On Oct. 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message to the newly elected Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, congratulating him on his victory in the presidential race and expressing confidence that bilateral relations will continue to move forward. The victory of Jair Bolsonaro that has been so trumpeted by the media is indeed an event of great significance. It really matters who has been elected as the 38th president of such a big and important country.
Brazil is the world's fifth-largest country geographically (8.5 million square kilometers or 3.2 million square miles) and the sixth most populous. It is the largest country in Latin America with over 208 million people. In 2017 Brazil boasted the eighth largest GDP in the world (both nominal and PPP).
Jair Bolsonaro is known as a far-right politician but what does that mean in practice? As befitting a chief executive, whether conservative, liberal, or middle-of-the-road, this former army captain promises to fight corruption, crime, and the economic downturn. The country has been hit by corruption scandals and the worst economic recession in the last 100 years. If the president can make things better, he’ll go down in history as a hero or a Messias (Messiah) — his middle name, which his supporters have played on.
He is expected to ally himself with the United States but that does not automatically make him unfriendly toward Russia, Brazil’s BRICS partner, along with India, China, and South Africa. One of the first statements Mr. Bolsonaro made was a rejection of military intervention in Venezuela — an idea that was floated when Luis Almagro, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), said in September that the use of force was “not ruled out.”
Bolsonaro sounds friendly toward Donald Trump — the US President Vladimir Putin enjoys a great personal relationship with, despite all the tensions that cloud the ties between the US and Russia. The Russian president has just been invited by his US counterpart to visit Washington. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have also agreed to meet on Nov. 11 in Paris during the WWI commemorations.
Regardless of all the predictions to the contrary, Moscow was engaged in a constructive and mutually advantageous dialog with the right-leaning, interim government of Brazil’s acting president Michel Temer, who signed a statement on "strengthening a strategic dialogue on foreign policy issues" during his visit to Moscow in June, 2017. Prior to that, Brazilian presidents had traveled to Russia in 2002, 2005, 2010, and 2012. President Putin visited Brazil in 2004, 2008, and 2014. It was Russian intelligence and military professionals who helped the Brazilian military provide security during the summer 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Few Brazilians are aware that Brazil’s first astronaut, Marcos Pontes, was launched into space to work on the international space station with the help of the Russian Soyuz TMA-8 rocket.
The Russian Chamber of Commerce believes these bilateral trade ties will continue to develop once the new Brazilian president is in office. Brazil is the largest exporter of food and agricultural products to the Russian market. The two nations cooperate in the development of space, military, and telecommunications technologies.
In his remarks at the opening of an exhibition dedicated to the 190th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Brazil on Oct. 26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said “Our relations continue to expand incrementally. A regular and trust-based political dialogue is maintained at all levels, including the highest. Bilateral sectoral cooperation mechanisms are functioning effectively, and trade and economic exchanges are expanding.” Adding, “Our interaction in international affairs is based on coinciding or similar approaches to the key challenges of our time. We closely coordinate our moves at key multilateral venues, primarily, the UN, the G20 and, of course, BRICS, which is an association of a new type, and is an important element in the emerging polycentric architecture of world.” According to the minister, both nations “see mutual interest in moving forward along the path of deepening Russian-Brazilian strategic partnership.”
The use of the word “strategic” by such a senior official as the chief of foreign policy provides some good insight into the state of those bilateral ties. The New York Times Spanish-language news site compared Mr. Bolsonaro to Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban and Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini — two European politicians who are friendly toward Russia, calling for lifting or at least easing the EU sanctions and engaging in dialog to improve the Brussels-Moscow relationship. The director of the Russian Ibero-American Institute, Vicente Barrientos, has no doubt that Russian leaders will manage to find common ground with the “Brazilian Trump.” Progress in those bilateral ties looks promising after the new president of Brazil takes office on Jan. 1.