Europe wants Latin America to be on Vladimir Putin’s side. Good luck with that – POLITICO
LONDON — In the struggle of hearts and minds against Russia, Europe is aiming for a new target. Unfortunately for them, Latin America is not listening.
A protracted charm offensive by senior diplomats from major European nations and institutions has sought to win neutral Latin American nations to their side as part of the larger geopolitical battle with Russia and China.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is the latest to try his hand, visiting Brazil on Wednesday for the final day of a week-long tour of Latin America, which has already included high-level talks in Colombia and Chile.
The trip – the first by a British Foreign Secretary to the region in five years – is part of a wider diplomatic push, explicitly outlined by Cleverly in a speech last December, to reach nations that “often describe themselves as ‘non-aligned’ and ‘hesitant to go in any direction just because other countries want to’.
South America has particularly caught the attention of Western leaders in recent months as Ukraine’s allies scour the world for critical minerals for high-tech supply chains, as well as munitions and weapons. weapons to allow Kiev to recover the territory occupied by Russia.
Both Chile and Brazil have hundreds of German-made Leopard tanks of the type the West has donated to Ukraine in recent months. Colombia and Brazil have Russian-made military hardware, including MiG transport helicopters and anti-tank missiles that would be easy for the Ukrainian army to use.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sought to encourage Brazil to support his country with a speech at the G7 summit on Sunday, partly targeting Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
But a bilateral meeting between Zelenskyy and Lula, as it is widely known, has been canceled for timing reasons, Zelenskyy told reporters.
And speaking to POLITICO ahead of Cleverly’s visit, a Brazilian official ruled out any increase in support for Kyiv. Brazil has so far condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but refused to provide military aid or sanction Moscow.
“In an ideal world, the British would like Brazil to join the sanctions. But they are smart enough to understand that there is no ideal world and that things are as they are. said the official.
When asked if Britain could persuade Chile to provide military aid to Ukraine, a Chilean official said: “It’s not going to happen, not at all… It’s a subject that has to be solved by the great powers, not something we can do as soon as the world ends.”
Giving a speech Monday in the Chilean capital, Santiago, cleverly sought to lure Latin American governments closer to the West by arguing that the region deserves more weight on the international stage and by supporting the achievement of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for Brazil.
“The multilateral institutions of our world need to be reformed,” he said, “especially to give more voice and more influence to Latin America.”
The European Union has made similar overtures in recent months, with figures such as European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visiting Latin America. Michel, in particular, has pressured countries in the so-called Global South to support the EU-US stance on Ukraine, fearing that some may be too sympathetic towards Russia.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is next in line. She will travel to Brazil early next month to promote the final work of an EU-Latin America trade deal, while urging Lula to condemn Russian aggression and support Ukraine.
Scholz failed in the latter task when he visited Brasilia in January, resulting in a tense press conference in which Lula said his country “has no interest in handing over ammunition that can be used in the war between Ukraine and Russia”.
However, Germany remains one of the main driving forces behind the desire to strengthen ties with Latin America. Scholz on Monday named “the many countries south of the United States” at the top of a list of regions he wants the EU to strike major new trade deals with.
The draft EU agreement with the Mercosur bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay has been under negotiation for almost 25 years and is a top priority for Germany, Berlin wishing to open the extremely protected South American market. “I’m very much in favor of finally realizing quickly what has taken so long to progress,” Scholz said this week.
To that end, European Council President Ursula von der Leyen will visit Chile, Brazil and Argentina in the second week of June, three officials familiar with her trip said. His tour – originally scheduled for April – will also focus on impending trade and geosecurity.
Bilateral trade is also officially at the center of Cleverly’s week-long visit, along with the development of cooperation between the UK and Latin America on energy and environmental issues. But officials from two of the countries he visited said Cleverly also wanted to discuss their respective approaches to Russia and China.
How to approach China remains perhaps the thorniest question of all, with Beijing remaining Brazil and Chile’s biggest trading partner.
No left-wing government wants to antagonize Beijing, or be forced to choose between trading with China or the United States. Previous left-aligned regimes in the region have endured deeply tumultuous relations with Washington.
The Brazilian official quoted above said that Brasilia wanted to preserve its “own space of autonomy” and that he expected Cleverly to be diplomatic in his dealings with his Brazilian counterpart, Mauro Vieira, whom he is due to meet on Wednesday.
“The British are trying to strike the right balance in their relationship with China in light of their interests, as is Brazil,” the official said. “It would be ridiculous for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to go to Brazil and ask Brazil to trade less with China. He knows that would be a non-runner.
The Chilean official, however, said he was “disappointed” Cleverly had not offered more to woo his nation. “If you want to compete with China, you have to pay. You must bring something in return. said the official. “I would have expected more concrete commitments, but it didn’t show.”
For Europe, there is still a lot to do.
Suzanne Lynch reported from Brussels and Hans von der Burchard reported from Berlin.