claiming he wants to maintain neutrality and not provoke the Russians, president denies Germany’s request
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has denied a request from the German government for Brazil to supply tank ammunition that would be passed from Berlin to Ukraine at war with Russia.
The decision occurred on the 20th, during the PT’s meeting with the heads of the Armed Forces and Defense Minister José Múcio. It was the day before the dismissal of the Army Commander, Júlio Cesar de Arruda.
The general took the proposal for discussion, showing that the effort of Prime Minister Olaf Scholz to put together an aid package in the area of heavy armor for Kiev is broader than has been reported.
After weeks of pressure from the U.S. and Western allies, Scholz decided this week to send a contingent of 14 Leopard-2 tanks and, more importantly, released the re-export of the armaments to anyone who wants to donate them to Ukraine -12 countries in Europe operate some 2,300 armored personnel carriers of the type.
According to military officials and politicians with knowledge of the episode, Arruda claimed that Brazil would pocket about R$25 million for a batch of ammunition stockpiled for its Leopard-1 tanks, the model that preceded the tank desired by Volodimir Zelenski’s government. He hypothesized that requiring Berlin not to send the product to Kiev would make no sense.
Lula said no, arguing that there was no point in provoking the Russians. Brazil, despite having condemned at the UN the invasion that began on February 24, 2022, maintains a position of neutrality for economic reasons, refusing to participate in sanctions against President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
The request for Leopard-1 ammunition suggests that Berlin is willing to offer the old model, of which the manufacturer Rheinmetall has 88 units in stock. They would need to be prepared for use, which the company’s president says could take all year, but the main problem today is ammunition.
Leopard-1 is operated by Brazil (261 units, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London), Chile (30), Greece (500), and Turkey (397) -the last two are members of NATO, the Western military alliance, as is Germany. The tank has an older standard 105mm caliber cannon, while the Leopard-2 uses 120mm ammunition.
It was not the first such deal. Last year, Germany unofficially sounded out the government to buy ammunition for the armored Gepard antiaircraft cannon that it brought out of retirement to send to Ukraine, without success. Brazil still operates the model.
Brazil is not alone in its denial. The US asked the new Colombian government of Gustavo Petro for the country to give old Soviet Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters to Kiev, which operates those models.
They got a no, Petro reported this week, just as U.S. ally Israel denied the release of a batch of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles. Tel Aviv gave the excuse that the hardware is old and unreliable, but weighed in with the fact that the government has a close, though not always friendly, relationship with Moscow.
FERTILIZERS MOTIVATE BRAZIL
The central motivation for Lula’s position has a name: fertilizers, vital for the country’s agribusiness, which have to be mostly imported. Russia has been the leader in this market for years – from 2018 to 2022, it sold an average of 22% of the product consumed by Brazilians.
Last year, with Western embargoes, insurers and shipping companies stopped doing business with Russian shipments, and alternative routes were created until an agreement for the export of grain from Ukraine during the war in theory reopened the market to Moscow – Russia complains, however, that the West is not doing its part.
The result was a jump in international prices, visible in Brazil: despite having imported 8 million tons of fertilizers from Moscow, 1.3 million tons less than in 2021, the Russians’ profits grew 58.8% in the period, a record $5.6 billion sold to Brazilians.
This scenario pulled the result of the trade balance with Russia in favor of the Kremlin, according to data from the Secretariat of Foreign Trade. Compared to 2021, Brazil bought in total 37% more from Moscow in 2022, totaling US$ 7.8 billion. The Russians are sixth in the ranking of countries that sold the most to Brazil. Regarding exports, they bought a mere US$ 1.9 billion of Brazilian products.
Russia, despite the pressure of sanctions, managed to navigate the crisis in 2022. With discounted oil and gas sales from the gradual closure of Europe’s priority market, it saw China and India multiply trade with the country.
Still president, Bolsonaro made a controversial visit to Russia in the week leading up to the conflict and made statements refusing to take a clear side – which, incidentally, is Itamaraty’s historical position.
Lula, in interviews, also followed the same line of condemning the war without taking a position against Putin, which earned him a place on the Ukrainian government’s list of disseminators of Russian propaganda. Subsequently, the PT member’s name was removed.
*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI team ***