Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right president of the Latin American country of Brazil. He is widely regarded for his controversial remarks on non-vaccination of the corona, even discouraging people from getting vaccinated, economic reform, and tackling the effects of climate change. However, Bolsonaro has remained silent on the issue since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is unnatural for Balsonaro to keep his mouth shut on any contemporary global issue.
According to many analysts, Brazil has taken a “neutral” stance in the Russia-Ukraine war. So Balsonaro is behaving in a way that does not go with his nature. But why such a neutral position of Balsonaro? Analysts are looking for the answer to this question.
Brazil is in a very strong position in agriculture. The country plays an important role in the global food supply chain. Russia and Ukraine are also rich in agriculture. Huge quantities of food are supplied from these two countries all over the world. Russia also has a strong position in the export of essential fertilizers for agriculture. Therefore, many experts believe that agriculture is a big reason for Bolsonaro’s neutral position in the ongoing conflict in Brazil.
The director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Engoji Okonzo-Ewela, met with Balsonaro in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, in the middle of last month. At the meeting, the Brazilian president and his ministers stressed the importance of keeping the supply of essential fertilizers uninterrupted due to the war. After the meeting, Engoji Okonzo-Ewela himself told reporters.
The WTO Director-General held a meeting with various organizations to ensure global food security in the event of war. During the meeting, he said that in order to provide more food in the international market, it is necessary to provide assistance to the agriculturally strong countries like Brazil.
Many analysts believe that the meeting of the WTO Director General with the officials of the Bolsonaro government is a reflection of the current state policy of Brazil. The next election will be held in Brazil later this year. Balsonaro will be the candidate. He is under pressure inside and outside the country before the election.
He focused on ensuring economic prosperity by protecting the national interest. So his policy of strategic neutrality on the Ukraine issue.
Agriculture is the root of interest
Mauricio Santoro, a professor of international relations at Rio de Janeiro State University in Brazil, said Brazil has had strong bilateral relations with Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Trade relations between the two countries are especially strong. Significant amounts of fertilizers required for Brazilian agriculture are imported from Russia. This is a major factor in determining Brazil’s position in the Ukraine war.
Brazil is the largest producer and exporter of soybeans. Soybeans produced in the country are widely used as animal feed in different countries. According to Brazilian government data, the country exported a record 88 million tons of soybeans last year. More than two-thirds went to China, Spain and the Netherlands.
The country imports 85 percent of the amount of fertilizer Brazil needs each year to produce soybeans, maize, and sugarcane and cotton, and about 40 million tons. 23 percent of it comes from Russia. This is information provided by the Brazilian government.
Russia’s Western allies, including the United States, have imposed a series of sanctions on Ukraine over its attacks. Their goal is to put pressure on the Russian economy. And to isolate Moscow internationally. This is one of the reasons for Brazil’s concern. The Bolsonaro government thinks that if the import of fertilizers is disrupted due to western sanctions, the agricultural sector will face a crisis. Brazil’s entire economy could be in crisis in an election year.
Russia’s fertilizer has not yet been banned, according to StoneX, a financial advisory firm, in an article published last month in Brazil’s top business newspaper, Valor Economico. Fertilizer imports from Russia to Brazil continue even after the start of the war in Ukraine.
Of concern, however, is that the problem of money laundering in fertilizer imports has raised fears among importers. They think that due to this problem, imports will be disrupted and fertilizer crisis may occur. As a result, fertilizer prices are expected to rise in Brazil in the second half of this year. At that time the 2022-23 season of cultivation will start in the country. Another challenge is the rising cost of fuel. This will also increase the cost of irrigation. At the same time, increasing the cost of fertilizer and irrigation can make it difficult for Bolsonaro to cope.
By mid-February this year, the Russian invasion of Ukraine had not yet begun. Bolsonaro visits Moscow. Meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Criticism from the West, including the United States, has not stopped the Brazilian president’s visit to Moscow. Even ministers in his government have criticized the visit. Many analysts believe that Bolsonaro’s supporters are an influential part of Brazil’s agribusiness. He has tried to allay their concerns during his visit to Moscow.
“The most important thing for us is to get fertilizer,” Bolsonaro said after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. We will not take sides in this war. We will remain neutral. However, we will support any initiative taken to resolve the crisis.
According to many analysts, Bolsonaro has not adopted any new strategy on the Ukraine issue. He adheres to Brazil’s diplomatic tradition. Elena Lazarov, a fellow at the American program at International Affairs at Chatham House, a London-based think tank, said Brazil has a tradition of not interfering in international affairs. It is a country that will not easily take sides.
Before Bolsonaro, Brazil’s presidents were Lula de Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Even during their time, Brazil was not anti-Russian. Brazil is one of the members of the BRICS alliance. The other members of the alliance are Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Therefore, after the start of the war in Ukraine, Brazil has been following the policy of neutrality in keeping with its diplomatic tradition. That’s what Elena Lazarov thinks. But there are differences of opinion within the Bolsonaro government. Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Moura also condemned Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. He even compared Putin to the Nazi leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler. Bolsonaro criticized the vice president’s attitude.
The world economy is under pressure due to the war in Ukraine. Last week, the IMF cut its global GDP growth forecast for the current year. At the same time, however, the company raised its GDP growth forecast for Brazil from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says the war has pushed up commodity prices around the world. As an exporter, it will benefit Brazil. It will contribute to the country’s GDP growth.
However, before the start of the war in Ukraine, inflation has risen in Brazil. Rising commodity prices have left Balsonaro worried in an election year. His popularity is on the decline. According to the latest polls in the country, Lula de Silva is far ahead of Balsonaro in terms of popularity. Therefore, many analysts think that Lula de Silva, who is the president of Brazil for two terms, could create a big challenge for Balsonaro in the next election.
Mario Sergio Lima, a senior Brazilian analyst at Medley Global Advisors, a New York-based consulting firm, said the problem facing Brazil in the wake of the Ukraine war was rising fuel prices. Its effects have begun to be felt in all sectors of the country, including food supply, agriculture and transportation. Food prices have also gone up. And the people of Brazil are blaming President Bolsonaro for this. Therefore, in the election year, he has to fight with the reins of rising prices of daily commodities. That too from a neutral position on the Ukraine issue.