US-led sanctions on Russia are a political mistake that increases the risk of a nuclear war, according to a top foreign policy adviser to Brazil’s presidential front-runner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Celso Amorim, who led Brazil’s foreign ministry during Lula’s two terms in office, warned of the dangers of isolating an economy “as big and strategic” as Russia’s, explaining why the leftist former president wouldn’t endorse such diplomatic positions if elected in October. 

“For the first time since the Cuban missile crisis we see articles about the risk of nuclear weapons published on a weekly basis,” he said during an interview in Sao Paulo this week. “It’s irresponsible not to seek peace.”

Nearly six months after President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the conflict is bogged down in the east of the country. Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization continue to send weapons to Kyiv and to impose major sanctions on Russia’s $1.7 trillion economy. 

In May, Lula caused controversy when telling Time magazine that Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy and US’s Joe Biden share part of the blame for the war as he believes both leaders failed to negotiate more with Moscow.

Amorim, 80, now sees nuclear weapons as a threat as tangible as those posed by the climate, inequality and the pandemic. 

Sanctions are also strengthening ties between Moscow and Beijing, Amorim added.

“I have nothing against China -- we’re all part of the BRICS -- but I can’t understand the interest of the US in strengthening the China-Russia relationship,” Amorim said, referring to the group of major emerging market economies that include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.  

Lula, if elected, could take a leading role in global peace talks, Amorim said, signaling that Brazil would resume its long-standing external policy of neutrality and peaceful resolution of conflicts under the leftist leader. 

In Latin America, Lula would reorganize the Mercosur bloc with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, while reestablishing normal diplomatic relations with Venezuela, just like President-elect Gustavo Petro is poised to do in Colombia.

“How can we have a program for the Amazon rainforest without Venezuela?,” he said. “Having diplomatic relations doesn’t mean approving of a government.”

That would mark a departure from some of the foreign policies adopted by President Jair Bolsonaro. While the incumbent has also maintained a neutral position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, he joined the US and a dozen of other countries in refusing to recognize Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela’s president.

Brazil’s Image

One of Lula’s biggest challenges, however, would be to rebuild Brazil’s image abroad after it was tarnished by Bolsonaro’s controversial positions on the environment, Amorim said. 

That would require not only words but concrete gestures, such as nominating special envoys able to hold discussions on the environmental agenda with high-level government officials and heads of state, he said. 

Also under consideration, he added, is a possible letter from Lula to global leaders detailing Brazil’s commitments to topics that are dear to the international community, including climate, deforestation and indigenous rights. 

Asked whether he would be ready for another high-profile job in a possible Lula administration, Amorim said he’ll never refuse to respond to a request from Lula, but that this isn’t the moment for such a discussion.

“We’ll find the right person at the right time.”