Brazil’s Lula backtracks over potential Putin arrest at Rio G20

Sep 11, 2023, 11:40am EDT
REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
Jeronimo Gonzalez/

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva backtracked from his statement earlier this week saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not be arrested if he attended next year’s G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Lula earlier told Indian news outlet Firstpost: “If I’m the president of Brazil and if he comes to Brazil, there’s no way that he will be arrested.”

On Monday, he appeared to withdraw his assurance, telling reporters that the judiciary, and not the government, would make that decision.

Lula’s remarks highlight how divisions within the G20 over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are likely to persist. Successive summits have failed to condemn Moscow’s actions, much to Kyiv’s disappointment. Countries that believed talking to Putin would ultimately help end the war were “tricking themselves,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told The Economist. “The mistake is not diplomacy. The mistake is diplomacy with Putin.”

Lula has been in hot water with Western partners recently over his failure to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, claiming both sides shared responsibility over the ongoing war. In April, just three months after his inauguration, he went as far as proposing that Ukraine cede Crimea. He also claimed the U.S. has helped stimulate the war by supplying weapons to Ukraine. In response, President Joe Biden said Lula should stop “parroting” Russian propaganda. “Lula’s position on Russia’s war in Ukraine has frustrated policymakers across the West and may limit Brazil’s foreign-policy bandwidth on other issues1 ,” said Oliver Stuenkel, an international relations expert in São Paulo.

Lula’s overtures to China and Russia, as well as his criticism of the dominant role the dollar plays in international markets, have led many to question whether he has taken an anti-America stance. However some suggest that Brasilia is being pragmatic as it seeks to defend its own interests, including food production, even at the cost of alienating its allies in the West. “Taken together, Mr. Lula’s moves amount less to an attempt to thwart the West than to advance Brazil’s national interests2 ,” Vanessa Barbara, a Brazilian analyst, wrote for The New York Times. Brazil now exports nearly three times more to China, its biggest trading partner, than it does to the U.S.

Despite appearing erratic abroad, where he attempts to cater to Chinese, Russian ,and U.S. interests simultaneously, Lula has managed to restore stability at home after the tumultuous presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. Just nine months into his second presidency, Lula has managed to push through congress a historic tax reform, purged the enablers of the Jan. 8 coup attempt from the army and the police, and cut down Amazon deforestation by as much as 40%. Brazil is now forecast to grow 2.2%, up threefold from estimates at the start of the year. Lula “has succeeded in projecting a certain institutional calm3 , dialoguing with different parts of government and society in a way no Brazilian president has since, well, Lula,” the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly wrote.