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Lula at a Crossroads: Toward the Future of Brazil's Domestic and Foreign Policy - Interview

Today, Brazil is a significant player in the regional and international arena. Brazil claims to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council, being a member of the G4, is a member of the G20, BRICS, MERCOSUR, enjoys authority among all major powers, is considered the locomotive of development in South America. The South American giant has achieved significant success in the field of military construction, the use of green energy, and the development of agriculture. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly stressed that "Moscow sees the central role of Brazil in the development of the region" and "is interested in an independent role for Latin America and the Caribbean on the world stage." Such a geopolitical configuration in this region of the world largely depends on the policy of Brazil. What are the results of the elections in Brazil? What is the future of Russian-Brazilian cooperation? What could be Lula da Silva's foreign policy priorities? We are talking about this with Marcelo Bezerra, lecturer at the Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia at MGIMO, an expert on Latin America, candidate of political sciences.

- Marcelo, how do you assess the results of the presidential elections in Brazil? How divided is Brazilian society today, judging by the small gap between Lula da Silva and Jair Bolsonaro?

- The unexpected support of Jair Bolsonaro in both the first and second rounds, when he won 49.1% of the vote, confirmed a new fact in the political life of Brazil that cannot be ignored. Bolsonarism today is a political-ideological expression that enjoys wide support in all sectors of Brazilian society. Bolsonaro managed to nominate several senators, large cohorts in the chambers of deputies and governors of the two main states of the country - Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In other words, President Bolsonaro is leaving, but Bolsonaro remains and will be an active force in opposition to Lula da Silva's government.

Undoubtedly, Lula's small margin of 50.9% of the vote against Bolsonaro's 49.1%, which is a difference of only 2 million votes in the huge Brazilian electorate, confirmed the split in Brazilian society. There is also an important geographical aspect between the North East region of the country, which mostly voted for Lula, and the wealthy South East and South regions, where the vast majority voted for Bolsonaro. All of this will require the new Workers' Party (PT) government to have a broad alliance with the centrist and non-Bolsonarian right, an alliance already formed during the second round of elections and which was fundamental to Lula's victory. Without it, Brazil could become ungovernable.

It remains to be seen what the balance of power will be between the right and sectors of the left, which involve the rejection of neoliberalism and the restoration of the role of the state and its social policy, which was carried out during the 14 years of the PT government. As you know, now the international situation is completely different, and the internal conditions of the country are more difficult. So the challenges will be huge. In this sense, the determination of the directions of economic policy adopted by the new government, which are still unclear, and the recognized ability of Lula to build a consensus between the main political forces of the country, agribusiness, the financial sector, people's organizations, unions of workers, civil society, etc. will show Under what conditions will good governance take place?

- What will be Lula da Silva's foreign policy priorities? Can we expect fundamental changes compared to Bolsonaro's policies?

In general terms, Lula's government will fully restore Brazil's traditional foreign policy based on the principles of autonomy and pragmatism, which was dismantled during the first half of Bolsonaro's rule and then partially restored with the inauguration of the current chancellor, Carlos France. As priorities for Brazil's foreign policy, we will see the resumption of the role of Brazil in Latin American relations, its return to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), as well as the resumption of the South American integration process. It is quite possible that the Union of South American Nations - UNASUR, whose trajectory has been marked by a number of successes over the 10 years of its existence, will be reactivated.Another priority will be Brazil's role in protecting the environment and combating climate change, issues that are directly related to protecting the ecological heritage and biodiversity of the Amazon. We have already seen, for example, that shortly after Lula's victory, Norway and Germany announced the restoration of funding for the "Amazon Fund" created by Lula in 2008. Over 10 years, the two countries transferred 95 billion euros of non-refundable investments in the fight against deforestation and sustainable development in the Amazon until they withdrew aid in 2019 in response to the disastrous environmental policies of the Bolsonaro government.

Not to mention the aggravation of conflicts with indigenous peoples. Already next week, President-elect Lula da Silva will arrive in Egypt to attend the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP-27). This gesture in itself shows what we can expect from Brazil's role in the environmental security sector at the national, regional and global levels.

- Brazil, as you know, has not joined the anti-Russian sanctions. It was under Lula da Silva that Brazil became one of the founding members of the BRICS. In your opinion, what is the future of Russian-Brazilian relations under Lula? What areas of cooperation can be the most promising?

- Relations between Brazil and Russia are at a very positive stage. With Bolsonaro or Lula, the prospects would be equally good. It is clear that Brazil's interest in importing Russian fertilizers, which account for 85% of all imports of such products, now plays a central role in bilateral relations. It should be expected that Brazil will continue to develop domestic production in order to reduce dependence on fertilizer imports, but this will not happen soon. And since the agro-industrial sector is central to the Brazilian economy and national political life, no president can lose sight of this. It is interesting to note that in 2021 the volume of trade between Brazil and Russia grew by 86%, reaching $ 7.5 billion, compared to 2020, and in the first half of this year, despite international difficulties, it has already grown by 78%. %. Trade relations tend to grow, including in the oil and gas sector.

From a political point of view, Brazil, of course, voted for the resolution of the UN Assembly when condemning the annexation of Ukrainian territories to Russia, this is a position that corresponds to the principles of Brazilian diplomacy. It is just as natural that Brazil strongly opposes economic sanctions, based on the pragmatism of its diplomacy and the conviction that sanctions usually do not work and negatively affect everyone. And this is the most important thing. It is unlikely that this position will change unless there are very important facts that could negatively affect Brazilian perceptions. In addition, Brazil will continue to share with Russia the common vision of multipolarity and building a more balanced new world order, expressed in such forums as BRICS, the G-20, as well as in relation to the reform of the UN Security Council.

It is also possible that under Lula we will see the resumption of dialogue on military-technical cooperation. In recent years, this has been much discussed, the signing of the Russian-Brazilian military agreement of 2018 took place, which expanded the prospect for bilateral relations, but little has been done in practice. There was an opportunity to buy batteries for the Pantsir S-1 air defense system, which ultimately did not take place. What we mainly saw was the delivery of 12 Mi-35 helicopters to the Brazilian Air Force, completed in 2014, which is very small for Russia's export potential and Brazil's national defense policy ambitions.

Today there is talk of technical cooperation for the reactors of the Brazilian nuclear submarine, which is an important sign of strengthening cooperation and bonds of trust. As a completely different industry, we can mention the prospect of developing the tourism sector, which is often overlooked, but which is an important source of currency in many countries and a tool for bringing people together. The visa regime was abolished long ago, but, unfortunately, we are not seeing such an increase in tourism that would correspond to the potential of both countries. Now that Russia is looking to friendly countries, the opening of direct flights between Moscow and Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo should be seen as a necessity to accelerate the development of commercial, tourist and cultural ties between the two countries.

Lula at a Crossroads: Toward the Future of Brazil's Domestic and Foreign Policy - Interview