Risks of Lula’s Peace Plan for the War in Ukraine*


In Europe and the United States, the perception is growing that Brazil is aligning itself with China and Russia.

The proposal by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to create a “peace club” for Ukraine is a clear signal that the Brazilian government will seek to articulate a more active diplomacy, involving itself directly in the most relevant political debate of the moment.

Traditionally underrepresented at the table of the powerful, Latin America has the potential to assume a key role in various debates: global warming, the international refugee crisis, world health, the reduction of poverty, and organized crime, among others.

More engagement on the part of a country not directly involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine could also be positive; in the 1990s, for example, the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government, along with the United States, led the negotiation of a peace treaty between Peru and Ecuador after a short conflict between the two countries.

At first sight, it also seems a low-risk initiative; the worst that could happen would be that the Brazilian attempts to promote a dialogue between Moscow and Kyiv would come to nothing.

However, it would be wrong to believe that Brazilian diplomatic activism in relation to the war in Ukraine is without risk for Brazil. The Lula government has tried to maintain a certain equilibrium as much in the presidential rhetoric as in votes at the U.N.

Before the election, President Lula told Time magazine that Volodymyr Zelenskyy was as much responsible for the war as Vladimir Putin, an opinion strongly criticized in the West. In February, the German request that Brazil buy ammunition for tanks, which were to be sent to Ukraine, was refused on the grounds that Brazil is a country of peace.

In a gesture that some interpreted as retaliation, Germany blocked the export of Brazilian armored vehicles to the Philippines, using its right of veto to protect the intellectual property of some of the components of the vehicles. On the other side, in February, Brazil was the only country in the BRICS group to vote in the U.N. General Assembly in favor of a resolution seeking the immediate withdrawal of troops from Ukraine. President Lula also called the invasion a historic error.

Skepticism about Brazil’s Alignment

That being said, there is deep skepticism in the West toward Brazilian activism in relation to Ukraine, in part because, in the eyes of Kyiv, Warsaw, Berlin and Washington, the Brazilian narrative of “It’s necessary to start to talk about peace” ends up implicitly legitimizing the Russian narrative that the West has an interest in prolonging the conflict and not in dialogue.

European and American diplomats point out that dialogue and negotiation have been continuing since the start of the conflict in February 2024.

In the same way, from the Western perspective, China’s plan serves, above all, to create an impression that the continuation of the war is due to the lack of willingness by the West to sit down at the negotiating table, and not to Russia’s refusal to withdraw its troops from Ukraine and bring what Europe sees as a war of aggression to an end.

The Western perception is that Brazil could end up adopting a position more in line with Moscow and that Beijing was reinforced by the apparent misalignment in a phone call between Zelenskyy and Lula in February. The two described the conversation in very different terms afterward, and President Lula subsequently decided to decline the invitation from Kyiv.

The expectation of the “peace club” announcement during President Lula’s visit to Beijing (delayed because of the Brazilian president’s illness) and not in a more neutral environment such as the U.N. hardly helps to reverse this perception.

Echoes of the Past

Brazil’s signaling its wish to assume a prominent role in peace talks with respect to Ukraine has some parallels with Lula’s decision to negotiate a nuclear treaty with Iran in 2010.

In April of that year, President Barack Obama wrote to Lula asking that he not let himself be deceived by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then president of Iran. A month later, along with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ahmadinejad, Lula presented a nuclear agreement that failed to get Western support and engendered a crisis between Brasilia and Washington.

None of this is to say that the outcome of the current Brazilian effort will be the same, but one needs to be conscious of the risk that the initiative could end up causing friction, whether with the Western or the Chinese-Russian side. In the end, Ukraine today is in the eye of the worst geopolitical hurricane in three decades.

*Editor’s note: The original version of this article in Portuguese is available through a paid subscription.

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About Jane Dorwart 201 Articles
BA Anthroplogy. BS Musical Composition, Diploma in Computor Programming. and Portuguese Translator.

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