Russia in Africa: What’s behind Moscow’s big return to the continent?
Russian Internet operations in Africa: cheap and secretive
Experts talk about the benefits that the Kremlin derives from the subversive activities of Russian Internet trolls
Russian activity in Africa has focused on itself the attention of Western observers for a long time, but this attention has seriously increased after the recent summit in Sochi, where Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the leaders of more than 40 African countries. Experts in an interview with the Voice of America said after this summit that Russia sees Africa as a testing ground for confrontation with the West, and if the United States and its allies do not pay too much attention to African political problems, it can achieve serious superiority at this testing ground.
This conclusion was confirmed by massive campaigns in the African segment of social networks associated with the “Kremlin chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman who is indicted in the United States, who sponsors private military operations from Syria to Libya and organized a “troll factory”.
After identifying a connection with Prigozhin’s structures, nearly 200 Facebook and Instagram accounts with an audience of more than one million users in eight African countries, Mark Zuckerberg’s corporation blocked them..
Later, the US State Department said that Russian Internet trolls are trying to influence events in Chile, where a wave of street protests over the social policy of the country’s government has not subsided for two weeks..
Experts say that despite the detection and exposure of Russian malicious activity on the Internet, Moscow will not stop its attempts to influence political processes in various regions through the worldwide network. According to them, it will combine actions in the “gray zone” with open military activity..
Roman Badanin: Prigozhin trolls are trying to make the situation “as incomprehensible as possible”
Roman Badanin, editor-in-chief of the Internet publication Project, which investigated the activities of Russian mercenaries in Africa, notes not only the military presence of the Wagner group, but also the Russian side’s information wars on the continent.
“Prigozhin is always active where there are elections,” says Roman Badanin. – In many countries, the outcome of the elections is not a foregone conclusion, and information wars are needed in order to win election campaigns. But Prigozhin does not always work with the authorities, he often works with everyone, seeking the loyalty of any possible winner “.
According to Badanin, with the help of information intervention, the Russian side is trying to “make the situation as incomprehensible as possible” – according to the same principle by which the intervention in the United States took place..
“In Africa, the same is true, but to a much greater extent. African countries do not have a long history of sustainable development and sustainable rule of law. They (Prigozhin’s structures – ed.) Are active where there are territorial or political disputes. For example, in Madagascar, they were involved in the story of ‘bring back the Epars Islands’: these are the islands near Madagascar, which are part of the French overseas territory, and by this they rocked the anti-French wave in Madagascar so that the necessary candidates could win the elections on this wave. , – notes the editor-in-chief of “Project”.
“According to many indications, Prigozhin’s actions are coordinated, at least, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense, and on many issues, apparently, with the administration of the President of Russia,” Roman Badanin believes..
The editor-in-chief of the Project says that only a few media outlets discuss Prigozhin’s foreign activities in Russia and is not of much interest to the general public: “There are few free media in Russia, but even when the few that exist do something, it does not cause much response. from the audience, for three reasons. First, because the broad masses have succumbed to the propaganda that Russia is regaining its former influence in the world, and they see this as a success. Secondly, not all people in Russia still understand that in such cases their money is wasted. And thirdly, in dictatorial regimes, journalism, no matter how good it is, unfortunately, does not have a direct impact. You write, but nothing happens, no one gets fired. Moreover: how can he be fired if he is in charge? “.
Ben Nimmo: Internet campaigns are cheap and no involvement can be denied
Investigation director of the online analytical company Graphika Ben Nimmo, a former expert at the Atlantic Council research center, believes that there are no clear boundaries between the work of Prigozhin’s structures “for themselves” and for the Kremlin: “This week we saw activity in social networks, which can be traced and found links with Prigozhin’s structures. And it seems that some of these actions are of local significance, and some directly serve the interests of the Kremlin. In particular, we have seen pages praising the presence and influence of Russia in Africa, while at the same time criticizing French influence in African countries. It already looks like an information campaign, which is carried out in the interests of the state rather than a private company. So there is a combination of mercenaries working in the field and fake social media pages operating in cyberspace. “.
At the same time, Ben Nimmo warns against attributing all public unrest to the “hand of Moscow” on the Internet: “I have not seen convincing evidence that the protests in Chile began because of Russian Internet trolls. The mass of statements that the movement of “yellow vests” in France began because of Russian trolls sounded about the same, but all investigations showed that this was an initiative of local organizations. Perhaps some intensification of the protests is due to the actions of the Kremlin channels, but there were a lot of other factors. That is, if you have something going on, and there is information about the participation of Russian trolls in this, this does not mean that it was they who initiated this – it is very important to remember this. “.
Nimmo points out the direct link between secrecy and efficiency during Internet campaigns: “We see in various regions of the world that they are trying to act more and more discreetly. They are now hunted by the social networks themselves, they are hunted by independent investigative organizations, law enforcement agencies – in general, everyone. And in social networks, the more you hide, the less you are heard, and the smaller the audience you will get. So you need to clearly understand the difference between what efforts they spend on these operations, and what effect these operations lead to “.
However, the analyst is confident that Moscow will not scale back its operations on the World Wide Web, because they are very convenient: “In Russia, and in other countries, there is an understanding that operations on social networks are very cheap, and it is very easy to deny involvement in them. … You just repeat that it is not you, and all the work. In the case of Russia, there are a huge number of details connecting what is happening with Prigozhin’s “troll factory”, but direct communication with the authorities is different, and it is very easy for them to deny everything. And we saw how the Russian authorities said “it’s not us, it’s some kind of volunteers.”.
“Buying leverage online is a lot cheaper than funding a war: I was just doing my research and it turns out that you can buy a YouTube channel that has been in existence for three years and is bursting with uploaded videos for one dollar. I recently participated in the exposure of a Brazilian “like factory” that offered 10,000 likes for $ 60, ”says Ben Nimmo..
“The only effective counteraction to such activity is to try to raise the costs for its initiator to an unacceptable or at least thought-provoking level,” advises the director of investigations of the online analytical company Graphika..
Reporter for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in Moscow. Collaborates with «Voice of America» since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and presenter of programs in the Russian service of the BBC and «Radio Liberty». Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.
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Journalist «Voices of America». Prior to that, she worked for international non-governmental organizations in Washington and London, in the Russian-language version of the Estonian daily newspaper “Postimees” and as a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Interests – international relations, politics, economics
The United States is concerned about the activities of Russian mercenaries in Africa