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After Donald Trump loss, Bolsonaro sidles up to Russia

. Nov 22, 2020
putin bolsonaro Souvenir T-shirts with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin next to the slogan "We love Russia." Photo: Diego Fiore/Shutterstock

One of the defining features of Jair Bolsonaro’s ascent to power in Brazil has been his open adoration for U.S. President Donald Trump. Along with his politician sons — principally has quasi ambassador to Washington, federal lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro — President Bolsonaro has frequently touted his albeit non-reciprocal relationship with Mr. Trump, and put his full weight behind his ally’s re-election bid earlier this year.

However, it has taken Donald Trump losing the election to Joe Biden for Mr. Bolsonaro to swap “Trump, I love you” — which he said to the U.S. head of state in person last year — for “Trump is not the most important person in the world,” declared during a public statement last week.

While not recognizing Mr. Biden&#8217;s election win, Brazil&#8217;s president has also stopped talking about the outgoing Mr. Trump.</p> <p>On the rebound, Mr. Bolsonaro appears to have found a new idol, in the shape of another head of state of a global superpower.</p> <p>Jair Bolsonaro almost blushed after receiving compliments from Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, who praised the Brazilian leader&#8217;s &#8220;masculine qualities.&#8221; In a speech made during the virtual <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2019/11/13/after-10-years-how-can-the-brics-remain-relevant/">BRICS Summit</a>, Mr. Putin referred to Jair Bolsonaro as an &#8220;<a href="https://oglobo.globo.com/celina/porque-as-melhores-qualidades-masculinas-de-putin-bolsonaro-sao-um-problema-24753845">example</a>&#8221; in how to manage the coronavirus pandemic. &#8220;You yourself suffered from this infection and passed this test with great bravery,&#8221; said the Russian president, referring to Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s bout of Covid-19 in July.</p> <p>Indeed, Vladimir Putin is one of the few world leaders who would praise Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil&#8217;s president repeatedly played down the severity of the disease, which has now killed over 167,000 Brazilians, making the country the second-worst affected in the world in absolute terms, behind the U.S.</p> <h2><strong>Bolsonaro an &#8220;example&#8221; for Putin</strong></h2> <p>Amid latest figures suggesting Brazil is on its way toward a <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/11/13/brazilian-second-wave-would-be-much-deadlier-europe/">deadlier second wave</a> of coronavirus infections, Jair Bolsonaro made a point of sharing his Russian counterpart&#8217;s praise on social media.</p> <p>“You expressed the best masculine qualities and determination. You went looking for the solution of all issues, above all based on the interests of your people, your country, leaving matters of your personal health aside. For all of us, this is an example of your bravery in fulfilling your responsibilities and carrying out your duties as head of state,&#8221; said Mr. Putin.</p> <p>The Brazilian president and his supporters received the praise with earnest and optimism, seeing it as a great opportunity to improve relations with Russia and — more importantly — to give Mr. Bolsonaro strength on the domestic and international stage, after the recent defeat of Donald Trump and Sunday&#8217;s municipal election results, deemed a <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/11/17/elections-brazil-why-2020-was-nothing-like-2018/">failure for Bolsonaro-supporting candidates</a>.</p> <h2><strong>Diplomacy is made up of mutual interests</strong></h2> <p>Despite their unrestricted adulation of Donald Trump, the Bolsonaro government has ignored the fact that its relationship with the White House brought little in the way of benefits to Brazil, barring a handful of symbolic meetings.</p> <p>For the Brazilian economy, promises of increased access to the U.S. market never materialized. In fact, Mr. Trump&#8217;s America First platform maintained tariffs on imports of Brazilian steel and agricultural products. A much talked about trade deal between the two countries never got past a rushed first draft.</p> <p>Now, with the prospect of a Joe Biden government, chances of &#8220;special treatment&#8221; for Brazil are slim. The president-elect is expected to focus on increasing ties with multilateral organizations, as opposed to individual governments.</p> <p>Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, has held more objective talks with Mr. Bolsonaro, long before praising the Brazilian leader this week. However, diplomats consulted by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> warn that any such relationship with Russia cannot repeat the errors of Brazil&#8217;s one-sided adulation of Donald Trump. &#8220;Diplomacy is made up of mutual interests, not of love,&#8221; said one diplomat.</p> <h2><strong>Not much trade to speak of</strong></h2> <p>Despite being among the largest and most populous countries in the world — as well as being two of the world&#8217;s top 10 economies — Brazil and Russia do not have much of a trade relationship to speak of. On Brazil&#8217;s side, the import/export flow with Russia is not profitable, with the country buying more than it sells to Moscow.</p> <p>On the list of Brazil&#8217;s biggest export destinations, Russia ranks 33rd. In 2019, Russia imported USD 1.62 billion worth of Brazilian products, a fall of 2.2 percent in relation to the previous year. In the opposite direction, Russian exports to Brazil totaled USD 3.7 billion, with fertilizers making up 59 percent of that total.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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