No one in Brazil wants to talk about Ukraine – interview with Ambassador Melnyk

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron

Andrii Melnyk, Kyiv’s former ambassador to Germany currently posted to Brazil, explained in an interview with NV Radio on April 1 why the country avoids the topic of Russia’s war against Ukraine, with the West in no hurry to remedy the situation.

NV: Many consider you to have been instrumental in firing up German support for Ukraine in the opening months of the war, when Russian troops were on the outskirts of Kyiv. How do you remember your work in Berlin at that time?

Melnyk: It was really a very important time in Germany for me as an ambassador and a citizen of Ukraine, because at the time when [the town of] Bucha was liberated two years ago, Germany hadn’t yet started sending heavy weapons to Ukraine. On the one hand, there was the decision by the Bundestag [German parliament] on the fourth day [of the full-scale war] about the so-called “Zeitenwende” [turning point in German], about the change of eras, about the fact that Germany would radically change its policy and help Ukraine. But, apart from lofty words, apart from anti-tank weapons and Stinger MANPADS, which were sent in the first weeks, the German government took a break, so to speak. No one particularly wanted to talk about heavy weapons.

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Therefore, two years ago, at this time, it was just the beginning of convincing our German friends, with the help of journalists and the public, that Ukraine cannot be left alone, that limiting itself to symbolic steps isn’t what the Ukrainians, who were still under occupation in the south and east, expect. That is, that period was decisive for us.

In just a few weeks, we managed to achieve the first decision on the [delivery of] Panzerhaubitze [self-propelled 155mm howitzers], which were delivered to Ukraine in the summer [of 2022]. Later, we received Gepard anti-air guns, which today help protect our skies from Russian drones.

It was a really difficult time, especially for us personally, because we were under severe pressure from the [German] government, which found every opportunity to avoid important, principled, cardinal, and strategic decisions. But today we see that policy has paid off, and Germany has turned into the second largest partner that helps us with weapons. But we know with you that even this isn’t enough, and Germany can and should do much more so that Ukraine could defend itself and liberate all occupied territories.

NV: What did you see when you arrived in Brazil? What was the first thing you heard from Brazilian politicians and officials?

Melnyk: Unfortunately, the situation here is ten times more difficult than what was in Germany before Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Here we really see a completely different world. This isn’t even some other civilization... I sometimes get the impression that people live here as if on another planet. No one here wants to talk about the war (and this is also a rather sad fact). When you come to the [Brazilian] Foreign Ministry, the topic of the war is avoided because it’s embarrassing, because they have nothing to say, civil servants are even embarrassed by the official position— Brazil’s so-called neutrality regarding Russian aggression in Ukraine.

This situation really killed me in the early days. After all, you talk to people who look the same as you, people live with seemingly similar concerns, care about their well-being, about the growth of the economy, but they, unfortunately, clearly ignore the obvious challenges in foreign affairs.

By the way, [French President Emmanuel] Macron was here last week for a three-day visit that caused great euphoria. And during that visit, the Brazilian president [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] said they don’t have the same “nervousness” as France, because they’re many thousands of kilometers away from this war.

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And it’s a pity, because in fact we all understand that although geographically this war for Brazil, for the entire continent, really looks quite far away... But since the principles of international law, the principles of the free world, the principles of trade are at stake, and it’s precisely on these principles that Brazil’s economy has been relying for the past several decades, I’m a bit surprised why they are myopic about the largest war in Europe since 1945.

I believe this is something that needs some work, especially from our friends. We probably all read and saw ahead of President Macron’s visit [the news] that he’s traveling to Brazil to convince President Lula to change his stance [on the war in Ukraine]. I can tell you that, unfortunately, today Ukraine is completely alone in Latin America. All our Western friends, unfortunately, only care about their own geopolitical, primarily economic, interests.

Believe me (I’ll tell you this from inside sources): both from this visit and many others that have taken place in recent months, no one is trying to convince Brazil to really change its current course. I’ve got the impression that our Western friends and partners have come to terms with this.

Any of my colleagues, ambassadors from Western countries, with whom I communicate here, says with such enthusiasm: “You see, there are so many opportunities here, our businesses are now investing here.”

In short: no one wants to ask our Brazilian partners embarrassing questions, to even try to convince the government of the largest country on the continent, one of the most important actors in the Global South, to change its policy.

After all, on the one hand, they’re talking about neutrality and equidistance here. On the other, we can all clearly see that during the war, Brazil continued and strengthened economic and trade relations with Russia. In particular, it’s not only about fertilizers, which have been a traditional product that Brazilians have been importing from Russia for decades, it’s now about fuel, diesel, and oil products.

Today, at the height of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Brazil has turned into the largest importer of Russian diesel. Moscow’s market share today is about 20%, while two years ago it was at 1%.

Of course, we understand our Brazilian partners and friends, because their economy is growing, they need to open new markets for their agricultural products, they need to look for new investment. But at the same time, these are precisely the questions to our Western friends, which I directly ask here and to which we still don’t get an answer.

If we all understand that Brazil was and will remain dependent on the supply of mineral fertilizers from Russia, which is currently about 22-23% of the total consumption in the Brazilian domestic market, then I ask our friends: “Why? You have companies, you have opportunities to build here, and very quickly, new plants for producing fertilizers, which would make this dependence impossible, which clearly has a political dimension.” In response, our friends throw their hands up: “You see, it takes a very long time, it’s private business, we cannot do anything here, but the Russians, you see, are doing things.”

One of the largest companies in Russia called EuroChem (owned by one of the oligarchs [Andrey] Melnichenko) opened a huge fertilizer plant in Brazil three weeks ago. Investment amounted to about $1 billion, and this plant will cover, according to various estimates, up to 15% of fertilizer consumption in Russia. As you understand, President Lula himself, almost the entire government, and regional elites took part in the opening ceremony. All this was presented as a huge breakthrough.

Read also: Macron attempts to influence Brazilian leader’s stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine

In fact, we see that our Western friends talk a lot and do almost nothing here in Brazil. At the same time, Russia doesn’t say anything, but does what it does to make this existing dependence even greater. We all understand very well the significance of several thousand local jobs created now by EuroChem...

These are the circumstances the Ukrainian diplomacy is dealing with here.

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