Brazil’s Lula starts Europe visit amid Ukraine tensions


Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Saturday held talks with his Portuguese counterpart, kicking off his first European tour since resuming office in January, amid tensions with the West over the war in Ukraine.

The veteran left-winger is seeking to revive Brazil’s diplomatic relations after four years of relative isolation under his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.

In February, he travelled to Washington to meet US President Joe Biden and earlier this month visited China, Brazil’s largest trading partner. Portugal is Brazil’s former colonial power, from which it won independence in 1822.

Lula, a 77-year-old former metalworker who previously served as president from 2003 to 2010, is hoping to revive Brazil’s role as a dealmaker and go-between.

On Saturday, he met Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa after being greeted with military honours. He is subsequently due to meet Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

Brazil and Portugal will sign deals on energy, science, education and other sectors, but have found themselves at odds over the war in Ukraine.

Yet recent remarks from Lula chiding the European Union and the United States over the war in Ukraine will likely fan diplomatic awkwardness during his four-day visit to Portugal and a subsequent visit to Spain.

On Friday, Lula announced he was sending his top foreign policy adviser to Kyiv after Ukrainian community members in Portugal met the Brazilian delegation in Lisbon.

“Celso Amorim will go to Kyiv to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky,” the Brazilian government said.

“Brazil is determined to contribute to fostering dialogue and peace, and an end to this conflict.”

On a recent visit to China, Lula said Washington should stop “encouraging” the war by supplying weapons to Kyiv, and the United States and the European Union “need to start talking about peace”.

He angered Ukraine by saying it shared the blame for the war and suggesting Kyiv should relinquish the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014 in a prelude to its fully-fledged invasion of Ukraine last year. Brazil has not joined Western nations in imposing sanctions on Russia or supplying ammunition to Ukraine.

After a flurry of criticism from Europe, Kyiv and the White House, which accused him of “parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda”, Lula said Brazil “condemned Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity”.

Portugal, a founding member of NATO and among the first European countries to supply tanks to Kyiv, also voiced disapproval.

“Brazil’s position at the United Nations has always been the same — on the side of Portugal, the United States and NATO,” the president said this week.

“If Brazil changes its stance, that’s none of Portugal’s business. We will stick to our views and we will disagree.”

Lula, named on Time magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people last week, is due to meet business leaders on Monday in the northern city of Porto.

He will return to Lisbon to preside with Costa at a gala to present the prestigious Camoes prize to renowned Brazilian singer-songwriter Chico Buarque.

His visit ends on Tuesday with a speech to parliament, which is commemorating the Carnation Revolution of 1974 that ended Portugal’s military dictatorship.

Lula travels to Spain on Tuesday and Wednesday to meet King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.__Daily Times