Russia Struggles for ‘Hearts and Minds’ in Global South (Part One)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 27

(Source: Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation)

Executive Summary:

  • Russia uses anti-colonial narratives to build influence in Africa, leveraging historical grievances with Western imperialism and spreading disinformation.
  • Putin claims that Africa is one of “Russia’s crucial and trustworthy partners” to unite them in a relationship based on a mutual goal to fight colonialism and influence from the West
  • Moscow has sought to expand its impact on the information space to counter Western messaging to governments and media outlets on the continent.

On February 15 and 16, Moscow hosted the international forum “For the Freedom of Nations.” The forum was described as “an assembly of supporters of the struggle against contemporary practices of neo-colonialism.” Approximately 400 delegates from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Commonwealth of Independent States assembled. According to the declared agenda of the event, key topics and agendas included countermeasures against foreign involvement in sovereign affairs, countermeasures against destructive neo-colonial practices, and gaining and forging independence in political, financial-economic, and informational spheres (, February 17).

Representatives of Russia’s political elite attended the event. Speaking at the event, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of spreading aggressive neo-colonialism. He claimed this is primarily reflected in applying economic pressure, abridging sovereignty, and spreading “foreign values” and practices. He also stated that Russia has done much to destroy the colonial system by supporting national liberation movements. Notably, the Soviet Union was not mentioned, although, from a historical point of view, it is incorrect to say that Russia itself has done much to destroy the colonial system. Putin stated: “[Today we are ready to unite our forces” once again to “form a democratic multipolar world order” (, accessed February 17). Leonid Slutsky, leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, proposed to not only create a “day of remembrance of victims of colonialism and aggression of the West against sovereign countries” but also suggested to “calculate losses” suffered by countries of Africa and Latin America as a result of Western colonialism and demand reparations (RIA Novosti, February 16). Sergey Lavrov, head of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reiterating rhetoric from the United Nations, lamented that the de-colonization process was never finished (, February 21, 2019). He proposed to “finalize the work of the Soviet Union in the United Nations and free the 17 territories that the metropolis [the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, and France] are not planning to set free” (, February 16).

Moscow plans to make “anti-colonialism” its main trump card in confronting Western countries. This is an attempt to increase its weight and popularity in the countries of the Global South, in which Sub-Saharan Africa takes center stage, akin to the pre-1991 period.

Russia’s choice of anti-colonialism as one of the critical tools in its battle for influence in Africa is primarily premised on three main pillars. First, Moscow claims that the West misuses and misinterprets the term—best visible in the United States —in its foreign policy.

Second, the Kremlin increasingly blames the “West” and “capitalism” for the failures of politicians and broad masses of ordinary people in the countries of the Global South. Starting in 2023, Putin has exploited the issue of “colonialism” concerning African nations virtually in every major international event organized by Russia. For instance, in February 2023, Putin called African countries “Russia’s crucial and trustworthy partners” and stated that African nations and Russia are united in confronting neo-colonialism and its past crimes (, February 18, 2023). In March 2023, he once again blamed neo-colonialism for “imposing its will” and attempting to destroy the “traditional norms of morale” shared by Russia and its African counterparts (RBC, July 27, 2023).

Third, China uses and exploits this same theme. For instance, in 2021, the Chinese Embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo issued a statement claiming that “both China and Africa were victims of imperialism and neocolonialism,” which helps them today to “jointly defend their rights against political demonization and foreign interference” (, May 17, 2021).

Russia’s dependence on “confronting neocolonialism” in Africa relies on active disinformation campaigns. Moscow’s essential tools for this narrative are official media resources and various disinformation platforms. Notably, Russia recognized the strategic importance of “informational collaboration” with African nations—spreading disinformation in Africa—back in 2019, which was reflected in a report issued by the Roscongress Foundation (established by Putin in 2007) (, October 23, 2019). The report noted that the most effective way to promote Russia’s opinion in Africa would be to develop collaboration between Russian information outlets (such as RT, TASS, and Sputnik) and local media and to establish special training and courses for African journalists. Among the main problems identified by the report were the dominant position of Western media and the low level of information about Russia that locals were exposed to.

The report suggested two primary solutions for addressing these issues. First, Russian media expanded foreign correspondence networks in Africa. As noted at the time by Mikhail Bogdanov, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Special Representative of the President of Russia for the Middle East, and Russia’s key personality on issues related to the Middle East and Northern Africa region and Sub-Saharan Africa stated that by following this method Russia could “seriously influence certain established one-dimensional nature of international information space… including in Africa.” For this purpose, it was proposed to increase the role of the TASS news agency as Russia’s critical informational outlet. Consequently, by 2023, TASS claimed that, in 2024, it was planning to substantially extend its foreign correspondence network in Africa, opening new representation  in Kenya, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe, in addition to the already existing offices in Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa (Moskva24, September 1, 2023).

Second, Russian media strengthened cooperation with African media, which was declared in the 2019 report as the second most crucial task Russia should pursue. To this effect, by the end of 2023, Moscow had signed partnership agreements with media outlets such as Africa24 (Kenya), Afrique Média (Cameroon), Al-Ghad (Jordan), Pan African TV (Ghana), as well as countries such as Mali, the Central African Republic, and the Comoro Islands (, July 31, 2023). Furthermore, in the action plan of the Forum for Partnership Russia-Africa for 2023–2026 (adopted on July 28, 2023), the Kremlin stressed the need to develop a partnership with the African Union of Broadcasting (, July 28, 2023).

Russia is determined to strengthen its influence in Africa through the information space to make inroads with public opinion and convey the Kremlin’s own agendas. Moscow set to disseminate outward lies, elaborate disinformation, wild rumors, and conspiracy theories specifically aimed at tainting the West’s image in Africa.