By Gabriel Stargardter
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday declined to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, while departing from his government’s official stance at the United Nations to say Brazil would remain neutral.
Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, recently snubbed U.S. entreaties not to visit Putin in Moscow ahead of the invasion, and angered Western allies by saying he was “in solidarity with Russia,” without elaborating.
On Friday, Brazil voted for a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would have denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine, despite reluctance by Bolsonaro. Russia vetoed the resolution.
At a press conference, Bolsonaro said he spoke for two hours with Putin. In a subsequent statement, the country’s foreign ministry said Bolsonaro did not speak with Putin on Sunday, but was instead referring to his conversation with the Russian leader in Moscow.
In Sunday’s press conference, Bolsonaro said Brazil will remain neutral in the conflict, noting Russia and Ukraine were “practically brother nations.”
“We will not take sides, we will continue being neutral, and help with whatever is possible,” Bolsonaro said. “A big part of Ukraine’s population speaks Russian.”
Asked by a reporter whether he was willing to condemn Putin’s actions, he said he would wait for a final report, or see how the situation is resolved, before giving his opinion.
He added that he was against any sanctions that could bring negative repercussions for Brazil, citing Russian fertilizers which are crucial for the country’s giant agribusiness sector.
Bolsonaro also said he did not think Putin’s forces would carry out any mass bloodletting in Ukraine.
“A chief of state like that of Russia does not want to undertake a massacre, anywhere,” he said, adding that in two southern regions of Ukraine, some 90% of the population wanted to “approximate themselves to Russia.”
In reference to Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Bolsonaro said Ukrainians have “placed the hope of their nation in the hands of a comedian.”
On Saturday, Bolsonaro tweeted his government would not cease in efforts to evacuate Brazilians from Ukraine.
“I ask all Brazilians in contested territory to stay firm, follow instructions and report any incidents to us. I know about the difficulties, but we won’t spare any efforts to solve them,” Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter.
On Sunday, Bolsonaro said his government had so far managed to remove some 70 Brazilians from Ukraine.
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Richard Chang and Lincoln Feast)