Brazil's Lula condemns invasion of Ukraine, touts peace initiative

Brazil's Lula condemns invasion of Ukraine, touts peace initiative
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By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday condemned the violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity by Russia and again called for mediation to end the war, a peace initiative that was criticized by the Ukrainian government.

Speaking at a lunch with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Lula said a group of neutral nations must come together to help broker peace between Russia and Ukraine.

His comments came after he set off a storm among Western allies by stating over the weekend that they were prolonging the fighting by supplying arms to Ukraine.

A White House spokesperson accused Lula of "parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda without looking at the facts." And on Tuesday, the White House said Lula's "tone was not one of neutrality."

In Washington, a person familiar with the matter said U.S. officials have privately made clear the Biden administration's displeasure to Brazilian counterparts about Lula's criticism of the arming of Ukraine.

The White House did not immediately reply to a Reuters question on the purported contacts but late on Tuesday said in a statement that Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, had spoken with his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, about "a number of bilateral and global issues, including Russia’s war against Ukraine."

Earlier, Amorim had joined the war of words, calling the U.S. criticism "absurd" and insisting that Brazil did not share Russia's position.

"Brazil defends the territorial integrity of Ukraine," Amorim told Globo TV. But he added: "As long as there are no talks, the ideal peace for the Ukrainians and the Russians will not happen. There must be concessions."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Lula in Brasilia on Monday and thanked him for his peace efforts, remarking that Brazil and Russia shared views on the year-old conflict in Ukraine.

Lula has pitched himself as a peace broker to end the war, which began when Russia invaded the neighboring country in February 2022. His proposal, based on Brazil's tradition of non-intervention and neutrality, calls for a group of nations not involved in the war to engage both Russia and Ukraine in talks.

Ukraine has criticized Lula's proposal because it treats "the victim and the aggressor" the same way, and on Tuesday invited the Brazilian president to the war-torn country to see for himself the consequences of the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said Ukraine was following with interest Lula's efforts to find a solution to the war. But he rejected the view Lula expressed over the weekend that countries arming Kyiv were prolonging war.

The European Union has also rejected Lula's suggestion that both Ukraine and Russia are to blame for the war. EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said all aid was aimed at Ukraine's "legitimate defense."

Lula has said Russia should return territory it invaded last year, but he has suggested Ukraine might sacrifice Crimea, which was occupied by Russian forces in 2014, a suggestion rejected outright by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy has urged world leaders to adopt his 10-point peace plan which, besides calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops and a cessation of hostilities, proposes restoring Ukraine's original borders with Russia.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Editing by Brad Haynes, Cynthia Osterman and Lincoln Feast.)