A problem for Ukraine: countries like Brazil will not sell it weapons

As Brazil prepared for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, it bought 34 anti-aircraft guns from Germany to protect its skies.

Then, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the German government started sending Ukraine those same double-barreled weapons, which can shoot down an aircraft from over three miles away. But it lacked shells.

SO German officials asked the Brazilian government last year to return unused ammunition. Still, Brazil’s answer was clear: not if he went to Ukraine.

Latin America’s largest country finds itself in a delicate position. Brazil called for peace and in carefully crafted statements criticized the Russian invasion. But the country, which depends on Russia for fertilizer and fuel, has also made it clear that it will not send any weapons destined for the front lines, and is instead pushing to negotiate peace talks.

“I don’t want to go to war,” said President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil said this year. “I want to end the war.

Yet there is little end in sight. Newly leaked Pentagon documents show Ukraine is increasingly desperate for weapons to hold back Russian troops, especially the types of air defenses that Brazil can supply. With the weapons in the West drying upUkraine and its allies are pressuring some countries that have avoided getting involved in the conflict to give in and send aid.

But in an ominous sign for Ukraine — and, by extension, a foreign policy victory for Russia — some of those countries say they intend to stay away.

President Gustavo Petro of Colombia said in january that he rejected American requests to send the country’s Russian-made weapons to the United States, which planned to give them to Ukraine, because Colombia’s constitution obliges it to seek peace. He added that Latin America should not choose sides. “We are not with anyone,” Mr. Petro said.

And then there is Brazil. Ukraine has made at least two requests to Brazil to purchase a long list of weapons including armored vehicles, aircraft, air defense systems, mortars, sniper rifles, automatic weapons and ammunition, according to correspondence obtained by The New York Times via Brazil. public records laws.

Brazil largely ignored the requests.

The countries’ denials are driven by a range of factors: domestic politics, internal policies that prevent them from arming countries involved in a conflict, and their reliance on Russia for crucial imports.

Yet they could also be essential partners for Ukraine.

Brazil, in particular, is a prolific producer of warplanes, many of which are made by Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer. Planes are among the things Ukraine needs most, say weapons experts. Developing countries like Brazil also have weapons systems that are cheaper to operate and maintain.

“It hurts Ukraine because it becomes too dependent on NATO supplies, which are donated, but extremely expensive to maintain, because they come from rich countries that own and manufacture extremely sophisticated weapons.” , said Sandro Teixeira Moita, professor of military strategy at the university. Brazilian Army Command and Staff College. “The countries of the South have armament systems more adapted to their realities.”

Brazil says that the guiding principle of its foreign policy has long been to remain the friend of all.

Yet the country has shown a willingness to sell out to other warring nations. Since the start of the Yemen war in 2014, Brazil has supplied Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with more than 21,000 tons of arms and ammunition worth $680 million, including internationally condemned cluster munitionsaccording to commercial data.

Brazil, one of the biggest food producers in the world, also depends on Russia for a quarter of its fertilizers. In 2022, as Russia attacked Ukraine, Brazil bought more than 8.8 million tons Russian fertilizers, compared to 10.2 million in 2021. Brazil is the first buyer of Russian fertilizers and Russia the first supplier of Brazilian farmers.

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The Brazilian defense industry is exported a record $1.5 billion worth of weapons in 2021, and the government said it now accounts for nearly 5% of Brazil’s economy. (The United States is Brazil’s largest arms customer.) Yet the agricultural sector is 100 times larger, at $159 billion in exports in 2022.

Former right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro enjoyed a warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, even visiting the Kremlin six days before Russia launched its invasion last year. Mr Bolsonaro later touted the visit in his failed re-election campaign, saying he did so to get needed fertilizer and fuel.

“Economically, it’s an easy win for both countries that they don’t want to risk jeopardizing,” Council on Foreign Relations military researcher Andrés Gannon said of Brazil and Russia. Brazil has also long sought a permanent seat in the the United Nations Security CouncilGannon said, so staying neutral could avoid divisiveness Russian And American vote on its members.

Western officials hoped the November election of Mr. Silva, a leftist closer to Western leaders than Mr. Bolsonaro, would open up Brazil’s arms sales to Ukraine. But neutrality is one of the few issues on which Mr. Lula and Mr. Bolsonaro are aligned.

Just weeks after taking office in January, Mr Lula rejected another request for ammunition from Germany to equip the Leopard tanks he sends to Ukraine.

Instead, the Brazilian president has pushed a different plan: He wants to negotiate peace.

In meetings with President Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Lula laid out a plan for a group of neutral nations to mediate the peace talks.

The West and Ukraine view Brazil’s plan as far-fetched given the state of the war. “We don’t see any momentum right now to get to the negotiating table,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said. said recently.

Mr Zelensky has said peace talks are not possible until Russia withdraws its forces from Ukraine, while the Kremlin says any deal must take into account the territory Russia currently occupies.

Brazil’s solution to this remains unclear. “I think the first decision has to be to start talking,” Celso Amorim, Brazil’s former foreign minister and now Lula’s top diplomatic adviser, said in an interview. He said he couldn’t offer details until that happens.

While Brazil is happy to be the main mediator, Amorim said, other nations need to be involved, potentially including India, Indonesia and South Africa.

“You have to have someone who also has an influence on Russia,” he said. “But who has influence over Russia? One of them is China, no doubt.

China presented its own peace plan, although it was sharply criticized by Ukraine and its allies.

Mr Lula said he would present his plan for peace talks to Russia and China. He is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Friday.

Mr Amorim met Mr Putin in Russia last month, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov is due to visit Brazil next week.

The leaked Pentagon documents indicated that, according to US intelligence, the Russian Foreign Ministry supported Mr. Lula’s plan to “create a club of supposedly impartial mediators to settle the war in Ukraine, believing that the plan would reject the “aggressor-victim” paradigm of the West. ”

Western countries fear that Brazil is leaning towards Russia, said four senior European diplomats in Brazil who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy involved. Officials cited Brazil recent alignment with Moscow in the UN Security Council, including a vote last month for an investigation into the explosions on the Nord Stream gas pipelines between Russia and Germany. Russia proposed the resolution and only Russia, China and Brazil voted in favor.

For its part, Germany has given up procuring anti-aircraft ammunition from Brazil. Instead, he recently announced that he himself will restart the production of the hulls.

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