President Biden is set to welcome Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to the White House later Friday afternoon for a summit that will mostly be about areas of cooperation between the countries. But there is likely one area where the two leaders will disagree: Ukraine.
While Mr. Lula has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he has also suggested in the past that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and NATO share some blame for the war, and he has refused to sell weapons to Ukraine in an effort to maintain neutrality.
Instead, Mr. Lula wants to try to help mediate peace in the conflict, while Mr. Biden is far more supportive of Ukraine, with little expectation that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has any interest in peace.
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“We need to find interlocutors who can sit with President Putin to show him the mistake he made to invade Ukraine’s territory, and we have to show Ukraine that they need to talk more so we can avoid this war,” Mr. Lula said in an interview with CNN that was broadcast on Friday.
In the interview, Mr. Lula said that he would not sell weapons or ammunition to Ukraine to avoid getting involved. “I don’t want to join the war,” he said. “I want to end the war.” He added that in his meeting with Mr. Biden, “I don’t know what he’s going to say to me, but what I’m going to say to him: It is necessary to build a set of countries to negotiate peace.”
John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, said in a separate interview with CNN that the U.S. government believes Mr. Lula’s view does not reflect the current state of the war. “We don’t see any impetus right now to get to the negotiating table,” he said, “so that’s why we are focused on making sure Ukraine has everything they need to be successful on the battlefield, so if and when President Zelensky says, ‘I’m ready to sit down,’ he can do so with some wind at his back.”
Mr. Kirby said that the White House would continue to push for support for Ukraine, but that it respects sovereign nations like Brazil to make their own decisions. “The whole issue at stake in Ukraine, when you get right down to it, is about sovereignty,” he said. “How hypocritical would it be for the United States, in that sort of frame, to be browbeating or tussling with other countries to give more, do more, say more?”
Brazil’s position on the Russia-Ukraine war is complicated by its reliance on Russia for about a quarter of its fertilizer imports, which are crucial to its enormous agriculture industry.
Brazil is Russia’s largest buyer of fertilizer. In 2019, Brazil spent roughly $1.9 billion on chemicals from Russia. Fertilizer is big business for Russia, but is still dwarfed by its oil and gas exports.
Political analysts have said that if disagreement over Ukraine becomes a major part of the talks, it has the potential to spoil a summit that should be an easy foreign-policy win for both countries.
“Even though these are two leaders with a lot in common, their underlying world views and national interests are quite different, and Ukraine is a big one,” said Brian Winter, a writer and analyst who tracks Latin America for the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, a group that pushes free trade in the Americas. “Primarily because of that issue, I do think there’s potential for both sides to walk away from this meeting with a somewhat sour taste.”