This is why countries like Brazil and India have constantly drawn attention to the socioeconomic consequences of the war on the Global South and resent the current marginalization of the development agenda in global politics.
Besides the current war in Ukraine, it is important to highlight that on international peace and security matters Brazil and Russia tend not to fully align. Taking the heated UNSC agenda in 2011 as an example, both countries abstained on the resolution on Libya (Res. 1973) and voted in favor of Res. 1984 on Iran and Res. S/2011/24 on Israel-Palestine; however, Russia abstained on Res. 2023 on Eritrea, whereas Brazil voted in favor, and with regard to Res. S/2011/612 on Syria, Russia voted against it, while Brazil abstained. The rising powers’ votes in the UNSC, both in 2011 and beyond, illustrate a lack of clear alignment and articulation among BRICS countries on security matters in the UNSC. Often, the two permanent members Russia and China vote together, and the same goes for IBSA, the countries all nonpermanent members of the Security Council. At the end of the day, it seems like power logic and dynamics within the UNSC still matter more than any emerging alliance in the context of a loose coalition such as BRICS (Apolinario Jr. and Branco 2022). This can be contrasted to the recent findings of Nurullayev and Papa (2023), which show that BRICS states tend to vote similarly at the UN General Assembly. Further research is needed on this divergence.
Modest trade relations despite economic complementarity in key strategic sectors
Economically, there is complementarity between the countries. Brazil’s exports to Russia have largely revolved around food and agricultural goods, notably beef but also soybeans, tobacco, coffee, nuts and fruits, as well as aluminum oxide. Brazilian agribusiness exports to Russia reached around $1.2 billion each in 2019 and 2020. Russia mainly exports to Brazil fertilizers (NPK nitrogenates, phosphatides and potassium), widely used to power Brazil’s most lucrative industry – agribusiness. Since 2018, the trade balance favors Russia. In 2020, Brazil’s trade deficit with Russia was $1.16 billion.
Bilateral trade peaked in 2008, when it reached $8 billion, but has since decreased to an average of $5 billion. Brazilian diplomats claim that overall exports to Russia have declined in the 2010s partly due to Western sanctions and partly due to Russia’s own phytosanitary bans on Brazilian beef (Ministério das Relações Exteriores 2021a; Agência Senado 2021). The Brazilian government seeks to diversify its exports to Russia, into agricultural goods with more value added, as well as toward a range of other manufactured goods, from jewelry and shoes to airplanes (Ministério das Relações Exteriores 2021b). There is also a desire to further expand fruit exports to Russia (Agência Senado 2021). Since 2022, while other developing countries were ratcheting up their imports of Russian petroleum, Brazil has increased its imports of Russian fertilizers, which currently constitute a quarter of Brazil’s total imports of fertilizers and 75% of all Russian exports to Brazil (Ministério das Relações Exteriores 2021a). Trade data compiled by The New York Times shows an increase of 106% in the monthly trade volume between Russia and Brazil in 2022 versus the monthly average in 2017-21 (Gamio and Swanson 2022). This represents a significant increase, even if the total amount remains rather insignificant.
When it comes to investment, Russian foreign investment in Brazil is more significant than Brazilian capital flowing to Russia. Russian investment is concentrated in the energy and mining sectors, with growing flows directed toward infrastructure and agrobusiness, particularly in fertilizer companies. Brazil is particularly keen to attract Russian investment in soy and fertilizer logistics and supply chains. There have been discussions on expanding investment in the oil and gas sector, as well as economic and technological cooperation to develop reserves in Brazil or in Russia. While the complementarity in strategic sectors is there, it remains to be seen whether trade and investments flows beyond fertilizers will grow again in the years to come.
Two largely mutually unknown societies
At the societal level, despite the historical migration from the Russian Empire and the Soviet space to Brazil and the political ties between the countries throughout the 20th century, including between left-wing political parties, organizations and intellectuals during the Cold War, both societies remain poorly connected and largely unknown to each other.
While educational, cultural and scientific cooperation, including in space technology, has increased since the early 2000s, exchanges are still comparatively small (Ministério das Relações Exteriores 2021a). Existing public polls on elite and popular opinion on Brazil’s international affairs rarely mention Russia. A pioneer scholarly public opinion study, called Brazil, the Americas and the World, running since 2010, seldom includes Brazil-Russia relations among its surveyed topics. In the few instances Russia was mentioned in the 2017 report, data showed low public and elite trust in Russia’s ability to main world peace when compared to other P-5 countries, i.e., the US, China, the UK and France (Almeida et al. 2017). More recent data will most certainly repeat this trend, considering the events in Ukraine since 2022.
Whether the prolonged war in Ukraine is or will create challenges for deeper connections and better mutual understanding between the societies in the near future remains unclear. A recent 2023 Ipsos worldwide public opinion survey on the Russia-Ukraine war, including 1,000 respondents from Brazil, showed that over