Jair Bolsonaro has sparked disbelief and outrage by insisting he will go ahead with a trip to meet Vladimir Putin in Russia despite the escalating military crisis along the Ukrainian border.
Foreign policy experts and rivals questioned the Brazilian presidents’s planned visit after he told supporters he would fly to Moscow in late February to improve trade ties.
“He’s a conservative,”the far-right populist told his supporters of Putin on Thursday. “Oh yeah?” one replied.
Bolsonaro’s move, which analysts believe is designed to project the idea that Brazil’s internationally isolated leader still boasts powerful foreign friends, baffled many pundits.
“Has Bolsonaro gone mad?” the editor of the political newsletter Meio, Pedro Doria, pedido of the “utterly reckless” enterprise.
Ricardo Rangel, a columnist for the conservative magazine Veja, urged ministers to resign over “the most insane trip of all”. “Showing support for Putin just as he threatens to wage a war of conquest is unforgivable from the point of view of the US or Europe, our main partners along with China," el escribio, predicting “a diplomatic nightmare” if an invasion was launched during Bolsonaro’s visit.
The conservative politician Heni Ozi Cukier voiced bewilderment over the trip and Bolsonaro’s claim Putin was a man of the right. “Our president hasn’t the slightest clue what’s going on in the world. He hasn’t the slightest clue who Putin is, much less what it means to be a conservative,"Tuiteó.
Experts say the trip underlines how Bolsonaro, having alienated allies including China, the US and EU, is desperate to find an international partner with clout.
“He has progressively isolated himself from Brazil’s key partners. He supported Trump’s candidacy, fell out with Biden … antagonised China. So he starts 2022 with very limited assortment of partnerships,” said Guilherme Casarões, a political scientist from the Getulio Vargas Foundation.
Antes accepting Putin’s invitation, the only trips in Bolsonaro’s diary were to Poland and Hungary.
"It’s almost a joke. The fact that after three years in office Bolsonaro has only managed to hang on to Hungary and Poland as allies, as well as a few Gulf countries, suggests he really hasn’t managed to make much progress with his diplomatic agenda,” Casarões said.
The former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who looks likely to defeat Bolsonaro in the October elections, has upstaged his rival with a series of high-profile overseas trips designed to repair Brazil’s reputation after three years of foreign policy chaos.
Casarões suspects the US and EU will largely ignore Bolsonaro’s Rusia trip and are more focused on Lula’s movements, having concluded “that probably Bolsonaro won’t be in the presidency much longer”.