RT en Español is a Spanish-language subscription-based television channel of the Russian-based RT network, formally known as Russia Today. RT en Español was launched in 2009 and is also known as Actualidad RT, and now accounts for over 18 million followers on Facebook and 3.5 million on Twitter. Sputnik is a Russian state-owned news agency, news website platform, and radio broadcast service. It was established by the Russian state-owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya in November 2014. Sputnik News’ Spanish sibling is Sputnik Mundo and has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook. Both accounts in Spanish, which were already popular before the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, have now more followers than their English-language RT counterparts.
RT and Sputnik attempt to equate themselves with major independent and fact-based international media outlets — likely in order to increase their reach and credibility — and to portray any efforts to criticize their activities as violations of freedom of the press. However, RT and Sputnik are not transparent, and their overall goals appear to be fundamentally different from independent media, says the U.S. Department of State (DoS) in a study released in January 2022. The Russian government is closely involved in RT and Sputnik’s operations, says the same study, Kremlin-Funded Media: RT and Sputnik’s Role in Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem. RT and Sputnikdon’t state on their websites that they are independent from Russian government editorial oversight or direction.
“Once there is a new conspiracy theory, these outlets [RT en Español and Sputnik Mundo] basically amplify the same theory in Spanish,” said Esteban Ponce de León, a research assistant at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab. One thing that helps to boost and legitimize the Spanish-language Russian outlets, Ponce de León added, is that they are being retweeted by official Russian government social media accounts.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, RT en Español has consistently pushed baseless conspiracy theories to its Spanish-language audience. These include articles claiming the Ukrainian military created a “staged recording” of civilian deaths in Moschun, a town near the capital city Kyiv, and that Russia was not involved in the massacre in Bucha, in which hundreds of Ukrainians died, as news site Insider reported.
Unlike major fact-based international media outlets, RT and Sputnik lack fiscal transparency. They do not publish public budget sheets or detailed annual financial reports, and the public must rely on vague estimates occasionally announced by the Russian government.
The limited amount of information they do provide about budgets and expenditures is difficult to track and often includes conflicting figures, says the DoS study.
In addition to amplifying Kremlin narratives, RT and Sputnik facilitate and engage in cyber-enabled influence operations in close coordination with other pillars in the information ecosystem. In September 2020, the Federation of American Scientists reported Sputnik’s Spanish-language website was at the center of a network of websites hosting malware files. The malware was linked to stories posted on Twitter about a pause in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trials at the time, the DoS study indicates.
Another pillar of the ecosystem is the cultivation and use of proxy sources. A proxy site is an unofficial mouthpiece promoting disinformation and propaganda. In the context of Russian disinformation and propaganda, some proxy sites have direct links to the Russian state, some are enmeshed in Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem, and others are more loosely connected via the narratives they promote, concludes the DoS study.