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

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 28

(Source: Anadolu Agency)

(Part One)

Executive Summary

  • Russian special services are actively disseminating disinformation to influence public opinion in Africa.
  • The disinformation campaign replicates Soviet-era themes that emphasize narratives alleging the West’s compromising of African countries’ sovereignty.
  • These themes continue to have resonance in the region because of historical legacies and because they can readily obfuscate the source of these themes. 

Russia employs diverse and complex strategies to spread its agenda in Africa. In addition to “legitimately” collaborating with African media outlets, Kremlin propagandists rely on a number of illegitimate practices. These include spreading disinformation in the form of rumors and conspiracy theories with outlandish content. These tactics have had some success with Moscow’s target audiences in Africa due to low digital literacy on the continent.

According to the latest information, the Russian special services have launched a new disinformation campaign in Africa. Rumors and conspiracy theories are being disseminated via the new “African Initiative” platform, created by Roskomnadzor and supervised by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) (, accessed February 17). Reportedly, some members of “African Initiative” may have ties to the notorious Wagner Group and its former leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s media wing, which was deeply involved in spreading disinformation for the mercenary group. These members are now engaged in spreading falsehoods about the United States, such as Washington’s efforts to “spread bio labs in Africa” to “test drugs and vaccines on locals.”

The main goal of the Russian disinformation campaign is to discredit the image of Western medical institutions and facilities in Africa, spreading doubt and confusion (, February 8). Medicine-related conspiracy theories have been an integral part of Moscow’s disinformation toolkit for decades, both during Soviet times with HIV/AIDS-related conspiracies and, more recently, with anti-vaccination campaigns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with the United States, France has been the target of Russia’s assaults for quite some time. Moscow believes French influence in Francophone  Africa (so-called “French Africa”) is nearing its end. Russian propaganda claims that Paris is “running from Africa” (RIA Novosti October 9, 2023). In the near future, the Kremlin will likely attempt to destabilize the situation and spread anti-French sentiments in Chad, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Gabon, as these countries still host French military bases and facilities (RIA Novosti, February 13).

The platform Russosphère (“Russian Sphere”) is one of the primary information outlets spreading pro-Russian and anti-Western disinformation in Africa. The platform, created in 2021, spreads narratives glorifying Russia and Russian mercenaries in Africa and vilifying France, Ukraine, and the West more generally (, February 7, 2023). According to investigative journalists, the platform is managed by Luc Michel, a 65-year-old Belgian extremist and self-proclaimed Stalinist, who was likely involved with Prigozhin and his disinformation empire. Even though Michel has vehemently denied his ties to Prigozhin or the Russian state, he is believed to have been engaged in Russian disinformation operations in Burundi, Chad, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, and others (BBC, February 1, 2023).

Russia is also believed to be behind a new major anti-Western disinformation campaign led by the “African Initiative.” A February report from The Insider claims that the “African Initiative” recently launched a disinformation assault alleging that US-based pharmacy corporations working in Africa are engaged in conducting medical experiments on the local population (, February 8). The report claims that the new campaign—described as a combination of Prigozhin’s experience and resources, and knowledge of the Fifth Service (Service of Operational Information and International Relations) of the FSB–is headed by an experienced member of the FSB, Artem Kureev (, January 28).

In its investigation, The Insider found that one of the critical dimensions of Kureev’s work is recruiting Russia-based African students. The report claims that some of these students “could become correspondents upon their return to their countries” and promote Russia-friendly ideas and messages. Kureev also personally claimed that Russia is strategically interested in opening up new correspondence points in Mali and Burkina-Faso, where the critical problem is not the lack of financial means but rather “the lack of human resources” (correspondents and journalists) (, December 18, 2023). The investigative report argues that the rhetoric of the FSB-tight platform, by and large, replicates anti-Western themes and ideas postulated by the Soviet propaganda, where topics such as “neo-colonialism” and “American imperialism” as well as stories like “US attempt to conquer Africa with Facebook, dollars, and LGBT” dominate the agenda.

The central theme of Russia’s disinformation campaign in Africa is a conspiracy theory about bio-labs and the testing of unknown drugs on the African population. An article posted by RusAfro Media, a Kureev-related platform, titled “Recipe of sovereign medicine. Healthcare and Russia’s African strategy” de facto reiterates the Kremlin’s “Ukraine-related-bio-lab-conspiracy-theory,” which, in Africa’s context, is naturally provided with an anti-colonial flavor (, January 31).

The piece links the idea of sovereignty with Russia’s advocacy of the rights and liberties of countries of the so-called Global South whose “healthcare sovereignty” is being destroyed by the “Western world” through medical experiments and illicit drug-testing mechanisms (, January 16). According to the report, in addition to FSB-created information resources, Russia continues to actively spread disinformation and conspiracies via Prigozhin-established network of Telegram channels “Smile and Wave,” “The Tent of Gaddafi,” “To duck down in Bangui,” “The catcher in Sudan,” “Arabic Africa,” and “Here was French West Africa” as well as newly emerging Telegram platforms such as “African Wonderland.” The report argues that, for now, Russia’s disinformation attempts have not produced a significant opinion-changing impact on Africans. However, given Russia’s determination and a low level of digital literacy in Africa, specific results could be expected soon.