At a virtual meeting of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) on Thursday (19th), Chinese Chancellor Wang Yi defended the inclusion of more nations in the bloc of emerging economies. This seems like a great opportunity for Brazil to forge an alliance that seems to be strengthening in the context of sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine, right?
Not necessarily, at least not in the context of the current Brazilian government. Jair Bolsonaro’s government views with some suspicion the possibility of deeper involvement with the BRICS, especially China, according to this columnist at the head of the Brazilian government.
So why did the Bolsonaro government contact Vladimir Putin before invading Ukraine, and now its diplomats seem to be juggling criticism of Moscow in international forums? This happened on the 12th at the UN Human Rights Council, when Brazil tried to tone down antiRussian language when voting on a resolution. And it happened again on the 19th, when all BRICS countries pledged that Russia should not be excluded from the G20 as US President Joe Biden had signaled.
The main response to this attitude is the dependence of Brazilian agribusiness on fertilizers from Russia, which today account for a quarter of Brazil’s imports of this type of product.
For now, Moscow’s fertilizer purchases are not subject to US sanctions, which are concerned about a possible global food crisis. Brazil even managed to negotiate quotas for the product that would have been destined for the European market before the sanctions against Russia.
In the background is Brazilian interest in acquiring military technology from Russia, as I reported in last week’s column.
The Itamaraty, in turn, claims to have a balanced position towards Russia. The ministry is working to ensure that an independent investigation is carried out before Russian military operations in Ukraine are prosecuted for war crimes. He also supports the idea that an intact G20 can help lead the world out of the economic crisis.
At the BRICS meeting, its members also defended the usual agenda of increasing the influence of emerging economies in the bodies that define the rules of international trade. The foreign ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to multilateralism, in which sovereign states work together for peace through the UN.
The agenda of multilateralism
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been interpreted by many international analysts as an attempt by Moscow to challenge American global hegemony in the name of a multilateral world order.
Some readers, dissatisfied with the shortcomings of Western democracies and seeing a predatory character in the eastward expansion of NATO (Western Military Alliance), then began to applaud Russia. I spoke to some of them and found that they were beginning to see Moscow and Beijing as Brazil’s new natural allies.
Sorry to frustrate you, but that shouldn’t be happening for now.
The current administration, for example, has a number of criticisms of the West’s stance on the Amazon environmental problem, but this does not automatically mean aligning it with US and European rivals.
The question of the Amazon is symbolic. After all, many saw Moscow’s perceived support for Brazil last year when the UN protested against a proposal for international security issues related to climate change to be decided by the UN Security Council. The fear was that the fate of the Amazon could be decided at the United Nations.
But Moscow’s veto was actually to protect its own interests, as it owns an area of forest in Siberia even larger than the Amazon.
In other words, Brazil is concerned about increasing economic dependence on China, although it criticizes American and European positions. Fears are growing over Beijing’s alleged “predatory” expansion into Africa and South America. Moreover, the commercial appetites of Russia and India are also far from being viewed with sympathy by Brazil.
This does not mean that the country will move away from the BRICS (because that would be very difficult diplomatically). But it seems that Brasília will not bet on an unreserved deepening of ties with the bloc. This is true even in a scenario where the BRICS gain strength and prominence due to a possible rapprochement between Russia and China due to the invasion of Ukraine.
In other words, the most likely prospect is that Brazil will maintain its position of pragmatism and conclude the most advantageous deals, but without investing in a network of international alliances.
Of course, that could all change with this year’s elections in Brazil. There is a possibility that the prospect of alignment with Russia and China will find greater support from eventual candidates from the Left a political segment historically more friendly to these powers. But we need to hear the candidates’ suggestions before we engage in this type of analysis.
Does the US want to avoid war with Russia or support Ukraine’s victory?
What we can expect from now on in the international context is a possible rapprochement between Russia, India and China. Moscow must enter this game with its sources of energy and raw materials, and Beijing and New Delhi with its production capacities.
Fearing a warrelated blockade of Russia’s international dollar reserves, China is expected to increase its tendency to trade in its national currency, the yuan, at the expense of the dollar.
For its part, the United States must seek to capitalize on China’s lack of appetite to criticize the Russiansponsored war. It is almost certain that Washington will try again to curb China’s growing global influence, this time using Beijing’s support for Moscow as an argument.
According to a New York Times editorial published last week, Americans also face a dilemma regarding the war in Ukraine: support Ukraine until it achieves complete victory, even if it takes time, or try to to minimize the possibility of a direct confrontation with Russia.
Washington approved a $40 billion financial and military aid package for Kyiv in the Senate on Thursday. But isolationist Republicans are already beginning to criticize, and the American coalition supporting Ukraine could fall apart in the future.
Supporters of increased aid to Ukraine against Russia argue that only a complete victory over Moscow on Ukrainian territory will guarantee peace. In their opinion, a peace agreement at the moment would only delay a new war and give the Russians time to prepare better.
The other school of thought argues that it would be better to try to persuade Ukrainians to cede territories in order to reach a peace deal. Shortening the duration of the conflict would also reduce the possibility that a miscalculation could escalate the conflict into a direct war between Russia and NATO.
“A victory for Ukraine over Russia with the support of the United States and the European Union is technically feasible but politically very difficult to achieve,” said Nelson Ricardo Fernandes Silva, a risk analysis specialist and major in the Reserve Army.
According to him, Russia still has a large amount of troops and equipment that can be used in war, while Ukraine is operating at the limit of its material resources.
Ukrainian arms and ammunition factories are being systematically destroyed by Russia. Tank farms and refineries have been destroyed and Ukraine is already struggling with mobility problems.
For this reason, the flow of arms and financial aid from the western powers must increase in order for Ukraine to start thinking about a counteroffensive.
“As the impact of these costs takes its toll on the European and American economies, the appetite to help Ukraine may wane,” the analyst said.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean support is ending any time soon, at least not in the United States. With the approval of the current package, aid to Ukraine reaches $54 billion. That’s less than a tenth of the $750 billion annual defense budget.
Washington is now in a comfortable position as it can weaken Russia, its geopolitical rival, without the burden of losing soldiers on the battlefield. But there are growing fears that this risky strategy will eventually unleash a new global conflict.