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Russia's foreign minister visits Brazil on a swing through Latin America

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Russia's foreign minister is traveling through Latin America with stops in Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Brazil. And that is where Sergey Lavrov is today. His tour is raising concern in the West, especially after Brazil's president just met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in China. For more on this, we're joined by NPR's South America correspondent Carrie Kahn. She's in Rio de Janeiro. Carrie, why is Russia's foreign minister coming to Brazil? Is there an official agenda?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Yes. First, he'll meet with Brazil's foreign minister. The two met at a G20 conference last month. And recently a top foreign policy adviser to Brazil's president met with Putin. So there have been a lot of meetings of late. In the afternoon, Lavrov is expected to give a message to the press - no questions, just a statement. Russia and Brazil do a lot of business together. Russian fertilizer is vital to Brazil's huge agribusiness here, and - a lot of which is sold to China. So there's that in the talks, too.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So I got to imagine the war in Ukraine will also come up. Brazil's...

KAHN: Of course.

MARTÍNEZ: ...New leftist president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has refused to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine. He says they're a neutral world player, and they do business with everyone. Carrie, is that what Lavrov came to really talk about - the relationship between Russia and Brazil?

KAHN: Some say yes, and it's key for Lavrov to be seen in an international setting in a major democracy, giving the Russian perspective on the war. For what Brazil gets out of this, I called Oliver Stuenkel. He's a foreign policy expert at Brazil's FGV university, and I asked him that. He says it's to get the West to see that Lula has a lot of options in the world.

OLIVER STUENKEL: That's exactly what Brazil wants. It's basically sending the message to the United States and to Europe that says, look, we're really deepening ties to these countries. What do you have to offer?

KAHN: But Stuenkel also says Lula has to be careful not to take that too far and anger the U.S. and European allies, which - they're already unhappy that he won't, like you said, won't condemn Russia's invasion and won't sell ammunition to Ukraine. And in China - he was just there, and he accused the U.S. of encouraging the war, saying it took two nations to start it and will take many more to end it. He does like to be the - seen as this neutral world player, and he wants to form this so-called peace club and be a mediator with other non-aligned nations to broker an end to the war.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what other topics do you expect can come up?

KAHN: Well, this is really interesting. This has come up a lot between Russia and Brazil lately. And that's spies. Three Russian spies were just discovered working with fake Brazilian IDs. It's just this fascinating story, like right out of that series, "The Americans"...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Yeah.

KAHN: ...About sleeper spies in U.S. society. And the whole incident has triggered much concern about the ease of getting fake Brazilian documents. And I wanted to know about that. And I called this detective with the Brazilian Federal Police to ask what it is about Brazil that makes it so desirable for spies. His name is Gustavo Greiser, and he says Brazil's multiracial and ethnic melting pots lets all sorts of people blend in here. And it's a good backstory for blond-eyed blue Russians with odd Portuguese accents. Also, he says, Brazil's passport is widely accepted in the world.

GUSTAVO GREISER: We have good diplomatic relationships with many countries. We don't have much enemies, so it's a good passport to travel to different places of the world.

KAHN: One of the discovered spies in jail here - is in jail here, and Russia says they want him back. They're claiming he's a drug trafficker. So lots of interesting conversations today.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn. Fascinating stuff, Carrie. Thanks.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Carrie Kahn
Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.