US right wing calls for tanks to be sent to Brazil, Lenin’s Tomb dream for Lula and Putin’s soft power win in Valdai
“It’s time for action. Send in the tanks,” tweeted the New York Young Republican Club as the results of Brazil’s nail-biting presidential runoff made it clear that it was the end of the road for incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, whose masterful disinformation peddling has often made him a hero of this newsletter. Bolsonaro has spent the last several months mimicking Donald Trump’s Big Lie, baselessly attacking the integrity of Brazil’s electronic voting system and suggesting the election was rigged against him. Ahead of the vote, election fraud conspiracies took over social media in Brazil, with some Bolsonaro supporters openly plotting a January 6-style coup if he lost. Now that he has, the question hanging over the country is whether he will concede defeat. Steve Bannon is telling him not to. As of this newsletter’s publication, Bolsonaro’s normally noisy Twitter account has been eerily quiet.
And just like that, after four years of Bolsonaro’s far-right rule, Brazil swung all the way left again as 77-year-old Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former factory worker, made an astonishing political comeback almost twenty years after he was first elected as president in 2003. At home, Lula promises to reunite the country. But when it comes to global politics, his rhetoric reminds me of…none other than Vladimir Putin. Fun Fact: when Lula traveled to Moscow as president in 2005, he told Russian media that he had “fulfilled his lifelong dream” of visiting Lenin’s tomb. Just like his Russian counterpart, Lula is a major advocate for a multipolar world and it is safe to bet that Russia will milk Lula’s stance on Ukraine. In an interview with Time magazine in May, Lula blamed NATO expansion for Russia’s invasion and said that “Zelensky wanted the war, and is now playing a role in a play.”
PUTIN’S VALDAI SPEECH WIN
Lula and his supporters are exactly the audience that Putin would have been hoping to appeal to when he spoke last week, at length and with passion, about multipolarism and the need to end Western hegemony at the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, Russia’s answer to Davos.
In theory, a multipolar world is, of course, a wonderful thing. As I watched Putin’s speech and the Q&A that followed, I was struck by just how attractive the Russian leader’s rhetoric would be if you were listening to it in a vacuum.
If you have little or no context when it comes to Ukraine, Russian colonialism, the hypocrisy and the bloody history of his Soviet predecessors (whom he adores) and Russia’s war crimes, or if your primary context are Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or the ugly legacy of the European colonialism, then what you can hear when you listen to Putin is a description of the world as all of us would like it to be: where international law is sacred and international institutions like the UN function effectively, where countries cooperate and everyone respects each other. In other words, a multipolar utopia. What’s not to like?
This was the first Valdai conference since Putin launched the full scale invasion of Ukraine, and it felt distinctly different from previous editions. The event has long been a must for Russia-watching Western experts and academics because Putin’s long foreign policy speeches spelled out the party line. This year, the organizers boasted that they had attracted the same number of foreign attendees as always. At least one listed attendee, though, an Oxford academic, told me she didn’t go. “They must put quite a few foreign names on the guest list in the hopes that some people turn up, but I hear Russia is somewhat of a pain to travel to these days,” Tina Jennings wrote in an email.
There was nothing particularly surprising about Putin’s Valdai speech. In a nod to Saudi Arabia’s recent cooperation with Russia, on oil prices among other things, Putin praised Mohammed bin Salman as “a young man, determined, with character.” He was also predictably complimentary about his counterparts in Turkey and Hungary and rude about Western leaders, especially women, describing Liz Truss as a “strange girl” and criticizing Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan: “Why did the grandma have to drag herself there?”
He talked obsessively about cancel culture, and how it supposedly proves that there is a historic cycle in which Western liberalism always descends into dictatorship: “Cicero had his tongue cut off, Copernicus had his eyes poked out, Shakespeare was stoned. This is where our Western opponents end up. What is this but the current Western cancel culture?” he asked.
The Western media gave Putin’s Valdai speech sparse and dismissive coverage, mostly because there was nothing new about Putin’s attacks on the liberal order, Western leaders, LGBTQ people or even his nuclear rhetoric. But what was different about this year’s gathering is that the West was clearly not the audience that Vladimir Putin was trying to address.
“Putin said the world is living through the most dangerous decade since the end of the Second World War in 1945. Still, he extended a request to NATO countries, the western military alliance: ‘Let’s stop being each other’s enemies,’” read the pages of Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil’s newspaper of record.
Putin’s warm praise for Narendra Modi “turned heads in India, where Putin himself has many admirers,” wrote Manjeet Kripalani, the executive director of Gateway House, a prestigious Mumbai-based think tank. “What is clear, eight months into the conflict and global hardships, is that Russia is hardly isolated. If Valdai can be used as a barometer, half the world was present to hear President Putin explain his version of the emerging alternate world order,” Kripalani wrote, citing representatives from India, Sri Lanka, China, South Korea, Venezuela, Iraq and Kyrgyzstan among others who were present at Valdai.
The tone of the coverage that Putin’s speech received in the Brazilian, Indian, Spanish and Arab media, is precisely the soft power win that the Kremlin wanted to achieve.
- This amazing investigation by ProPublica’s Craig Silverman and his team into “How Google’s Ad Business Funds Disinformation Around the World.”
- And I didn’t think another conversation podcast was what I needed in my life, but I’ve really been enjoying “People Like Us,” a podcast by Project Brazen hosted by Kim Ghattas. It manages to be fresh, thought-provoking and fun while taking on some pretty serious issues