The Kremlin’s Control Over Latin American Media

April 6 2022

While Western sanctions have done much to curb Russia’s misinformation in the English-speaking world, as Emanuele Ottolenghi documents, Kremlin-funded channels continue to shape public opinion in Latin America, with the active support of Iran and Venezuela. There Internet and satellite platforms continue to broadcast conspiracy theories and falsehoods aimed at demonizing the West. Ottolenghi argues that this “battle of ideas in Spanish will have long-term implications,” particularly considering the string of presidential elections coming up in Latin American countries allied with the West. Ottolenghi also proposes a series of initial steps Washington might take to counter pervasive misinformation campaigns.

On March 6, a ceasefire agreement between Russia and Ukraine collapsed, as Russian forces shelled humanitarian corridors for Ukrainian civilians fleeing their besieged cities. But not according to TeleSur, the propaganda network of Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela, nor according to HispanTV, Iran’s Spanish-language news channel. Within hours of each other, the two networks blamed “Ukrainian extremist forces” for blocking Russian humanitarian assistance and using civilians as human shields, amplifying the Kremlin’s fake news. This was not a one-off, but part of a pattern of deception where Russia invents a lie and its allied networks amplify it. When Russia, for example, accused the U.S. of having established bioweapons labs in Ukraine and then implicated President Biden’s son, Hunter, in the plot, both HispanTV and TeleSur peddled the same conspiracies on their platforms.

To be sure, Russia’s main conduit for propaganda in Spanish is Russia Today’s Spanish language channel, Actualidad RT. But Vladimir Putin’s Ministry of Truth can also count on TeleSur and HispanTV, whose broadcasts to Spanish-speaking audiences are closely intertwined with Russia’s. They are the Kremlin’s Spanish-speaking echo-chamber. Western media have (correctly) exposed far-right Russian proxies in Europe and North America. In Latin America, the useful idiots occupy the opposite end of the political spectrum: They fancy themselves an anti-imperialist “resistance” front led by Caracas and Tehran.

Latin America has always been a fertile ground for conspiratorial worldviews, radical causes, romanticized views of resistance to imperialism, and anti-Americanism. Russia’s propaganda, and its Iranian and Venezuelan counterparts, is potentially more damaging than their English-language counterparts in a region where many countries still have a tenuous democratic tradition, mistrust in the media is widespread, and many outlets are owned by tycoons-turned-politicians whose news production serves their masters, not the public.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran, Latin America, Russia, War in Ukraine

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia