(Brasilia) Brazilian President Lula will fly Thursday evening for his first official trip to Europe since his return to power in January, in Portugal and Spain, after his controversial remarks on the conflict in Ukraine.

This thorny subject will be discussed during the interview scheduled for Saturday between Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, revealed the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Lula, 77, has just returned from a trip to China, with a stopover in the United Arab Emirates on the way back.

On Saturday, he sparked controversy when he told Beijing that the United States should stop “encouraging war” in Ukraine. He also said that the European Union must “start talking about peace”.

Remarks harshly criticized by Washington: On Monday, John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, a body directly attached to the American president, accused Brazil of “echoing Russian and Chinese propaganda without taking into account the facts “.

The Brazilian president also reiterated that the responsibilities for the war triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 were shared between the two countries.

On Monday, he received in Brasilia Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who “thanked” Brazil for its “contribution” in the search for a solution to the conflict, and for “its excellent understanding of the genesis of this situation. “.

Under fire, Lula nevertheless changed his tone on Tuesday, condemning Russia’s “violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

Lula, who ruled Brazil from 2003 to 2010, has been trying to balance things out on the international stage since the start of his term.

He traveled to Washington in February for a meeting at the White House with his American counterpart Joe Biden, and recently visited China, Brazil’s largest trading partner.

After the controversial remarks on Ukraine, deemed “misguided” by the United States, “the balance is a little off balance,” Pedro Brites, professor at the School of International Relations of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, told AFP.

According to him, the trip to Portugal and Spain can allow the leftist president of Brazil to “restore this balance”, showing that he is in tune with “European values ​​on democracy in the world”.

Unlike several Western powers, Brazil has never imposed financial sanctions on Russia or agreed to supply ammunition to Kyiv and is trying to position itself, like China, as a mediator.

“For Brazil, neutrality is seeing the conflict pragmatically, avoiding open condemnation of the parties involved,” said Pedro Brites.

Lula has promised to put his country back at the center of global geopolitics, after isolation under his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022).

For Maria Luisa Escorel de Moraes, responsible for relations with Europe at the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the trip to the Iberian Peninsula can help “relaunch relations” between the first economy in Latin America and the Old Continent.

According to her, Portugal, which colonized Brazil more than 500 years ago, represents a “gateway” for a resumption of dialogue with the European Union.

Lula will arrive in Lisbon on Friday, but his official program begins on Saturday, including a lunch with the Portuguese prime minister.

A dozen agreements must be signed, particularly in the fields of energy, science, education and tourism.

On Monday, he will take part in the presentation of the highest honor in Portuguese-speaking literature, the Camoens Prize, to the famous Brazilian singer Chico Buarque.

The latter, known for his commitment to the left and against the military dictatorship (1964-1985), had been announced as the winner in 2019, but Jair Bolsonaro had refused to sign the documents necessary for the prize to be officially awarded to him.

In Spain, Lula will be received by King Felipe VI on Tuesday, then by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday, before returning to Brasilia.