Russia discussed nuclear strikes after territory losses. Big drop in China aid to Pacific. Netanyahu set for third term. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Bolsonaro ousted as Lula vows to protect the Amazon

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva embraces his wife, Rosângela Lula da Silva, after the Brazilian presidential election run-off, in Sao Paulo.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva embraces his wife, Rosângela Lula da Silva, after the Brazilian presidential election run-off, in Sao Paulo.
Credit: Reuters / Carla Carniel

Great power rivalry 

Ukraine: Russian military leaders last month discussed using nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine after experiencing large losses of territory, according to United States officials.

The US officials said Russian leaders considered when and how to deploy tactical nuclear weapons, though Russian president Vladimir Putin was not involved in the discussions. The Kremlin denied the claims, accusing the West of “deliberately pumping up the topic”.

On Wednesday, Russia rejoined a United Nations-brokered deal to allow grain exports from Ukraine, which is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of wheat and sunflower oil. Moscow had suspended the deal in response to attacks by sea and air drones on Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet. 

Russia also bombed Ukrainian electricity and water facilities this week, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without power or water supplies. Asked whether the bombings were a response to the attacks on Russia’s navy, Putin told reporters: “This is, in part, the case. But this is not all that we could do.”

Russia’s defence ministry said this week that its conscription of up to 300,000 troops – its first large-scale call-up since World War II – had ended and that no further mobilisations would be needed. The call-up followed Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive that regained swaths of territory in the country’s east and south-east. But Ukraine has made only small further gains in recent weeks, and the coming winter freeze is expected to make it difficult to launch further large-scale operations. 

The neighbourhood 

Pacific region: China’s aid to Pacific nations has plunged and now trails far behind that of Australia, which accounts for more than a quarter of international development assistance for the region.

Data released by the Lowy Institute this week showed China spent $245 million on aid to the Pacific in 2020, its lowest level since the institute began tracking regional aid flows in 2008. In contrast, Australia spent $1.23 billion on aid in 2020 and was the largest national donor, followed by Japan, the United States and New Zealand. 

Australia has boosted aid to the Pacific in recent years amid concerns about China’s growing ties across the region. The Albanese government’s first budget last month confirmed it will add an extra $900 million in Pacific funding over the next four years. Papua New Guinea was the largest recipient of Australian aid in 2020, followed by Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Alexandre Dayant from the Lowy Institute said China’s aid may have decreased in recent years due to its slowing economic growth, as well as concerns among recipients about the reliability and cost of Chinese debt. But he said Beijing had focused aid on specific countries such as Solomon Islands and Kiribati, which both switched recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019.

“China has not given up on using development assistance to cement key relationships,” he said in a statement.

Election watch 

Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu was on track to return for a third stint as Israel’s prime minister after his right-wing bloc appeared set to win a majority at the country’s fifth election in four years.

Netanyahu’s Likud party was expected to secure about 32 seats in the 120-member Knesset, making it the largest single party. More importantly, his ultranationalist and religious allies looked poised to deliver his bloc an outright majority of up to 65 seats, which would allow him to reclaim the country’s leadership even as he faces corruption charges. 

Netanyahu will need to rule with the support of Religious Zionism, a far-right party led by Bezalel Smotrich, a self-described “proud homophobe” and leader in the West Bank settlement movement. 

The ballot was largely seen as a referendum on the leadership of Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who is viewed by his supporters as a defiant statesman committed to ensuring Israel’s security but who is accused by his opponents of seeking to cling to power by undermining democracy and the rule of law. 

The current prime minister, Yair Lapid, ousted Netanyahu in 2021 after forming a wide-ranging coalition that included his own centrist party, as well as parties from the right, left and, for the first time in an Israeli government, an Arab party. But the coalition collapsed after several members withdrew their support. 

Netanyahu has committed to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and would likely take further steps to support Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But he will lead a “nightmare coalition” – as analyst Anshel Pfeffer put it – and many in Israel are expecting a sixth election. 

Spotlight: Lula’s comeback in Brazil

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – the leftist Brazilian politician who served as president before going to jail for alleged corruption – defeated the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, at an election last weekend after pledging to restore the country’s environment and democracy.

Completing a spectacular comeback, Lula, as he is known, won by 2.1 million votes – 50.9 per cent to 49.1 per cent. The result was closer than expected but marked the first loss by a serving leader since Brazil’s military-led rule ended more than 30 years ago.

Bolsonaro, echoing the behaviour of his mentor Donald Trump, refused to concede or to recognise Lula’s win. 

After remaining silent for two days following the election, Bolsonaro, who may face prosecution for corruption or undermining democracy when he leaves office, told reporters at the presidential residence on Tuesday: “Our dreams are more alive than ever.”

Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, Ciro Nogueira, later said that the administration would not contest the result.

Lula, a 77-year-old who was raised in poverty, was a union leader before serving as president from 2003 to 2010, winning acclaim for his success in using the proceeds from a commodities boom to combat inequality. But he later went to jail after being implicated in a massive corruption scandal. In 2019, the charges were annulled and he was released after spending 580 days in prison. 

Lula has pledged to protect the Amazon region, reversing Bolsonaro’s moves to cut environmental protections. An estimated two billion trees have been cut or razed since Bolsonaro’s term began in 2019. Lula also plans to raise the minimum wage and address discrimination and poverty. But he faces a worsening economy and a divided electorate, and his reputation remains marred by the corruption charges. 

A Rio de Janeiro resident who voted for Lula, Stefane Silva de Jesus, told The New York Times this week: “He’s not the solution to every problem. But he’s our only hope.”

Lula will be inaugurated as president on January 1, 2023.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 5, 2022 as "Bolsonaro ousted as Lula vows to protect the Amazon ".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription