US State Department
Office of the Spokesperson
November 7, 2023
The Russian government is currently financing an ongoing and well-funded disinformation campaign throughout Latin America. The Kremlin’s campaign plans to take advantage of contacts with press outlets in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, among other countries in the region, in order to carry out an information manipulation campaign designed to sneakily exploit the openness of Latin America’s press and information environment. The Kremlin’s main objective seems to be to disguise the source of its propaganda and disinformation through local press outlets, so that it appears organic to the Latin American public, and thus undermine support for Ukraine and propagate anti-US and anti-NATO sentiment.
What we know:
The Social Design Agency (SDA), the Institute for Internet Development and Structura have coordinated the development of an information manipulation campaign targeting Latin America that aims to promote Russia’s strategic interests in the region at the expense of other countries by openly or secretly co-opting the interests of the press and local influencers to spread disinformation and propaganda. These are influence-for-hire companies with deep technical capabilities, experience in exploiting open information environments and a track record of proliferating disinformation and propaganda in order to promote Russia’s external influence objectives.
As this year’s US Intelligence Community Annual Threat Assessment makes clear, Russia’s agents of influence have adapted their efforts to increasingly hide and replicate their preferred messages through a vast ecosystem of Russian individuals, organizations and intermediary websites that appear to be independent news sources. Moscow seeds original stories or amplifies pre-existing popular or divisive discourses using a network of state media agents, intermediaries and social media influencers and then intensifies this content in order to further penetrate the Western information environment. These activities can include spreading false content and amplifying information deemed beneficial to Russian influence efforts or conspiracy theories.
- Ilya Gambashidze, director of the Russian public relations company known as the Social Design Agency, leads a malign group of influential agents made up of members of the SDA and Structura aiming to conduct a campaign of information manipulation against Latin American countries.
- In addition to Gambashidze, individuals involved include, among others, SDA project director Andrey Perla, Structura CEO Nikolay Tupikin and pro-Kremlin journalist Oleg Yasinskiy (alternative name: Yasinsky).
The mechanics of the campaign:
- A group made up of editors would be organized in a Latin American country, most likely Chile, with several local individuals and representatives – journalists and public opinion leaders – from various countries in the region.
- A team in Russia would then create the content and send the material to the editorial team in Latin America for review, editing and, finally, publication in the local mass media. In effect, this information laundering process would mean that pro-Kremlin content created in Russia would be “localized” by the curated Latin American team and published in local media to appear organic.
- The Translator: the role of Moscow-based language editors proficient in Spanish is an integral part of the campaign. The editors often use pseudonyms to obfuscate their true identities and ensure that the information is disguised in a way that feels organic to the target audience.
- Yasinskiy maintains and influences a vast network of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking journalists and media outlets to spread pro-Russia messages without compromising his efforts to more naturally assimilate content from Latin American media for the benefit of the SDA and Structura.
- Although the network’s operations are mainly carried out in conjunction with the Spanish-language press outlets Pressenza and El Ciudadano, a wider network of press sources is at the group’s disposal to further amplify the information.
The hidden hand of the Kremlin:
- The themes and success metrics of the campaigns were developed jointly and under the guidance of the Russian government, with Gambashidze, Perla and Tupikin taking a leading role in their development.
- Controlling the pro-Kremlin narrative is an important aspect of building the influence campaign focused on Latin America. To this end, Structura’s CEO Tupikin ensures that the themes remain priority issues for the Kremlin.
- The themes of the operations focus mainly on trying to persuade the Latin American public that Russia’s war against Ukraine is just and that they can unite with Russia to defeat neo-colonialism.
- These themes align with Russia’s broader false narrative that it is a champion against neocolonialization, when in reality it is engaged in neocolonialism and neoimperialism in its war against Ukraine and its extraction of resources in Africa.
- There are coordinated efforts between Russian embassies in Latin America and state-funded press outlets to increase pro-Kremlin messages, spread anti-US narratives and develop partnerships between Russian state media, local media outlets and radio stations, embassies of other countries considered pro-Moscow in the region and local journalists.