As Russia continues to shell neighboring Ukraine, the Kremlin also pushes its false narrative on Latin American social networks, pointing to the United States as the bigger problem, and portraying Russians as victims of the war, the AP news agency reported April 1.
“Though many of the claims have been discredited, they’re spreading widely in Latin America and helping to make Kremlin-controlled outlets some of the top Spanish-language sources for information about the war,” AP said.
These narratives act like a template, which enables the Kremlin to adjust them with one consistency — a total disregard for the truth as it shapes the information environment to support its policy goals, the U.S. Department of State said.
The Department of State further asserts that Russian military and intelligence agencies are involved in Moscow’s entire disinformation and propaganda machine. In addition, Russian state-funded and state-run media RT and Sputnik play an important role in all this.
“RT’s success should be concerning to anyone worried about the success of democracy,” Samuel Woolley, a University of Texas professor who researches disinformation, told AP. “RT is geared toward authoritarian control and, depending on the context, nationalism and xenophobia. What we risk is Russia gaining control of an increasingly large market share of eyeballs.”
University of Washington professor Kate Starbird, a computer scientist who analyzed Twitter data on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, said March 9 that the most shared Spanish-language platform on that topic was RT.
The Bucha massacre
Russia used this hybrid warfare tool to deny killing civilians in Bucha, near Kiev. “While Bucha was under Russian military control, local residents did not suffer any violence,” RT en español published April 3. “All Russian military personnel left the location on March 30.”
On April 4, however, The New York Times published high resolution videos and satellite images that showed that many of the civilians had been killed three weeks earlier, when the Russian military controlled the town, with some of the victims their hands tied behind their backs.
On April 2, AFP photographers arrived in Bucha and witnessed some 20 corpses in civilian clothes on a main street, some of them with their hands tied. AFP cross-checked the published satellite images with its own photos, which showed that the bodies appear in the same positions and in the same places.
“The images of bodies strewn across the streets of Bucha, killed execution-style, show the true face of Putin’s Russia. These images speak louder than words about the nature and aims of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Still, the pro-Kremlin media bolstered by Russian diplomatic social media accounts are speaking, in an attempt to distract and obfuscate the facts of war crimes,” said EUvsDisinfo, a European platform that promotes public awareness and highlights the Kremlin’s disinformation operations.
Russia’s false narratives, broadcast in Spanish and other languages, about the United States and Ukraine “include allegations that the invasion was necessary to confront neo-Nazis, or that the U.S. has secretly backed biological warfare research in Ukraine,” AP reported.
In fact, the White House has long publicly provided funding for biological laboratories in Ukraine that research pathogens to curb dangerous disease outbreaks, the news agency added.
“Russian propaganda has more followers and institutional support in Latin America […], they have used criticism of the U.S. world as a weapon to gain sympathy,” Carlos H. Echevarría, head of Public Policy at Maldita, a Spanish fact-checking organization, told Spain’s El Periódico.
Russian false narratives no longer receive the same space in the international media; they are not allowed to go unchallenged. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to justify his invasion have failed to gain significant momentum, reported for its part the U.S. think tank Atlantic Council.
Although in the European Union RT and Sputnik were banned, “in Latin America […] many are not aware of the problem that really exists,” says Beata Wojna, professor of International Relations at the Mexican university Tecnológico de Monterrey, to Mexican daily El Heraldo. “There is a constellation of 50 media and platforms with connections to the intelligence services of that country.”