Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is scheduled to arrive in Russia on Tuesday for an official visit, which has been described at a highly awkward diplomatic timing, given the stand-off in Ukraine between Moscow and the Western alliance.
Despite recommendations to the contrary in the Brazilian cabinet, and presumably from US diplomatic sources, Bolsonaro is going ahead with the visit to president Vladimir Putin emphasizing his only purpose is to continue advancing trade, BRICS and Mercosur issues.
Nevertheless members of Bolsonaro's cabinet fear Putin could try to take advantage of the trip and Wednesday's bilateral meeting, claiming support on the Ukraine dispute from Latin America's largest country, senior representative of Mercosur and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The timing is terrible, said Guilherme Casarões, a political analyst at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in Brazil. We don't know what's going to happen. Things are going to be more and more intense at the [Russia-Ukraine] border. Putin invited Bolsonaro in late November, when tension over Ukraine was building.
Bolsonaro besides meeting strong man Putin, will also be visiting fellow populist leader Viktor Orban in Hungary, where he will travel on Thursday.
The US exerted a lot of pressure on Brasilia to call off the trip, said Felipe Loureiro, professor of international relations at the University of São Paulo. But cancelling now would send the signal that Brazil is a puppet of the US, and Putin would get really pissed off, he said.
Bolsonaro insisted again in a radio interview Saturday that he would go ahead with the visit, despite the prospect of war breaking out soon. The Brazilian president who likes to invoke his religiosity added, we ask God that peace reign in the world, for the good of all of us.
But Bolsonaro, --in the midst of a group of weak and lame leaders-- is forced to make the trip for domestic policy reasons, points out Casaroes.
(For example US president Biden has to face inflation and a divided Congress; Putin a depressed economy; UK's Boris Johnson is running for political survival, and even France's Macron needs to outstand ahead of the April presidential election).
The Brazilian leader's approval rating is at an all-time low as he gears up to seek re-election in October, trailing badly in the polls to leftist ex-president Lula da Silva.
Bolsonaro has practically nothing to show after three years [in office]. Going to Russia right now is a sign of grandeur, said Casaroes. He has antagonized the US, China, Europe. The only foreign power he could visit was Russia.
Bolsonaro has hinted he will not leave the presidency without a fight, saying his re-election bid can only have three outcomes: prison, death or victory.
Officially, the talks will focus on Russian investments in hydrocarbons and infrastructure in Brazil, as well as trade, BRICS, Mercosur and trade.
Bolsonaro cultivated close ties with the United States under former president Donald Trump, his political role model. The US even declared Brazil a major non-NATO ally in 2019. But relations have grown chillier under Joe Biden, and Bolsonaro has expressed admiration for his populist comrades in Russia with strong man Putin, and Hungary.
But the US State Department is alert. As democratic countries... we have a responsibility to stand up for democratic principles and for the rules-based order, said spokesman Ned Price. He added Washington was confident that there will be discussions, both before and after the trip, with our Brazilian partners.