The United States is attempting to prevent a Russian effort to influence and manipulate Latin American countries.
In early August, an article written in Spanish and based in Moscow was published, featuring a provocative title and discussing a possible theft taking place in Ukraine.
The text inquired about the transfer of sacred items from Ukraine to the West. It described this as an attempt to take religious relics from Ukraine to the United States and other countries, disguised as a way to protect them from being destroyed in the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow.
However, as stated by American officials, the true deception was the content of the article itself. It served as an early instance of a Russian influence campaign designed to sway support for the Russian agenda in Latin America.
The listed author, Nadia Schwarz, may potentially be a creation of someone’s imagination.
An official from the U.S. State Department, speaking to VOA on the condition of anonymity, stated that they were unsure if the name mentioned was legitimate. They also described the article as containing a blatant lie.
The individual in charge of discussing the specifics of the Russian influence campaign stated that it is challenging to determine if the article had any impact.
The publisher of the article, Pressenza, does not display page views on its website. Additionally, a post on X, previously called Twitter, received a mere 24 views.
According to a U.S. official, the lack of attention serves as evidence that the Russian operation is still in its initial phases.
The official stated that it has not been successful so far. They explained that the desired level of promotion for this article, and the necessary infrastructure for it, are not fully in place.
According to the official, this is the reason why the United States chose to make a public announcement, releasing a statement on November 7th that provided specific information about the Russian operation.
The Russian endeavor was characterized by the State Department as a well-financed and continuous disinformation scheme, covering a total of 13 countries from the southern regions of Argentina and Chile to the northern border of Mexico.
According to U.S. officials, the strategy was for Russian public relations and internet companies to enlist and nurture Latin American journalists, influencers, and opinion leaders. Their goal was to inject pro-Moscow content into their publications and broadcasts while concealing any connections to the Kremlin.
According to James Rubin, the Special Envoy and Coordinator for the State Department Global Engagement Center, the use of RT [Russia Today] and Sputnik has had some moderate success in Latin America.
Rubin informed VOA that the distinction lies in their secretive tactics. They are attempting to produce material in Russia and then pass it off as the work of Latin American journalists. By covertly manipulating local media and influencers, they are spreading false information and propaganda.
Besides Pressenza, which operates in Italy and Ecuador and releases content in eight different languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese, and English, the purported network also involves El Ciudadano, a news platform from Chile, along with various websites catering to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
According to U.S. officials, it is uncertain how many journalists and influencers are aware that they are receiving false information from Russia. However, a high-ranking State Department official informed VOA that there are certainly some individuals who are willing to participate.
There may be other individuals within the network who could be considered “useful idiots” – they may align with Russian perspectives but are ignorant of the fact that they are being influenced by Moscow.
Both Pressenza and El Ciudadano reject the accusations made by the United States.
Pressenza’s Antonio Mazzeo was quoted saying that their newspaper has strived to provide a platform for those who are against rearmament, militarization, and wars. This statement was made in response to a recent publication.
Mazzeo expressed concern about a potential crackdown and limitation of free speech. This should be a cause for concern for all citizens.
Oleg Yasinsky from El Ciudadano also denied the accusations made by the U.S.
“According to a Google translation of his response, Yasinsky stated that they suddenly became aware that independent journalists from a distant country had written something without consulting them.”
Yasinsky questioned the State Department’s interest in publications from Latin America, stating that their media and social networks have a strong influence globally and could potentially expose their hidden agendas. He then asked if this was not concerning enough for them.
However, U.S. officials have accused Yasinsky, who claims to be Ukrainian, of being the main person responsible for the Russian influence campaign.
According to a state department official who spoke to VOA, Yasinsky is the central figure attempting to organize and establish a network of potential “useful idiots.” They believe he is primarily located in Chile, but has also operated from Europe.
The recent statement from the State Department stated that Yasinsky is responsible for managing and utilizing a developing group of Spanish and Portuguese journalists who play a crucial role in disseminating Russian disinformation as if it were authentic local news and viewpoints.
However, American officials claim that the information originates from three companies connected to the Russian government: the Social Design Agency (SDA), the Institute for Internet Development, and Structura.
The three corporations create news topics that align with Moscow’s interests, compose them in Spanish, and distribute them through their Latin American channels. Local journalists and editors then add a regional touch to the language, making it more appealing to readers and potentially increasing its chances of being featured in larger news sources.
According to officials from the United States, there have been initial attempts to schedule journalists or analysts as guests on radio shows to discuss their news coverage.
According to a spokesperson from the State Department, they are attempting to disseminate this information using various channels. Their goal is to spread it out and create the appearance of natural distribution.
Similar to Pressenza and El Ciudadano, Russia has rejected the accusations made by the United States.
According to a statement on the Russian embassy’s Telegram channel, the U.S. government has once again accused Russia without any evidence for all wrongdoing.
The embassy stated that we are being accused of utilizing our preferred tactic of interfering in the domestic political affairs of sovereign nations. This is because the United States is experiencing a decline in popularity in this area, which is attributed to our desire for neocolonialism and efforts to impose our own agenda on others.
However, according to U.S. officials, the purpose of alerting the public about the influence operation is to allow those targeted by Russian-linked actors to make their own informed decisions.
Rubin stated that it is important to inform all relevant parties in the region, including academic institutions, think tanks, NGOs, and journalists, about this operation. This will allow them to accurately assess and interpret information they come across, keeping in mind that the Russians may be covertly influencing the situation.