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Bolsonaro is making Brazil kneel before Putin

Even his own ministers are trying to stop the Brazilian leader from going on a visit to Moscow at this tense time when a war between Russia and Ukraine could break out at any moment

Putin y Bolsonaro durante la reunión de economías emergentes BRICS
Russia's Vladimir Putin and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro at the 2019 BRICS summit in Brasilia.SERGIO LIMA
Juan Arias

The announcement that Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro will be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week has proved controversial both inside and outside the Brazilian government. The prevailing view is that a visit to Moscow would not be diplomatically prudent at this tense time when a war between Russia and Ukraine could break out any moment, dragging Europe and the world along with it. What’s more, there is no motive for Brazil to take part in such a meeting, which would only serve to bring the country to its knees before Putin.

The reason for the visit is purely personal: Bolsonaro wants his picture taken with the Russian leader so he can use it in his presidential campaign and wave it in front of US President Joe Biden. It would also be a chance to personally thank Putin for the praise the latter sent his way at the 2020 virtual summit held by the BRICS group of emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

According to foreign policy experts, Bolsonaro’s visit to Moscow is just one of many rash acts that the Brazilian leader has treated his fellow Brazilians to in the recent past. But this time it’s not just the opposition but even some of his own ministers – the ones with the most political portfolios – who are trying to convince him to drop the plan.

When Bolsonaro was asked whether he would discuss the Ukraine crisis with Putin, the president responded that “if that matter comes up, it will come from the Russian president.” What Bolsonaro is trying to prove – especially to the US, where he has lost his great friend Donald Trump – is that he still has strong ties with Russia and maintains allies abroad. During his trip, he will also take the time to meet with Hungary’s far-right leader Víktor Orban, with whom he has a close relationship. At this rate, it’s going to take years for Brazil to repair the damage caused by its current diplomacy, said policy experts.

The Brazilian media has depicted Bolsonaro’s trip to Moscow at this tense moment as “kneeling before the Kremlin.” And the worst part about this controversial visit is that the president aims to use it to shore up his own re-election campaign in October. His chances are growing dimmer by the day. According to the latest polls, Bolsonaro would lose the election in the first round.

Against this backdrop, Bolsonaro wants to thank Putin for the praise he delivered when he held up Brazil’s government as an “example” of good pandemic management, which sounds like a bad joke when held up against the facts. There were also compliments regarding Bolsonaro’s manliness. “You showed the best qualities of masculinity, such as strength and willpower,” said Putin to Bolsonaro. It was music to the ears of the Brazilian leader, who is well known for encouraging homophobia. At the height of the pandemic, the president stated that people who stayed home out of fear of getting infected were a bunch “of fags.”

The saddest part of all this for Brazil, a nation that once played a leading role in the global chess game, is that it is led by a president who shrinks grotesquely on foreign policy issues

The leader’s homophobic and misogynistic tendencies have been known since the days when he was an obscure lawmaker. At one point he said that his fifth child was born a girl because he “got distracted,” and that he would have preferred another boy instead. Sometimes I wonder what that 11-year-old girl will think about her father years from now. Regarding his homophobia, it’s enough to recall the time he admitted that he would rather see his own son killed by a truck than holding hands with a man.

The saddest part of all this for Brazil, a nation that once played a leading role in the global chess game, is that it is led by a president who shrinks so grotesquely on foreign policy issues that it is positively offensive. It is of little use to Bolsonaro that even his own aides are trying to convince him of the dangers of visiting Putin.

In the three years that he’s been in government, Bolsonaro has completely turned his back on Europe, which he has not visited once. The Brazilian leader lives inside his own, narrow little world built on personal hatreds and a dream of a military coup that would allow him to remain in power forever. He would like to be like Trump, whom he loves, or a new Putin, whose masculinity myth he envies.

The word that Bolsonaro used most often as a lawmaker was “macho.” He once asserted that his wife considers him to be “the macho of all machos” and he also let the world know, without a shred of modesty, that he is imbroxavel, meaning that he never fails sexually.

If Bolsonaro does meet up with Putin in the coming days, it will be interesting to know what they talk about while the world wrings its hands over a potential war with Ukraine, although these two don’t seem overly concerned about that. Bolsonaro has said more than once that the weapons he reportedly sleeps with have always been his best good-luck charm. He loves them so much, in fact, that he has enacted a law that lets every Brazilian citizen own up to six weapons for legitimate self-defense. This is a topic that he will surely be able to discuss at length with the Russian leader.

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