“Brazil can lead the peace process between Ukraine and Russia,” says Andrii Melnyk
New Ukrainian ambassador Andrii Melnyk, who has just arrived in Brasília, wants to mobilize Brazilian diplomacy to “think outside the box” and lead the peace process between neighboring Ukraine and Russia. Since February 2022, Ukrainians have been confronted with the invasion of Russian troops and are trying to resist with international help.
For the diplomatic representative of the Ukrainian government in Brazil, one of the first steps towards this rapprochement between Kiev and Brasília was the organization of a more than hourlong meeting between Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Volodymyr Zelensky last week in New York at the United Nations General Assembly. According to Melnyk, the open conversation between the heads of state and government is seen as an opportunity for the Brazilian president to better understand the situation and get closer to the Eastern European country.
During the DW interview at the Ukrainian embassy, housed in a rented house in Brasília, Melnyk argued that it was important to receive weapons from Brazil, which he said constituted humanitarian aid.
DW: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions in Brazil about the war? Russia fights against it Ukraine, in society and at the political level? How do you plan to fight them?
Andrey Melnyk: Brazilians know that the independent state of Ukraine exists. But basically the knowledge is very scarce. But it is not the fault of the Brazilians, but our work that has not been done properly over the last three decades.
It is our task and our mission to get closer to Brazilian society and the political community, to make contacts and to explain our concerns. We were without an ambassador here for a long time and that made communication about what happened in the big invasion in February 2022 difficult.
This war of aggression, which may seem geographically distant to Brazilians, also touches the very essence of the DNA of the Brazilian state and threatens the foundations of the international order. And Brazil is one of the leading countries within the UN that is trying to strengthen this order.
My second task is to show Brazilians that Ukraine is more than just a victim of this terrible war. We have to tell people’s stories. Last year I was in Kiev and witnessed the daily nightly bombings. Many of my friends died in battle, many were injured. Civilians lost their lives and their homes. We also need to tell the story of Ukraine, geographically the largest country in Europe. We have this in common with Brazil, the largest country in South America.
In conversation with Zelensky, Lula emphasized the importance of dialogue and that negotiations are much cheaper than war
In Germany, where you were ambassador Ukraine From 2015 to 2022, he gained a reputation for being openly and openly critical of the country’s political class, including governance. Do you intend to take the same stance in Brazil?
To be honest, I don’t know which path to choose yet. The fact is that there will be no “copy and paste” scenario, every situation is unique. I feel honored to have served in Germany. I had the privilege of working there for seven years before the great Russian invasion.
When the war started I was very open. It was a sincere appeal from me. I could not understand why Germany, which interfered so much in the Minsk negotiations and wanted to help us resolve the first Russian aggression with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, did not provide us with weapons, knowing all the risks. My personal belief is that this would have prevented the current Russian invasion starting in 2022. With this enormous geopolitical and economic weight, Germany could have played a different role in containing Russia or even avoiding war, at least at this moment. This did not happen.
1 of 1 Andrii Melnyk is Ukraine’s new ambassador to Brazil — Photo: Nadia Pontes/DW Andrii Melnyk is Ukraine’s new ambassador to Brazil — Photo: Nadia Pontes/DW
In Brazil the task is different because the connection is not as strong, so to speak. Here in Paraná there has been a community of Ukrainian immigrants for over 130 years, there are more than 600,000 Brazilians with Ukrainian roots. But basically, Ukraine doesn’t seem to have much significance for most people here at the moment.
My goal here is to tell the story of the war. There are many things that need to be talked about. We can start with the abduction of Ukrainian children: thousands of them were forcibly taken to Russia. They are handed over for forced adoption to Russian families for reeducation. This is happening now, in the 21st century. It’s pure barbarism. There are Ukrainian prisoners of war who are being tortured.
“You can even remain somewhat neutral”
There are many practical matters that are important to us, not only from a political and diplomatic perspective. Brazilian diplomacy is one of the strongest in the world and has a great tradition. The Foreign Ministry is a temple of diplomacy with all the conditions to be proud of this tradition, but society, journalism, political activists, NGOs everyone can help persuade the Russian leadership to release children and exchange prisoners War.
These are humanitarian problems. You can even remain somewhat neutral. Much can be done here to alleviate the consequences of this terrible war. There are huge areas full of mines in Ukraine. Brazil could also help unclog these areas by sending experts who can help facilitate the safe return of residents.
Brazil can also help in the environmental sector. We are talking about war crimes on an industrial scale that have been committed since day one. Hardly anyone talks about the ecological damage: destroyed forests, fields that can no longer be cultivated in the next few years or decades.
Like Brazil, Ukraine is an important global breadbasket. So it’s not just our war, it’s a war that impacts other countries. [é uma] Threats to food security.
Brazil’s leadership and moral obligation
Brazil can help us ensure that all these humanitarian crimes are brought to justice. All those who committed war crimes, rape, torture and killed civilians must be convicted. If this does not happen, if we do not recover the occupied territories, there will be a problem and a bad example for other countries that could commit the same war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Brazil has an ambition to provide leadership that is anchored in its geographical size, demographics, economy and culture. I think it’s a moral obligation to step up and show that leadership so that others can follow.
In April, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva declared that the decision to start the war had been made by both sides Russia as for Ukraine. Last week, he chose a distant tone on the war in his opening speech to the United Nations General Assembly Ukraine, according to analysts interviewed by DW. He didn’t specifically mention that Russiajust the war in Ukraine, in the context of other conflicts in the world according to experts, the focus was not on the conflict. This may not have pleased Ukrainian President Zelensky, who did not applaud Lula. How do you see Brazil’s position regarding the war? Ukraine? Is this position wrong?
I would not say that. In its official position, Brazil is part of the group of now 141 countries that condemned the invasion at the UN General Assembly in February, condemned the violation of international law and was also part of the broad international community that is trying to contribute to a peaceful solution.
I am very happy and proud that we were able to organize this first meeting between Lula and Zelensky in New York last week. Until then, the two had only spoken on the phone once in March. Afterwards there were a lot of statements, a lot of emotions, and it wasn’t helpful. Nobody benefits and nobody could understand what was happening based on Brazil’s official position that Brazil is on our side.
Due to the amount of artificially created emotions, it was not easy to organize this meeting. They talked for about an hour and ten minutes. It was an open and honest conversation between two very ambitious leaders, without great expectations but with a desire to better understand each other’s position. It was a good start. We can call it a great progress after this vicious circle of misunderstandings and misinterpretations that we have experienced in the past.
“It would make little sense to start negotiations now”
We don’t have a peace process. We only have a brutal war because Putin is unwilling to negotiate. And that was one of the topics of the meeting. My president tried to explain to Lula why he should start negotiations [de paz] Now it wouldn’t make much sense. There is not the slightest trust in what the Kremlin leader says or does. The promises he makes are empty words.
We want peace. Brazil can help prepare the ground for these negotiations. Achieving a ceasefire is not enough for lasting peace. The same thing could happen as with the Minsk Agreement, which was not implemented and many countries ignored the consequences and a major war broke out on our territory.
So do you think Brazil could lead this peace negotiation process?
Surely. For me, Brazil is predestined for a more active role for various reasons. This must be a very creative process as there is no comparable example in the recent past. For the first time, there is a permanent member of the UN Security Council who attacks, attacks, invades a neighboring country and has the right to veto any political decision.
It is one of the main problems of the current legal order threatened by Russia, and there is no tool to force the aggressor country to stop the invasion. Our appeal to all Brazilian friends and partners is to think outside the box and think creatively. This is the greatest challenge facing humanity after the Second World War, a trauma that is still alive for us: we lost around 10 million Ukrainians in the Second World War.
As in World War II, civilians are the ones who suffer the most because Russia uses sinister tactics to target civilians and attack villages, hospitals, schools, museums, businesses and ports. On the battlefield, Russia does not seem to be a country with a large army. To compensate for this, they appear to be targeting civilians to spread terror, force Ukrainians to leave the country or go to other regions further away from the conflict.
Currently, the existing structures within the United Nations do not offer any solutions that could help us end the war through diplomatic means. We are asking not only the Brazilian government, but also think tanks, NGOs and universities to help us think about this solution.
Brazil should supply weapons Ukraine?
Firstly, it is a completely sovereign decision of the Brazilian government, which must look after its interests and formulate its own agenda. From our perspective, we can only speak from the perspective of the victims, the civilians. I would like to emphasize this again because one thing is not always understood here: the evil of this war. Russian propaganda here constantly claims that this is a small conflict, almost a civil war, that Russia is fighting against the West, against NATO which would be evil which would like to invade its territory.
And I want to reiterate this fact: This is a war being waged against targets that are 94% civilian. Drones, missiles and all other weapons they use target civilians 94% of the time. That changes everything.
It is a war waged against the elderly, children and women. Without the air defense system provided by countries like Germany that shoot down the drones and missiles literally flying over our heads in Ukraine, more schools and homes would have been destroyed and more people would have died.
From this point of view, they represent a legitimate demand and expectation from Ukrainian society. In this sense, Brazil could also play a leading role here in Latin America. Sending ammunition to defense systems like the Cheetah sent by Germany in 2022 could save lives, but would not be engaging in hostilities or taking sides on one side or the other of the conflict. They help our military “close the sky” and make cities safer.
“Nobody expects Brazil to get involved in conflict areas”
No one expects Brazil to get involved in conflict zones, but rather to help in other ways, such as clearing mines, providing ammunition for the air defense system and vehicles to transport the wounded in bombed cities. Brazil could also help us with the energy issue, with generators and other equipment that could be sent to cities and help Ukrainians survive the next winter [no Hemisfério Norte]this will be a very difficult season.
Because that Ukraine has it hardly managed to mobilize significant support in the global south?
This is a difficult question to which we do not yet have a correct answer. There are many factors that we have unfortunately ignored in the three decades since we regained our independence.
We do not invest much time and attention in all the countries now referred to as the “Global South.” I don’t particularly like this term because it groups very different countries together under one name. Partly it was our fault.
We have been very focused on other important issues, such as joining the European Union and NATO. If we were part of this defense community, Ukraine would not have been attacked by Russia.
We didn’t have enough resources to pay attention to other countries. Well, this war opened our eyes, we should have been more active in Latin America, Asia and other regions. A message is not enough. At the same time, the Russians were present not only diplomatically, but also with their business missions and media coverage.
Now this task has become perhaps a hundred times more difficult. We are trying to correct this. We are opening several diplomatic missions in Africa, even though we currently spend 60% of our GDP on defense. We don’t expect quick results. We need to invest at least a decade in this diplomatic expansion to help our companies be more present in these countries too.
Lula recently said that Brazil would not arrest Vladimir Putin if he attended the G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro in 2024. He later said it was up to Brazilian judicial authorities to decide. What do you think about it?
All I can say is that Ukraine would like to invite President Zelensky to the summit that brings together all the leaders of the 20 richest nations. We have already told our Brazilian friends this.
We want to work with the Brazilian Presidency to make this G20 Presidency a success. And we are talking not only about the summit’s agenda, which includes fighting poverty, inequalities and addressing Amazon problems, but also about issues such as restoring global order. This is in our interest.
Whether Mr. Putin will be present or not is a decision made by our Brazilian friends. Our wish is that during the Brazilian presidency, Ukraine can be among the participants, perhaps as special guests since we are not members of the group to present our cause, that of a war that we must wage, because that is what it is about Existence.
From this perspective [de manutenção da ordem mundial]I think it would be in the interest of Brazil and other G20 member countries, perhaps even Russia, to be present in Rio to exchange ideas. I hope that my president can visit Brazil in 2024 (before or during the G20 summit). It would be a sign of a comprehensive vision of this global order and would help Brazil understand us better.
Given Brazil’s interest in permanent membership of the UN Security Council, which needs to be reformed, the country will need allies and friends in Eastern Europe.
How do you think this war will end?
For me, as a citizen of Ukraine, not only as a diplomat or as an ambassador, there may be no other way out but for Ukraine to liberate all occupied territories, including Crimea. In other words: Only when Ukraine has restored its internationally recognized borders since 1991 can we speak of lasting peace.
It is important to emphasize this because, as you probably know and have heard, and also here in Brazil, there has been some discussion about possible compromise lines, and one of the proposals is to put Crimea in “brackets” and Ukraine simply must advocate for the liberation of territories occupied after February 2022.
If the international community allows this false compromise, it would not be a guarantee of lasting peace. This occupation lasted more than nine years. If the question of justice is simply left out of this future peace agreement which we hope will be universal and global in whatever form it takes, it would mean that tens of thousands of war criminals will not be brought to justice could, and that’s not good for the world order.
And the last but not least important topic is of course the question of future guarantees. How to prevent and guarantee through diplomatic means that Russia will not start a new, similar or perhaps even more brutal war in the future?