself hostile to direct participation by sending its own tanks. But, in the end, President Biden, despite the hostility of the Pentagon, approved American participation in the supply of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. In other words, by making America's participation in the conflict with Russia definitively explicit.

Faced with the deployment of 31 American tanks, Shultz approved the use of 14 Leopard thanks alongside the German tanks sold to Poland, which had insistently requested authorization to make them operational. Other tanks of German origin will be made available by the Netherlands and other European countries. Overall, just over a hundred tanks will be available, including the American ones which will be transferred to Ukraine towards the end of the year.

Schultz's resistance is justified by the opposition of about half of the German people. The opposite position recalls that the tanks were "the symbol of the conquest of Europe by Germany" as recalled Soenke Neitzel, historian of German militarism (Financial Times 31 January 2023). The tanks promised to Ukraine are a quantity important but far from the request made by the Zelensky government for at least 300 tanks already available in the spring when the offensive against Russia should resume.

According to Putin, the deployment of American tanks is the definitive confirmation of the primary role of the United States in the ongoing conflict. In essence, the conflict would have two main actors: on the one hand the United States assisted by Europe and; on the other, Russia allied with China.
3.  The year that has just begun remains characterized by a high degree of uncertainty. Due to Brazil's characteristic neutral position among the countries at the center of the conflict, Lula's initiative, which we have remembered, indicates a possible way of negotiation. Brazil has  a direct relationship with Russia and China and, consequently, with the vast alliance that includes India, Indonesia and South Africa.

The president of Brazil is also an interlocutor with the United States, and could play an important part in relation to European countries divided over the position to be taken towards Russia. Chancellor Scholz himself, although induced to send German tanks, albeit in small numbers, to the battlefield, aimed at an agreed solution to the conflict.

Not surprisingly, in December he had a telephone conversation with Putin and declares himself ready to maintain contact with Russia in search of a solution. In other words, the president of Brazil finds in Germany an important interlocutor with respect to his plan aimed at a negotiation with Russia capable of averting war between the world's major military powers.

Bottom line, predictions are a gamble. Many avoidable wars have run their course in an often-tragic history. What the development of the situation that risks involving the entire planet might be does not offer easy predictions. But, undoubtedly, the role of Lula's Brazil which maintains important relationships with the fundamental contenders opens up an important scenario.

The keystone lies in the possibility of a passage to the negotiation. In the possibility of suspending the conflict, working on a possible solution. In other words, faced with the current risks, the role of Brazil could prove to be decisive in the direction of a mediation capable of neutralizing the risks of a war with global characteristics and catastrophic effects.

Antonio Lettieri

Editor of Insight and President of CISS - Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body and Advisor for European policy of Labour Minister. (