U.S. leans on Brazil's Bolsonaro to scrap Russia trip, source says

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro looks on during ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro looks on during ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil January 28, 2022. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. government has urged Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to cancel a visit with President Vladimir Putin in Russia due to rising tensions over its troop build-up near Ukraine, a person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The diplomatic push, first reported by newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, appears to be part of a global effort by the United States to isolate Russia amid concerns of a possible Ukraine conflict.

For Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who lost a key ally in the 2020 electoral defeat of former U.S. President Donald Trump, the trip, planned for this month, represents a chance to establish his global clout as he faces an uphill battle to win re-election this year.

U.S. officials worry the Moscow trip could embolden Putin as he engages in negotiations to stave off an invasion, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

"It's not a good time to go," said the source, adding that U.S. officials had "tried to dissuade (Bolsonaro) from taking the trip," stressing it could prove a "miscalculation."

A U.S. State Department official said they were aware of reports about Bolsonaro's trip, but did not respond to questions about whether Washington was pushing him to scrap the visit.

"The United States, Brazil and other democratic nations have a responsibility to stand up for democratic principles and to protect the rules-based order, and to reinforce this message to Russia at every opportunity," said the State Department official.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Brazil's foreign ministry declined to comment on the matter.

A Brazilian diplomat, who asked not to be named, said Bolsonaro's trip was still on and that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had not pushed Brazil to call it off when he called Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Franca on Sunday.

"There was no talk of cancellation at all (on the call)," he said, adding that the United States knows Bolsonaro's visit to Moscow is just about trade.

Newspaper Folha, citing Brazilian diplomats, said Bolsonaro had no plans to offer Putin support or take sides. It said Bolsonaro would instead stick to areas of bilateral interest such as trade, adding he had no plans to call off the trip.

On Monday, Bolsonaro said he hoped the crisis with Ukraine would be resolved "in harmony." Speaking during a TV interview, he said he did not expect to bring the matter up during his meeting with Putin, as he was looking to focus more on economic subjects such as agribusiness.

"If that matter comes up, it will come from the Russian president," he said. "We hope that everything will be solved with tranquility, in harmony. Brazil is a pacific country."

Brazil voted on Monday in favor of a U.S. motion to discuss the Ukraine situation at the United Nations Security Council. The United States needed at least nine votes to proceed with the council meeting after Russia called a procedural vote. Ten members voted in favor, Russia and China voted no, while India, Gabon and Kenya abstained.

The source said Brazil's vote had helped assuage fears that Bolsonaro could take sides over the Ukraine situation, but added the trip was still a concern.

Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, and Matt Spetalnick in Washington Editing by Brad Haynes and Rosalba O'Brien

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