Russian and Chinese Cold War-style messaging appears to undercut U.S. in Latin America
Russia is operating a “well-funded disinformation campaign” to unfold anti-American sentiment throughout Latin America, based on U.S. officers, who say Moscow’s actions are occurring on the similar time that China ramps up its personal affect and army operations within the area.
While the twin campaigns don’t seem like instantly coordinated, they coincide with rising concern in U.S. nationwide safety circles over deepening China–Russia strategic alignment geared toward undermining Washington‘s image and influence among democracies worldwide. High-level military and diplomatic sources even warn of a wider axis of authoritarian adversaries working toward the shared goal of challenging U.S. security leadership globally, including in Latin America.
“The United States now confronts graver threats to its security than it has in decades, perhaps ever,” according to former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
“Never before has it faced four allied antagonists at the same time — Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran — whose collective nuclear arsenal could within a few years be nearly double the size of its own,” Mr. Gates wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.
Longtime U.S. government security adviser Robert G. Joseph warned a recent panel discussion hosted by The Washington Times Foundation that U.S. efforts to contain soaring tensions around the world are being undermined by the “mega-threat of the axis of authoritarianism.”
China plays the most robust role in the axis, Mr. Joseph said, but he noted that the “no limits” partnership between Beijing and Moscow proclaimed in early 2022 poses a strategic challenge “more complex” than even that faced by the U.S. and its allies in the depths of the Cold War.
Latin America countries were proxy battlegrounds between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The region today is again being targeted, only this time it is China, Russia and others, including Iran, that have set their sights on the landscape of fledgling democracies across the Western Hemisphere.
Misinforming through disinformation
The State Department earlier this month singled out Russia as leading the charge in an anti-U.S. propaganda campaign in the region, asserting in a special “Media Note” that the Kremlin is “financing an ongoing, well-funded disinformation campaign across Latin America.”
“The Kremlin’s final objective seems to be to launder its propaganda and disinformation via native media in a means that feels natural to Latin American audiences to undermine assist for Ukraine and propagate anti-U.S. and anti-NATO sentiment,” the State Department stated.
The Russian embassy has referred to as the U.S. allegations “unfounded,” based on Reuters.
State Department officers say the marketing campaign is being run by three Russian organizations: Two Kremlin-linked tech outfits referred to as the “Social Design Agency” and the “Institute of Internet Development,” in addition to a 3rd entity known as “Structura.”
Each are “influence-for-hire” operations, based on the State Department, designed for “covertly co-opting local media and influencers to spread disinformation and propaganda.”
“The Kremlin’s campaign plans to leverage developed media contacts in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, among other countries in Latin America, in order to carry out an information manipulation campaign designed to surreptitiously exploit the openness of Latin America’s media and information environment,” the division stated.
The assertions got here on the heels of a prolonged report printed by the U.S. Institute of Peace, which concluded that “Russian state media disinformation and influence campaigns intensified in Latin America after the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.”
The USIP report described a disinformation operation involving “senior Russian intelligence officers” and “an array of surveillance and intelligence equipment.” It stated the officers labored by way of a consortium of corporations not formally affiliated with the Russian state, however working beneath “the umbrella of the Russian National Committee for the Promotion of Economic Trade with Countries of Latin America,” which is predicated in Santiago, Chile.
“To achieve its often-underappreciated level of success in Latin America, Russia has built a broad and diverse information operations environment that relies on Spanish-language Russian state media, Latin American state media, social media allies and websites that align with Russia on key narratives, integrating these messages and platforms into cyber echo chambers that amplify the message,” the report stated.
Russia‘s effort is “not directly aimed necessarily all the time at getting out a pro-Russia message, it is more about getting out an anti-U.S. message,” according to Douglas Farah, who authored the USIP report with Roman D. Ortiz. Both are regional security analysts and consultants with the private firm IBI Consultants.
“That is the primary sort of structure of what they’re making an attempt to do,” Mr. Farah stated at an occasion hosted by USIP earlier this month.
The Russian marketing campaign entails operations throughout a number of media platforms and a calculated system of multi-sourcing propaganda into information movies or articles which are then unfold by way of social media, he stated. In some instances, the tactic finally finds info from the articles showing in respectable international information wire stories by the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse or Reuters.
“It’s a very effective system,” Mr. Farah stated.
Russia‘s focus on disinformation operations in Latin America fits within a broader context of what Mr. Joseph described as the “mega-threat of the axis of authoritarianism.”
The United States faces a challenge paramount to the “aftermath of World War II,” the former ambassador said, asserting that in addition to Russia‘s activities, China seeks to “establish a new world order replacing the U.S.-led system founded in 1945,”
“The predatory nature of China‘s broader strategy is clearly reflected in its economic policies, ” he said, pointing to the acquisition by companies tied to the ruling Chinese Communist Party that acquire strategic natural resources from Africa to South America.
Venezuela emerged as the “top purchaser of Chinese military hardware after the U.S. government prohibited all commercial arms sales to the country beginning in 2006,” according to a June assessment by the Council on Foreign Relations. “Between 2006 and 2022, Beijing reportedly exported some $629 million worth of arms to Venezuela. Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru have also purchased millions of dollars worth of Chinese military aircraft, ground vehicles, air defense radars, and assault rifles.”
“Likewise, Cuba has sought to strengthen military ties with China, hosting the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for a number of port visits,” the report added, noting that “U.S. intelligence officials have also raised alarm bells over evidence that China is strengthening its intelligence cooperation with Cuba.”
U.S. Army Gen. Laura J. Richardson, who heads the Pentagon’s Southern Command, has tried to shine a lightweight on China‘s growing investments in critical infrastructure in several Latin American nations, including deep-water ports, that could have both commercial and military applications.
China has built the capability to “advance its brand of authoritarianism, and amass power and influence at the expense of the existing and emerging democracies in our hemisphere,” Gen. Richardson told the House Armed Services Committee in May.
More recently, she emphasized China‘s investment in “space infrastructure” in Argentina, which is currently playing host to one the three “deep space stations” controlled by Beijing. (It is not clear how Argentina’s current extreme political swerve with the election of populist libertarian President-elect Javier Milei will have an effect on the Beijing-Buenos Aires axis.)
The station is held by China beneath a 50-year lease and “the [Argentines] don’t have daily access to that facility,” Gen. Richardson stated at an occasion hosted final month by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
She described the station as having functionality to trace objects in area. The functionality could at present be utilized by China to trace its personal satellites, however may have “the ability to track U.S. satellites … and possibly be used for targeting of those satellites eventually,” Gen. Richardson stated. “So that’s a concern.”
In his current Foreign Affairs article, in the meantime, Mr. Gates argued that “Washington needs a strategy for dealing with the entire world — particularly in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, where the Russians and the Chinese are fast outpacing the United States in developing security and economic relationships,” he wrote.
This technique ought to not “divide the world into democracies and authoritarians,” he wrote. “The United States must always advocate for democracy and human rights everywhere, but that commitment must not blind Washington to the reality that U.S. national interests sometimes require it to work with repressive, unrepresentative governments.”