In the first part of this series, we used the example of Germany and Austria to talk about how the Russian “spy network” works in the European Union. Today we cover Russian influence agents outside the EU.
A little quote for those who haven’t read the first part. According to Western counterintelligence, Russia’s spying on the European continent has now reached the level of the Cold War. But these spies ain’t like James Bond.
In this series, we talk about the Kremlin’s agents of influence: people who represent various public organizations and work at the Russian embassies. They plan and hold rallies, promoting Russia’s narratives, or just stage the right picture for the Kremlin’s propaganda inside Russia.
The first part focused on Austrian activists who organized rallies in Vienna in support of the Russian invasion and a German journalist who promoted Moscow’s interpretation of events or outright fakes.
Serbia has similar “thought leaders”. For example, we can cite the journalist Dragana Trifković. She is a member of the Balkan Club of “Russian People’s Line” with a self-explanatory tagline “Orthodoxy, Monarchy, Ethnicity.” She also lectures geopolitics at the Academy under the President of the Russian Federation, a university that is under the patronage of Vladimir Putin.
Dragana is constantly promoting messages that the Bucha massacre committed by the Russian military was just staged the same way as similar occurrences in Kosovo. She accuses the NATO of waging war against Russia and of spreading Nazism in Europe. Prior to the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation, she repeatedly took part in propaganda activities in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
Another important mouthpiece of Russian propaganda is Đorđe Vukadinović, a former member of the Serbian parliament from the Democratic Party of Serbia, which Trifkovic is also a member of.
He is a political scientist and a repeater of Kremlin propaganda in the Serbian media space. He is probably the Kremlin’s key advocate in Belgrade. In particular, he actively promotes the idea of abandoning sanctions against Russia and tries to form a pro-Russian public opinion in Serbia.
In particular, he is conducting biased opinion polls aimed at depicting Serb support for the Kremlin’s initiatives and shifting the blame to NATO for the war o Ukraine.
While in Europe, Russians work through recruited politicians and activists, some of whom are Russian or work in Russia, this business model is more difficult in Africa because of the remoteness of the continent and cultural barriers. The Russian Africa spy network is not as effective.
Nevertheless, this region is also important for Russians as a lever of influence in the UN that can create an illusion of support for Russian action in many developing countries (see details here). Russia also counts on activist NGOs in the West that care about hunger and poverty in Africa.
Given that Russia is blocking grain supplies from Ukraine, which is an large grain exporter (see the link for details), it is important for the Kremlin to shift responsibility for the food crisis and a likely famine to the West.
Russians are operating in Africa through diplomacy. Recently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov directly called on African countries to put pressure on the West to lift sanctions against Russia. Lavrov did not specify that the reason for these sanctions is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine where the Russian navy is blocking Ukrainian ports from exporting grains.
The Russian Embassy in the Republic of South Africa is engaged in more overt propaganda. This country is a G20 member with high GDP per capita. Not surprisingly, this is where the Russians set up their propaganda bridgehead on the continent.
From the beginning of the invasion, the Russian embassy was spitting out highly undiplomatic social media posts. In particular, Russian diplomats wrote:
- residents of Bucha died from shelling by the Ukrainian army;
- Ukraine pays for the western weapons with grain, and it is the arms supplies that led to the war;
- Russia does not block Ukrainian ports (it should be noted that in Europe, Russia does not hide the blockade of Ukrainian ports and, on the contrary, threatens the West with action if they try to unblock them);
- There are American biological laboratories in Ukraine (we wrote about this thesis of Russian propaganda in detail here).
These are not all the theses covered by the Russian embassy. Other ones address the humanity of the Russian army and the guilt of the West in starting the war. The Russian embassy has become a mouthpiece of propaganda and has almost nothing to do with the cooperation between South Africa and Russia, as it has a “different mission.”
It is important to realize that the Russians are waging information war and espionage in all parts of the world. It’s just a piece of the puzzle on their information front. The Kremlin’s task is to dispel or even erase the real information in order to spread doubts in the African society.
The ultimate goal is for everyone to forget why the war started, and to shift the blame for its consequences to Ukraine and the West. Diplomats, activists with the support of the embassy and “other opinion leaders” are working together on this. In the third part, we will talk about other cases in other regions.