Printable version

Russia is Winning the Global Information War

While the ongoing attempts of Russia's propaganda machine to promote its narratives and sow discord in the West have come under increasing scrutiny, a different and rather worrying aspect of Russian activities has received far less attention. In recent years, Russia has been quietly expanding its activities and heavily investing in its operations in the Global South, with disturbing levels of success.

Conspicuous presence: supporters of a military coup in Burkina Faso in October 2022 wave a Russian flag

Russia has long wielded information operations as one of its key foreign policy instruments, but it wasn't until the annexation of Crimea in 2014 that the West began to truly grasp the extent of its efforts to mould public opinion. Following years of inadequate response, the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 finally catalysed a robust acknowledgment of Russia's information warfare by top Western officials. From EU High Representative Josep Borrell declaring the fight against Russian disinformation as one of the EU's top priorities, to Germany and France announcing large-scale Russia-sponsored disinformation campaigns, to a Russian propaganda network uncovered by the Czech intelligence services, it seems that foreign information interference is now finally receiving a more appropriate level of attention.

However, while most of the response to date has been focused on Russian activities in the West, Moscow’s activities outside of Europe and North Africa have received far less attention. This is despite the fact that Russia has been increasing its investments in expanding its influence in order to support its foreign policy priorities across the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, with remarkably successful outcomes.

Africa in particular stands as a good example of Russia's expanding footprint. Hand in hand with an increasing Russian physical presence on the continent, Moscow’s information operations and resulting influence have been consistently growing. Russia has managed to quite cleverly take advantage of post-colonial resentments – especially towards the French in the francophone Sahel and Central Africa – by positioning itself as an alternative to the West and a natural ally of African countries in their anti-colonial struggle.

Russia is often successful in leveraging existing resentment of Western policies to improve its own image, diminish support for Kyiv and prevent wider denunciations of its war in Ukraine

As a result, there are now unprecedented levels of support for Russia in a number of African states, as evidenced by calls from citizens in Burkina Faso for a Russian intervention in the country, or calls to replace former ties with France with a partnership with Russia in Niger. As evidence of Russia’s growing status in Africa and the effectiveness of its information efforts, in March 2022, 26 African countries refused to support a UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In the Middle East, Russia has seen similar levels of success. Mainly due to its presence in Syria, it has been investing in building platforms targeting Arabic-speaking audiences for a number of years, and it has actively used disinformation to promote its own interests and those of its allies. For example, it launched disinformation campaigns aimed at deflecting responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria from the Syrian regime and blaming them on the West or non-governmental organisations instead. RT Arabic, the Arab-language branch of the notorious Russian state-owned TV channel, has one of the most popular news sites in the region and a significant online presence.

Using this powerful distribution channel, Russia has been able to spread its propaganda narratives to millions of people across the region that it has direct access to, from false stories about biolabs in Ukraine to trying to present the conflict as a Russian fight against Western imperialism. And similarly to its efforts in Africa, Russia is often successful in leveraging existing resentment of Western policies to improve its own image, diminish support for Kyiv and prevent wider denunciations of its war in Ukraine. The Arab Youth Survey 2022 found that more young Arabs (aged 18–24) blame the US and NATO, rather than Russia, for the war in Ukraine.

Even Latin America has witnessed a growth in Russian information efforts. According to the US Department of State, the Russian government is ‘currently financing an on-going, well-funded disinformation campaign across Latin America’, with efforts to manipulate the information environment in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, among other countries in Latin America. Just like in the Middle East, Russia is operating a number of popular media channels, such as RT en Español, Sputnik Mundo and Sputnik Brasil, with substantial followings. RT en Español, for example, has a following of over 17 million people, and it has been opening new offices across the continent in recent years. And just like in other regions, Russia is actively using these platforms to turn local audiences against the US and the wider West, to prevent greater popular support for Ukraine and to build up its own image.

The West would be wise to intensify efforts to counter Russian disinformation, debunk false narratives, and expose the adverse consequences of Moscow's actions

The success of Russia's information warfare in the Global South, while not absolute, is undeniable. It is managing to leverage various existing historical grievances and disillusionment with Western policies, often justified, to shape perceptions and public opinion in its favour. And today, it is reaping the benefits of years of patiently investing significant resources in its information operations around the world, while at the same time continuing to expand those efforts and activities, both in scope and intensity.

At the same time, the West has largely failed to come up with a meaningful response or strengthen its public outreach in these regions in order to counter Russian disinformation efforts. While the US launched the Global Engagement Center in 2016, an agency at the US Department of State, tasked with ‘exposing and countering foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts’, it is unclear whether this has been given sufficient support to be able to fulfil its mission. And while the EU increased its funding to tackle Russian disinformation campaigns in the Sahel region in 2023, so far its efforts remain limited.

The West would be wise to intensify efforts to counter Russian disinformation, debunk false narratives, and expose the adverse consequences of Moscow's actions, not just in Europe and North America but across the globe. Failure to do so risks a widening divergence in global perceptions of Russia and its war in Ukraine, with potentially far-reaching implications for geopolitical dynamics.

The views expressed in this Commentary are the author’s, and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.

Have an idea for a Commentary you’d like to write for us? Send a short pitch to and we’ll get back to you if it fits into our research interests. Full guidelines for contributors can be found here.


Channel website:

Original article link:

Share this article

Latest News from

Facing the Future...find out more