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In June, a roundtable “Ukraine and the Global South: Finding Ways of Cooperation” was held in the hall of Ukrinform, organized by the Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security together with the “Ukraine through the Eyes of Muslims” portal. During the event, the Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security summarized and collected the main trends in the spread of Russian narratives in the Global South, received as a result of the LetsData monitoring of online media of the Global South countries in January-February 2023, which we will cover in this material.
Methodology: using machine learning, publications were collected with at least one mention of Ukraine and/or the war in Ukraine in the online media of the countries studied. For each country, the most visited online media sites (also considering those that share pro-Russian rhetoric), TV channels, and newspapers that have an online version were selected. Data collection and analysis were conducted in the original language. Preparation and processing of data was conducted in the Python programming language. Text processing was based on content analysis.
The study presents only those narratives and messages that reproduce Russian propaganda, which does not exclude the presence of productive and neutral narratives in the media of the analyzed countries.
The main trends in the spread of Russian narratives
Contradictory messages. One of the features of the spread of Russian narratives, identified during the monitoring, was the presence of simultaneously contradictory messages aimed at one country. For example, on the one hand, the narrative spread that “Western countries supply Ukraine with weapons that continue to escalate the war on the part of Russia,” on the other hand, “Western countries refuse to supply weapons.”
Another feature was that one message could be combined with several narratives at the same time.
The development of some messages in their story. Systematic monitoring of media landscapes shows the development of some messages in their story according to the cause-effect scheme, for example, the emergence of new variations or a combination of several previously separate ones according to the cause-effect scheme.
Analysis of the information landscape in 2023 shows that the online media of the Global South countries continue spreading, as well as intensifying, new reports of military assistance to Ukraine. This trend has become quite common since January 2023 in many regions of the world.
Messages of global narratives acquired a local context. For example, “a Ukrainian woman stressed her dislike for Nigeria on social networks.”
Russian narratives in the countries of the Global South construct hostility not only towards Ukraine, but also towards the West. The main task is thus to convince countries to support Russia. For example, “Lavrov criticized the West’s position on Africa.”
Russian messages on military aid to Ukraine. The analysis of the information landscape in 2023 shows that African online media continue spreading, as well as intensifying, new messages on military assistance to Ukraine.
For example, in the 2022 study, the Centre for Strategic Communication noted such messages as: “The conflict is fuelled by a large supply of weapons to Ukraine from the West,” “Western support will not continue, weapons stocks are running out,” and “Western weapons threaten to shell Russian territory.” At the beginning of 2023, the following messages were spread: “countries refuse to provide military assistance to Ukraine,” “the supply of weapons prolongs the suffering of Ukrainians,” and “the supply of weapons to Ukraine weakens the countries that provide it.”
In addition, the messages intimidating the audience with the prospect of “the use of nuclear weapons by Russia in the event of a continued supply of weapons to Ukraine” intensified. In such messages, it was predicted that “Europe will turn into a radioactive cemetery,” and the consequences for the West from supplying weapons to Ukraine were described as “global catastrophe,” “apocalypse,” and “World War III.”
For example: “new weapons for Kyiv will lead to a global catastrophe”; “the support of Ukraine with tanks will turn Europe into a radioactive cemetery”; “the supply of tanks to Ukraine will provoke World War III, which will turn the world to ashes”; “Putin threatens with an apocalypse if the West continues to send weapons to Ukraine,” and “if the Ukrainian army receives weapons capable of striking deep into Russia, the Russian side will use weapons that have not been used before.”
Russian messages on nuclear weapons and “Ukraine’s provocations.” Messages about the use of nuclear weapons were also controversial — there were threats on the part of Russia to use nuclear weapons and the simultaneous accusation of the United States of allegedly “planning to test nuclear weapons.” For example, “Medvedev: a nuclear strike is inevitable if Russia is defeated in Ukraine” and “Putin: the United States is thinking about testing nuclear weapons.”
The narrative that supposedly “Ukraine / US is creating / planning provocations against Russia” was actively spread.
In Africa, for example, the following messages of the “provocations” narrative were noted: “Kyiv troops are preparing to blow up grain storage facilities in Kharkiv to cause a provocation against Moscow,” “The United States is preparing a provocative attack with poison in Ukraine to blame Russia,” and “Ukraine is preparing a provocation against Russia to attract the attention of the world community and accelerate the supply of long-range missiles to strike Russia.”
Russian narratives about NATO and the United States and their “role” in the war Mentions of NATO and the United States in the online media of African countries are found in the already familiar Kremlin narratives and messages.
For example, reports of “NATO’s eastward expansion” were once again circulating: “The alliance should have heeded the warnings that its eastward expansion would exacerbate instability in the region.”
In addition, NATO and the United States were mentioned in the role of “partners in the crimes of Kyiv,” such as: “Washington indirectly fought with Moscow because Kyiv fought with American weapons and equipment” and “NATO effectively got involved in a military confrontation with Russia, supplying its weapons to Ukraine.”
Moreover, the promotion of “statements” about the alleged “control” of Ukraine by the United States persisted. For example, “Washington uses Ukrainians to serve the interests of its military-industrial complex,” “the intensification of US participation in the events in Ukraine is associated with the fear of losing its colony and the fact that Washington and NATO use Ukraine as a testing ground.”
In addition, messages about “American biolaboratories in Ukraine” were spread.
Other Kremlin narratives and messages in Africa. Among other topics that Russia manipulates in Africa are the following: religion, peace talks, fictional victories of the Russian army, “the split between the EU countries,” and the alleged “shelling of the civilian population by the Ukrainian military.”
The topic of religion, in particular, spread the messages that, allegedly, “the Ukrainian authorities are persecuting religious institutions.”
Russian messages accused the West of “disrupting” the peace talks, such as: “Russia was ready to quickly conclude a peace agreement with Ukraine, but the West disrupted it and prevented Ukraine from concluding peace” and “The West ordered Zelenskyy – no peace agreements.”
In addition, the African audience was convinced that Russia “achieved significant success in Ukraine in the second half of 2022, and now has gained momentum and is making gradual progress in the east of Ukraine.”
Russian narratives about the alleged “split and quarrels within the West” were also promoted. For example: “the Ukrainian crisis causes tension in relations between Washington and Berlin” and “European states must confront the aggressive Poland and the Baltic States, which are doing everything possible to provoke further confrontation with Russia.”
Like last year, in 2023, the online media of African countries continue to spread messages that, allegedly, “Ukraine is shelling its cities and civilians.” In addition, among these messages, the following intensified: “Ukraine threatens the cities of Donbas with American weapons” and “Ukraine threatens civilians: Ukrainian troops fired NATO missiles at Makiivka and Donetsk.”
Latin America countries
In the Centre’s 2022 study, among the main Russian narratives in the media landscape of Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina were those related to the nuclear threat, Russophobia, calls for peace negotiations, and support for China in the Russian war against Ukraine.
During the monitoring of the media landscape in 2023, a number of Russian narratives were also noted in the online media of Argentina and Brazil.
For example, until now, messages about the blackmail of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia were spread: “Medvedev warns NATO of a nuclear war if Russia is defeated in Ukraine,” “NATO’s participation in Russia’s war against Ukraine may increase the risk of a nuclear war.” Calls for peace talks have not lost their relevance on the agenda of online media in Argentina and Brazil.
The messages spread also justified Russia’s war against Ukraine and assured foreign audiences that “the Russian military in Ukraine protects the interests of the Russian nation, the future, and its children.”
In addition, the detected messages actively discredited the Ukrainian army, such as: “Russia guarantees compliance with the ceasefire, despite the Ukrainian bombing” and “Ukraine threatens the civilian population.”
The noted Russian narratives covered the involvement of NATO, the United States in the war of Russia against Ukraine. In particular, in January-February, the media space of Argentina and Brazil reported that “Russia is not at war with Ukraine, but with NATO,” “Washington and Brussels used the Minsk agreements to prepare a conflict against Russia,” and “they are pressing Ukraine to launch a counteroffensive that will calm NATO.”
A number of reports continued to promote statements of Ukraine “being under control” of the United States, such as: “Ukraine is the cannon fodder for the US elites, necessary for the realization of their geopolitical ambitions,” “Ukraine has become a private NATO military company, ready to perform all tasks.”
Threats of “escalation of the conflict” in the event of continued military assistance to Ukraine from the West remained a separate leading topic: “The provision of British tanks to Ukraine will only aggravate the war,” “Ukraine will receive more heavy weapons from NATO, and Russia warns of an escalation of the conflict,” and “the Kremlin says that the Ukrainians will suffer if the West sends fighters to Ukraine.”
The impact of sanctions on Russia and the West was also on the agenda. In particular, reports noted in the online media of Argentina and Brazil assured of “negative consequences for the West” from EU sanctions: “the West’s attitude towards Putin caused a major energy crisis in Europe, since the main source of energy for many countries was Russian gas.”
During January-February, there were also messages on the agenda that corresponded to other common Russian narratives. For example, about “Ukraine’s allies being tired of the war.”
During the monitoring, online media published messages about Crimea, but so far, they have reproduced the following Russian messages, such as: “The Russian authorities reject the idea of returning Crimea to Ukraine.”
Middle East countries (Turkey and Egypt)
“Western aid to Ukraine provokes Russia”/ “The supply of weapons to Ukraine confirms that the West is fighting against Russia.” For example, in January, the following messages were noted among the publications: “the largest US aid package to Ukraine is a step to anger Russia,” “the increase in the number of the Russian army is associated with the proxy war waged by the West,” and “if the West provides Ukraine with more weapons, this will only lead to escalation.”
“The West prolongs the war of Russia against Ukraine (“the Ukraine crisis”)”/ “The supply of weapons prolongs the suffering of the Ukrainians” Similar messages were spread about “the prolongation of the suffering of Ukrainians due to military assistance to Ukraine.” For example, “the supply of Western armoured vehicles and other weapons to Ukraine prolongs the suffering of the Ukrainians and does not change the balance of power” and “the Ukrainians will have to pay a heavy price if the West provides tanks.”
“Ukraine is preparing provocations against Russia.” For example, the analyzed publications stated that allegedly “Ukraine will blow up its breadbaskets,” “Ukraine is going to exhume the graves of the dead.” All of these messages were used in the context that in this way Ukraine “prepares provocations against Russia.”
“Split/quarrels within the West”/Attempts to divide the EU countries among themselves. In particular, “the cause of quarrels and splits” allegedly is Ukraine. For example, “the Ukraine crisis causes tension in relations between Washington and Berlin.”
Manipulation of the topic of religion in Ukraine. Among the identified messages were the following: “the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is used as a tool to incite Russian-Ukrainian hostility,” “the Ukrainian authorities are involved in a campaign against religious institutions,” and “Kyiv and Western countries are trying to separate Russians from the Ukrainians on religious grounds.”
Circulation of the topic of how to persuade Ukraine to “peace negotiations.” For example, the publications stated that “Kyiv only needs to be forced to peace” and “there are no prospects for peace negotiations with Ukraine because of its position and because the West does not allow it to negotiate.”
Among other narratives were noted: “Russia’s victory is inevitable”; threats from Russia to the West to “destroy the weapons provided to Ukraine”; “The West does not plan to provide more weapons to Ukraine”; threats of nuclear weapons; “The Armed Forces of Ukraine are killing civilians/shelling residential neighbourhoods”; references to the “Third World War.”
Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security