Russian ‘influence-for-hire’ firms spread propaganda in Latin America: US State Department

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The U.S. government has uncovered an ongoing Russia-funded disinformation campaign across Latin America aimed at undermining support for Ukraine and discrediting the U.S. and NATO.

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday attributed Russia’s propaganda efforts to three local companies: the Social Design Agency (SDA), the Institute for Internet Development, and Structura. These are “influence-for-hire” firms with deep technical capability, according to the department.

In July, the European Union imposed sanctions on SDA and Structura for spreading propaganda that supports Russia’s war in Ukraine. The EU described these actions as part of a larger hybrid campaign by Russia against the European Union and its member states.

Russia has an extensive history of carrying out influence campaigns that specifically target Latin American and African far-right and hard-left groups. Most of these campaigns are aimed at furthering the Kremlin’s own agenda in those regions and promoting anti-democratic and authoritarian ideologies worldwide.

Disinformation in Latin America

Russia is trying to carry out its influence operations as discreetly as possible, according to State Department officials, who said the Kremlin has “a vast ecosystem” of proxy websites, individuals, and organizations that appear to be independent news sources.

Russian propaganda activities include disseminating false content and amplifying information perceived as beneficial to Russian influence efforts or conspiracy theories.

The openness of Latin America’s media environment helps pro-Kremlin actors “organically” integrate their propaganda and make it more appealing to the local audience, the State Department said.

The campaign generally works by hiring a group of unwitting editorial staff — including local journalists and public opinion leaders — in a Latin American country.

The Latin American team is responsible for the “localization” of content created in Russia: they review, edit, and publish it in local media.

According to the U.S. Department of State, Russia operates a vast network of Spanish and Portuguese-speaking journalists and media outlets to seamlessly integrate pro-Russian content into Latin American media while concealing their Russian connections.

The primary message the Kremlin is trying to convey to Latin American readers is that Russia’s war against Ukraine is just, and they can unite with Russia to combat neocolonialism.

Russia’s previous campaigns

In October, the State Department released a report about the activities of a neo-fascist organization operating in South America, Europe, and North America called New Resistance. According to the report, this organization has deep connections to entities and individuals within Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem.

“New Resistance actively supports authoritarian regimes on both the left and right globally and furthers the Kremlin’s geopolitical goals of destabilizing democracies and undermining the rules-based international order,” the report said.

The Russian propaganda machine also wields significant influence in Africa. Kremlin-backed actors used fake news outlets, influencers, and networks of bots and trolls to advance their interests in the region.

According to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Russian disinformation efforts in Africa have played a role in undermining democracy in the continent.

Russian influence campaigns in Africa are nearly always accompanied by efforts to interfere in elections to keep Moscow-friendly regimes in power, to support their extended tenures in office beyond constitutionally mandated term limits, or to validate coups, the report said.

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Daryna Antoniuk
is a freelance reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.

 

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