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Three Horizons of Brazil–Russia Relations

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Authors: Fernando César Costa Xavier and Alexander Korolkov*

Almost a month has passed since the inauguration of the new President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro. He and his team are not new to Brazil’s national politics; during their careers, they have made quite a few statements about the country’s place in the world and their vision of the development of Brazil’s relations with its key partners. Still, very few political observers (and maybe even members of the new cabinet) understand what Brazil’s foreign policy will be over the next four years. Thus far, we can gauge from the President’s campaign promises that Brazilian diplomacy needs to transform radically and move from broad participation in international organizations and initiatives to “anti-globalism” and bilateral talks in international trade.

The person charged with implementing this project, which has the supported of President Bolsonaro’s voters, is the career diplomat Ernesto Araújo, who was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs not so much for his institutional experience as for the “correctness” of his ideas. Under his leadership, the new diplomacy should be based on an ideology composed of religious (Judeo-Christian) ultra-conservatism, programmatic anti-socialism, and vain nationalism. The implementation of this project should result in improving relations with the United States, Israel and those European countries that are led by right-wing conservatives.

Diplomacy on the Edge

As the new ruling elite in Brazil moves from words to deeds, concerns seem to have arisen that the new foreign political doctrine may cause the country economic and political damage. As a result, a group of the new President’s supporters led by Vice President General Hamilton Mourão (ret.) have been attempting throughout January to mitigate a series of foreign political messages that emerged during the presidential campaign.

At the very least, such actions result in an inevitable conceptual conflict between Mourão and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araújo. Attempts to side-line the latter and remove him from the decision-making process are already obvious, so much so that the Vice President has met with ambassadors of several countries, including China (whose influence in Brazil was proclaimed to be almost the chief threat to national sovereignty during Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign), without the Minister of Foreign Affairs being present. This is at the very least unusual and goes against established practice. However, Mourão’s actions have not gone unnoticed. The Brazilian media has started to call Araújo’s growing isolation a “cordon sanitaire.”

The USSR Standing between Brazil and Russia

Given the budding internal confrontation, it is extremely hard to predict the course that Brazil–Russia relations will take. Unlike China, Russia was not criticized directly by the new President, but this might be due to the fact that Russia was not mentioned at all during Bolsonaro’s campaign. We can only guess as to his attitude towards the country.

As an ardent anti-communist, Bolsonaro is certain to view Russia at least with some suspicion because of its Soviet past. Russia probably does not quite realize it, but the USSR still remains an important fact in bilateral relations. Even though 2019 will mark 28 years since the collapse of the USSR, Brazil’s right-wing politicians and a significant chunk of the population still view President Vladimir Putin as a Soviet apparatchik who never cut his functional ties to the KGB. The fact that the KGB has itself been defunct for over a quarter of a century does not matter at all, since its successor has not yet gained comparable publicity (which is probably for the better) and the KGB continues to be a grim symbol of all things Soviet.

Although influential Brazilian analysts, such as the economist Mailson da Nobrega, insist that “true socialism” died in 1991 and that Bolsonaro’s crusade is pointless, for many Brazilians, the spectre of communism still lives in the Kremlin.

The support that Russia is extending to Nicolás Maduro’s seriously battered government helps feed this phantasmagoria. In an interview with Brazilian TV several weeks ago, Bolsonaro expressed concern about Russia’s military manoeuvres in Venezuela and, in this connection, even announced he could consider having a U.S. military base in Brazil.

This is the unstable background against which relations between Brazil and Russia are developing. Naturally, at this stage there is no initial data that would allow us to make accurate forecasts for the development of Russia–Brazil relations, but at least three major movement vectors from this bifurcation point can be seen, each of which may noticeably oscillate when confronted with an unpredictable reality. Let us call them horizons: their outlines are already visible, but it is not yet clear what lies beyond.

The First Horizon: Is a “Holy Alliance” Possible in the 21st Century?

Part of Brazil’s new ruling elite considers Putin’s Russia as a state that is closer to religious conservatism (linked with the Orthodox clergy) than to left-wing liberalism that ideologically stems from the “Red May,” i.e. the events of May of 1968. This group is headed by Chancellor Araújo. Back in 2018, before assuming the ministerial office, he proposed a “Christian pact” with the United States and Russia. He thought that such an alliance would challenge the “globalist axis” created by China, Europe and the American left. This statement was part of a single ideological package that also included criticism of Brazil’s participation in multilateral international forums and the announcement of the country’s withdrawal from the UN Global Compact for Migration.

It is quite possible that this impression of moral and political alignment which, according to the Chancellor, could happen between Brazil and Russia (Bolsonaro and Putin) was bolstered by the courtesy of the Russian side in congratulating Bolsonaro on his election victory. Bolsonaro replied to the congratulations from @KremlinRussia_E on Twitter, writing “Thank you, President Putin!” in his personal account on October 29, 2018. In addition to the tweet, the Russian President also sent a congratulatory telegram.

Although Putin probably views the mercurial Bolsonaro with a certain caution, he extended a hand again in a letter sent in late December 2018 emphasizing the possibility of a strategic partnership between Brazil and Russia. A few days later, Speaker of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Volodin and his deputy Olga Yepifanova represented Russia at the President’s inauguration. The Russian delegation also met with the incumbent President of the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil Rodrigo Maia, who plans to be re-elected to the office with the support of Bolsonaro and his party (the Social Liberal Party).

If top level contacts do make it possible to overcome ideological fears and improve mutual understanding, Araújo is likely to pay much attention to an alliance with Russia, including possibly in the BRICS format. Brazilian diplomacy may need Russia as a counterbalance to China’s influence in the bloc. For Brazil’s right-wing politicians, China remains a source of a far greater number of phobias than Moscow. Despite opening its economy in recent decades, formally, China remains a communist country and is the greatest epitome of the “Red Scare” for Brazil’s anti-communists. In a highly controversial article written when he was only a nominee for the office of the Chancellor, Araújo claimed that “Maoist China had to be opposed.”

The Second Horizon: Realpolitik Brazilian Style

If Araújo is side-lined and the Realpolitik promoted by Vice-President Hamilton Mourão moves to the foreground, then, as surprising as it is, roads leading to Moscow still remain, although they might not be quite as straight.

In a recent interview, Mourão said he did not understand the point of an accelerated rapprochement between Brazil and Israel. It directly contradicted the idea of opening Brazil’s embassy in Jerusalem, which Bolsonaro proposed in support of a similar move by Trump. In the same interview, he quite unexpected asked, “Are we ready to pay any price to be fans of the Americans?”

Could Russia consider such statements as an invitation to engage in a dialogue? We believe it could.

Such a dialogue could take place at the upcoming 11th BRICS Summit, which will be held in Brazil in 2019. Mourão, who is fluent in English, could be a useful interlocutor for the bloc partners. He pays less attention to “anti-communism” and, unlike Araújo, does not think that the issues of global warming and sustainable development that had been discussed at the 10th BRICS summit are “hijacked by left-wing ideology.” Russia should use this chance to build bridges.

The Third Horizon: Getting Personal

If we forget about all groups and consider the personal impressions that the two countries’ leaders can produce on each other, then Brazil–Russia relations still have a future.

Like Chancellor Araújo, Bolsonaro is an avowed admirer of President Trump. Trump has an equivocal, yet generally positive attitude towards Putin. Behind his criticism of Russia’s policies and politics and the reserved attitude towards Russia that stems from domestic political factors, one can periodically glean Trump’s respect for Putin and even a desire to emulate his style.

This is probably very similar to what Brazil’s new president feels about the Russian leader. There is no doubt that Bolsonaro at the very least respects Putin, and probably, deep down, admires him. The similarities in their political styles appear to overcome their differences. Their supporters value their images of patriot warriors that bravely and ruthlessly fight against “enemies of the nation.”

Brazilian fans who attended the World Cup in Russia were amazed by the number of souvenirs bearing Putin’s image. These images are almost universally aggressive, associated with a demonstration of brute force (take the famous image of Putin riding a bear, for instance). It is possible that this practice was partially borrowed for Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign, at least in the images that are spread on social networks and forming a similar cult around the new president. The two leaders are becoming increasingly similar in terms of being viewed as “saints” and “the chosen ones” by their supporters.

Bolsonaro’s personal contacts with Putin and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping will certainly give him a more realistic feel for geopolitics. Maybe then he will evaluate the possibilities afforded by bilateral and multilateral talks and the global community will eventually come to understand that the ideological structures erected around him are nothing but a “Potyomkin village,” or smoke and mirrors.

*Alexander Korolkov, PhD in History, Expert on Latin America expert, RIAC expert

First published in our partner RIAC

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Americas

Just What Is An American?

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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The greatest mistake any leader, or moneyed powerful individual, or even masses of people (all 3 of which tend to have the loudest voices) is to culturally appropriate unto themselves, just exactly what it means to be an American, based on their own selfish notion of what it means.

The fact remains that the ideal of Americanism is a concept – a truly growing, organic, ever changing, and ever expanding idea that is enshrined within its founding documents and laws.

For example, the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, US Constitution, Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Rights Amendment, among scores of other acts of legislation, point to an ever growing ongoing journey to forge a new nation, just like ancient Rome did, united by a common destiny, and drawn from different experiences, cultures, cuisines, religions, ethnicities, races, nationalities, and world views.

So when President Trump on July 15, 2019 told four minority female congresswomen in sum and substance to “go back to there they came from” if they “didn’t like America,” he trampled over their own views, ideals, and experiences as Americans.

Quite simply his statement was an appropriation of what it means to be an American, from the point of view of a German/ Irish American senior citizen male, to a group of Latin/ Somali/ Palestinian/ African-American younger females.

Perhaps President Trump should re-visit his own people’s racial history, wherein the Irish were systematically excluded by the previously arrived and established Anglican Protestants, or even with the Germans in America who were actually interred in camps during the periods of World War I & World War II.

The German-American Experience

During World War II, the legal basis for this detention was under Presidential Proclamation 2526, made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt under the authority of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

With the U.S. entry into World War I, German nationals were automatically classified as “enemy aliens.”

Two of the four main World War I-era internment camps were located in Hot Springs, N.C. and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer wrote that “All aliens interned by the government are regarded as enemies, and their property is treated accordingly.”                                              

The Irish-American Experience

In 1836, young Benjamin Disraeli wrote: “The Irish hate our order, our civilization, our enterprising industry, our pure religion. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character. Their ideal of human felicity is an alternation of clannish broils and coarse idolatry. Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood.”

Nineteenth-century Protestant American “Nativist” discrimination against Irish Catholics reached a peak in the mid-1850s when the Know-Nothing Movement tried to oust Catholics from public office.

Much of the opposition came from Irish Protestants, as in the 1831 riots in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

After 1860, many Irish sang songs about “NINA signs” reading Help wanted – no Irish need apply.

The 1862 song “No Irish Need Apply” was inspired by NINA signs in London.

Alongside “No Irish Need Apply” signs, in the post-World War II years, signs saying “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” or similar anti-Irish sentiment began to appear as well.

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Billionaires, Vanity and Modern Democracy

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The bullying in Washington is the current trend.  On Monday, the British ambassador resigned his post after Trump refused to deal with him.  Well-liked in Washington and the halls of Congress, his downfall was an honest assessment of the Trump administration as ‘inept’ and ‘dysfunctional’.  The letters were leaked in the U.K.

Suppose the president tweets comments contrary to current established policy, does that mean a policy change?  Do departments adapt promptly.  Nobody knows.  That’s dysfunctional, and everyone knows it.  In the meantime, he has enjoyed 17 golf outings since February averaging three a month.  No wonder he is that rare president who does not seem to age in office from the stresses of the job.  Obama’s hair turned gray.

But then a lighter hand on the tiller has kept us out of war, whereas Obama, the Nobel Peace Laureate, destroyed Libya and escalated in Afghanistan.  The consequences are still being felt in Southern Europe particularly, through the hordes of refugees still continuing to arrive.  Also in the resurgence of anti-immigration political parties in northern Europe.

The supreme irony is the fact of refugees being rescued from ramshackle boats and dinghies or often dying in one part of the Mediterranean while the Obamas cruise on a billionaire’s luxury yacht in another.  Is that a metaphor for democracies in the modern world?  One is also reminded of Mr. Modi’s specially woven pinstripe cloth repeating his name endlessly on the stripes in the material. 

Fortunately, the current president does not like the sea, or we would never see him in Washington.  As it is he has had 14 visits to golf clubs (not as much time on the course however) since the beginning of June.  He once had a small yacht that lay anchored in New York until he sold it.  His pleasures have generally centered on the more mundane:  cheeseburgers and women — the younger the better, although perhaps not as young as those that have gotten his friend Jeffrey Epstein in trouble again.  To be fair, Trump had a falling out with him ‘about 15 years ago’ he said recently.  ‘I was not a fan of his, I can tell you,’ he added although he called him a ‘terrific guy’ in 2002.

At least one party had 28 girls to a so-called calendar-girl party at Mar-a-Lago (Trump’s estate and club) in Florida, meaning selection of a calendar girl.  The male celebrities attending, according to the man assigned the task of finding the girls, happened to be Trump and Epstein, and no one else!  So surprised, the man still remembers the story.  The falling out between Trump and Epstein was rumored to have been a business deal.

It brings us to the second resignation, that of Alex Acosta the Labor Secretary.  A Harvard-educated lawyer, Mr. Acosta was the US attorney for the Southern District of Florida when he made a generous agreement with Epstein who had been charged with sex crimes.  For a 13-month sentence of mostly community work, usually from his mansion, Mr. Epstein was protected from further prosecution.  In a clear rebuke to Acosta, the case has been re-opened with a new charge of sex-trafficking minors.

As a result, Mr. Acosta has had to bow to the chorus of calls for his resignation.  The real question:  How ever did Trump get elected?  A mainstream press failure?

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Americas

What has happened to Western liberal idea?

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In the recent interview with President Putin, the Financial Times seems to have launched a discussion on liberalism only at its own peril. Inadvertently, a real problem was touched upon, whose pressing nature is no longer denied by anyone in the West. The newspaper had to admit it in its Editorial of 29 June. Its authors claim that the threat to liberalism comes from within, including President Trump and his policies, Brexit and, certainly, the rise of “populist nationalism”. They refer to voters’ disillusionment with liberalism and loss of confidence in the economic system and trust in political elites. The latter are invited to redouble their efforts to take into consideration issues raised by voters and “to renew liberalism”.

Hence, the Russian leader has only identified a problem that Western elites are unable to acknowledge, desperately defending the status-quo as having no alternative. But where is the problem?

The systemic crisis of Western society, if we are to call a spade a spade, has its roots in Reaganomics and Thatcherism. In early 1980s, disregard for the lessons of the Great Depression led to Anglo-American attempts to sort of try the pre-1929 Pure Capitalism. This unleashed the forcers of a “self-regulated market” with the state playing a minimal role – a key concept of liberal economics. The idea of social accountability of business had no place in that system.

At the same time, financial sector was deregulated through the step-by-step repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which was one of key elements of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Its architect was British economist John Maynard Keynes. It was only natural that the 2008 crisis also started in the financial sphere which had practically lost touch with the real sector of economy.

Then neoliberalism (as it became known) came to be imposed by Anglo-Saxon nations on the whole of the EU through the Lisbon agenda. The then Prime Minister Tony Blair was pretty good at it. When asked what she considered as her key legacy, Margaret Thatcher pointed to Blair who continued her economic policies under the “New Labour” slogan.

For instance, everyone knows what the nationalization of British railways led to. Profits are reaped by operators, while costs are borne by taxpayers who finance UK Rail, the state-run company responsible for railroad infrastructure. And this is not the only way to privatise profits while collectivising costs. In fact, globalisation has become one such practice for Western elites. Its original motive was quite liberal and far from being altruistic or even geopolitical (Donald Trump has reassessed this part of it when he blamed globalisation for China’s economic rise). It was about cheap labour for increased profits. The jobs  that were to be transferred abroad should have been compensated for by a new technological revolution. But it’s not happening, not even in the second generation. Information technologies do not create as many jobs, and we are already talking of robotisation and artificial intelligence, as well as a universal minimum living allowance as a solution to the problem of poverty and unemployment. It was Keynes who said: “Free trade assumes that if you throw men out of work in one direction you re-employ them in another. As soon as that link is broken the whole of the free trade argument breaks down”.

Liberalism in politics, especially after the end of the Cold War, has degenerated into averaging and alternative-free policies in the “end of history” spirit. Even Henry Kissinger admitted in his “World Order” (2014) that Western elites had again relied on automaticity, as was the case with the market. But as it was shown by Karl Marx supported by modern economists (Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Thomas Picketty and others), free markets always give advantage to the investing classes, which only leads to more inequality.

In this respect, the 45-year post-WW2 period was an exception to the rule due to the creation of a social welfare state – the one that is now being destroyed by the neoliberal economics. Along with it the middle class is being destroyed – the pillar of Western democracy. For these reasons the real discourse of democracy is being substituted in the West by a discourse of liberalism. This involves labelling all protest voters as “populists” and “nationalists”, allowing to side-step the issue of the inability of the actual political system to represent this silent majority. Yet, that is what’s going on when differences blur between the Right and the Left, Tory and Labour in Britain, Republicans and Democrats in the US, or Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in Germany’s “Grand coalition”. Is it any wonder that when an opportunity arises to have a say, this majority votes for Brexit, Trump, or newly-created anti-system parties and movements, often with marginal ideologies?    

In social terms, as BBC is trying to explain in this ongoing debate, liberalism is about protecting the rights of minorities of all kind, including transgender persons. It turns out that there’s nobody to protect the interests of the majority. Yet, we are speaking of the post-war “social contract”, which simply does not work in liberal economics. Anglo-Saxons are on the path of further liberalisation, which the continental Europe cannot afford. Boris Johnson, contributing to the discussion, has said the other day that Brexit is precisely aimed at giving a new lease of life to it by following the US in income tax reductions for business and private individuals.    

British political analyst David Goodhart (in “The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics”, 2017) shows another perspective of the issue. In his opinion, the elites have become cosmopolitan, but the majority has remained rooted in their own countries, regions and communities. In other words, the majority sticks to its national identity, unlike the elites. Even the European middle class, united by similar living standards and occupations, becomes aware of its nationality when hit by bad economic times.

Those who accuse Russia of meddling in internal affairs of Western countries are essentially denying their voters the right to vote, while the genesis of the liberalism crisis clearly points to its roots and origins inside the system. It was no-one else but Angela Merkel who in 2010 spoke of failure of multiculturalism in Germany, while calling for intensifying efforts at integrating immigrants into German society.

It was not Moscow that drew the attention to this problem. As early as 2007, the Economist wrote of a “secular overreachl” in the West, while today many are voicing concerns over a “liberal overreach”. Speaking broadly, it can be said that in the absence of a competitive environment in the realm of ideas after the end of the Cold War (which ended up doing a disservice to Western elites), liberalism has mutated into a dogma, a totalitarian ideology which does not tolerate dissent or pluralism of ideas. No wonder that the elites have resorted to political technologies, media control and political correctness to tighten the grip on the freedom of speech and generate semblance of an alternative-free existence. Social media have put an end to this, becoming a tool for politically alienated electorate to self-organize. As a measure to protect the status quo, the elites are now constructing an artificial dichotomy of liberalism vs authoritarianism, i.e. if not one, it’s definitely the other.

It is, therefore, not about the end of the liberal idea, just as President Putin pointed out, but that it cannot claim to be a one-size-fits-all model negating the wealth of ideas in Europe and the world. The problem is that any ideology, as history has shown, is always aggressive when it claims the ultimate truth, exceptionalism and, as a result, becomes a threat to the world. The notion of a “liberal world order” has also been introduced only recently, as a defensive reaction of the West when its dominance in global politics, economy and finance is coming to an end. Everything could have been different, had Western elites bothered to make this order, Bretton Woods institutions included, truly liberal, open and inclusive. Nobody was preventing them from doing so.

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