- The Brazilian public debate about the War in Ukraine in the first semester of 2022 peaked before the conflict had even begun. The peak of interactions was associated with President Jair Bolsonaro’s visit to Russia and the alleged positive consequences it had for Brazil due to a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- The pro-government group led in terms of volume and engagement, and the approximation between President Jair Bolsonaro and the Russian president was praised and seen as a strategic measure to protect diplomatic and commercial relations between the two countries. The alleged threat related to fertilizer supplies and to the Brazilian national sovereignty were the major topics in the debate.
- Most of the profiles were critical of both governments and showed a high level of thematic and ideological fragmentation, with a predominance of right-wing actors mobilized mostly by the former minister Sergio Moro.
- President Jair Bolsonaro and the former minister Sergio Moro were central figures in the dispute of narratives regarding the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. While Bolsonaro showed an ambiguous position, the former minister condemned the alleged agreement between Bolsonaro and former president Lula in supporting Russia in the conflict.
- The institutional left wing in Brazil had no significant participation in the debate about the war. Critics saw this as a withdrawal from western democracies.
- Russia’s posture (and aggression) was compared to that of the United States and President Joe Biden by both pro-government and progressive profiles. In this context, the role of NATO, of the West and of the far right were also questioned in relation to the escalation of the conflict.
- Entertainment and meme profiles made ironic remarks about the approximation between President Bolsonaro and the Russian president, pointing out contractions and the bad administration of Brazil.
War in Ukraine and Brazilian Politics
Actors, propaganda and online flows of information
1. Executive Summary
2. Results and discussion
The evolution of the debate about the conflict between Russia and Ukrain on Twitter outlines three more prominent groups, which were classified based on their profile composition and on their alignment with the Brazilian government, their critical position regarding the Brazilian and Russian governments, and publications made by entertainment profiles.
Figure 1 – Evolution of the debate about the War in Ukraine per cluster on Twitter
Period: January 1 to May 31, 2022
. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI
As shown in the figure, the highest peaks in the three groups happened during the beginning of the conflict in February. Regarding the pro-government group, the week of February 14 saw the highest peak, accounting for around 173.2 thousand posts. This moment was associated with the meeting between President Jair Bolsonaro and President Vladimir Putin in Russia. The posts indicate a belief that the Brazilian president’s visit helped prevent a third world war. Another highlight happened on February 24, when President Jair Bolsonaro made a statement offering his solidarity and ensuring protection and support to Brazilians who were in Ukrainian territory, as well as offering the services of the Brazilian Embassy for guidance and possible return to Brazil. In addition, the participation of entertainment profiles also inflated the debate by making ironic remarks about the fact that the Russian army does not have transgender, black or female members, ecologically correct artillery or vaccinated platoons to join and act in the military.
There was move engagement in the week of February 21 among the group criticizing the Brazilian and Russian governments, accounting for more than 122 thousand posts. This day was marked by posts highlighting confrontation between Putin and the United States, commenting on different American administrations. The publications also commented on the efforts made by Western leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, to look for a diplomatic solution, and on Joe Biden’s (and the USA’s) disposition for combat. In addition, there were posts expressing concern with the potential approximation between the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Putin, strengthening the image of the Brazilian government as favorable to authoritarian world leaders.
Regarding entertainment influencers, the week of February 21 saw the most repercussion with more than 26 thousand posts. This period was marked by comments about Jair Bolsonaro’s presence in Russia and his meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The posts criticized, questioned and joked about the fact that the Brazilian president is averse to communism but praised the Russian soldiers, and is averse to the recommendations of health authorities in Brazil regarding wearing a mask during the Covid-19 pandemic but wore the accessory in Russia.
2) Public Debate
In the map of interactions, there were more than 1.1 million posts on Twitter. This corpus was composed of profiles, interactions and publications about the Brazilian political debate who commented on the events related to the War in Ukraine. The analysis outlined the composition of the different political groups participating in the debate through the grouping of dense profiles with similar interactions, confronting the different narratives adopted by each of the clusters formed.
Figure 2 – Map of Interactions
Analysis period: January 1 to May 31, 2022
Pro-government group – 32.6% of profiles | 52.2% of interactions
Group formed by influencers and by the political group supporting the federal government. The approximation between President Bolsonaro and the Russian president was praised by this segment of the debate and seen as a strategic measure to protect diplomatic and commercial relations between the two countries. In this context, ensuring the supply of fertilizers was a strong argument and a clear signal directed at the agribusiness industry. The launch of the National Fertilizer Plan by the federal government was celebrated and seen as a way to expand national production and reduce the dependency on imports. The threat against the country’s fertilizer supply was widely explored, even as a justification to exploit indigenous lands. According to the president himself, Brazil supposedly has a strong potential to produce fertilizers, but that is not viable because of the “excess of indigenous lands”. Therefore, President Bolsonaro’s visit to Russia was seen as a strategic anticipation that benefited the country, regardless of the criticism by the traditional media and some NATO countries. NATO is frequently seen as a threat to national sovereignty. Patriotic protectionism over the Amazon is a central argument in this context, appealing to globalist and conspiratory conceptions. Statements about the conflict made by Supreme Court ministers also prompted hostility, particularly against the ministers at the forefront of the electoral process, who became frequent targets of attacks by this group.
Critics of the government and Russia ‒ 46.6% of profiles | 41.4% of interactions
Group composed of profiles of journalists, communication and entertainment channels, and right- and left-wing politicians, with a predominance of the right. The group was marked by a plurality of actors with different political and ideological views. The highlight was the former minister and former judge Sergio Moro, @SF_Moro. Although the group is diverse, it showed signs of converging around the potential positions of Brazilian political leaders regarding the war between Russia and Ukraine. The posts indicated a possibility of agreement and potential unity between President Jair Bolsonaro and former president Lula regarding the support for Russia, comparing this alleged agreement and political posture in Brazil to countries under dictatorships and claiming that this is harmful for the country because it indicates a withdrawal from Western democracies. Still regarding this alleged confluence between Bolsonaro and Lula, the posts commented on Lula’s resistance to perspectives associated with the United States, which was called “anti-Americanism”, and mentioned the admiration and friendship shown by Bolsonaro towards Putin during their meeting in Moscow in February. In addition, the group commented on the sexist audio recording attributed to the congressman (Podemos-SP), also known as “Mamãe Falei”. While reporting on Ukrainian refugee women and on female police officers in the country, he said, “The Ukrainians are easy because they’re poor”.
Influencers and entertainment – 15.4% of profiles | 4.3% of interactions
Group mobilized by comic profiles, common users, comedians and entertainment channels. They made ironic posts that: (1) refuted the idea that Brazil has enough economic and psychological conditions to face another war, indicating that there are other types of combat and internal conflicts in the country; (2) asked President Jair Bolsonaro to remain silent regarding the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and also regarding the Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil; and (3) commented on the contradiction of Jair Bolsonaro criticizing communism in Brazil, but traveling to Russia to honor communist soldiers, showing an apparent approximation with the Russian leader.
3) Major Actors
A more in-depth look at the more relevant profiles in terms of average volume of interactions indicates a relative balance from an ideological point of view, although President Jair Bolsonaro remains central and his allies still have good digital performance. In the context of the 2022 presidential elections, only President Jair Bolsonaro, the former minister Sergio Moro and the former president Lula were highlights in their positions regarding the conflict.
Figure 3 – Average of Interactions
Analysis period: January 1 to May 31, 2022
. Source: Twitter | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI
President Jair Bolsonaro had the highest number of interactions in the debate and emphasized his decision to visit Russia in February to ensure the fertilizer supply. His trip was also praised by his supporters, who highlighted the importance of autonomy in the face of external influence, of the economic protection provided for Brazilian agribusiness in particular, and of national security. This segment of the debate also made ironic comments in the posts with the highest level of engagement. Sergio Moro criticized President Bolsonaro, considering his visit an indication of support for Russia, which he sees as a diplomatic error in relation to western countries. In addition, the former minister criticized former president Lula for allegedly “giving preference to authoritarian regimes”, in a comment about Lula’s interview to the Time magazine. The former president also emphasized the importance of the national production of fertilizers in the context of the war and made posts of electoral nature about promoting the country’s production and economic growth in case he is elected.
By itself, the largest war initiative in the European continent since World War II has not generated a significant level of social involvement in the Brazilian public debate. However, in the context of the country’s election year, the influence and impact of political leaders has had a central role in shaping the public opinion on the conflict. This is confirmed by the fact that online flows of information and their forms of control have been powerful assets mobilized by a variety of users. However, the social impacts are larger when political actors use these tools for propaganda and narrative disputes, particularly in the face of a global crisis. As the dynamics of digital communication become more relevant for social behavior, political actors assimilate and optimize their use and the potential offered by social media platforms to reach specific goals. In this context, the public debate in Brazil about the War in Ukraine became a background for the existing narrative dispute between political actors. Based on this study case, it is interesting to observe how certain individuals and groups can appropriate the use of social networks to inflate points of view and ultimately silence political opponents.
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5. Editorial Staff
Marco Aurelio Ruediger
Maria Sirleidy Cordeiro
Dalby Dienstbach Hubert
Lucas Roberto da Silva