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Como Rusia enganou aos sudafricanos na guerra entre Rusia e Ucraína

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, marked the continuation of its regional conquest that began in 2014. Initially aiming to annex Ukraine entirely, Russia’s ambitions quickly faltered, leading to a prolonged conflict concentrated in the eastern Donbas region. – writes Štephan Dubček.

This war, which has been ongoing for 2 years now, has seen severe casualties among Ukrainian civilians, destroyed critical infrastructure, and triggered mass displacement not seen since the Second World War. Meanwhile, Russia’s reputation in the international community, among which it is now considered a pariah state, has been severely tarnished by reports of extensive violations of the laws of war. Its embassies around the world, including in Pretoria, have been engaged in a sophisticated misinformation campaign aimed at positively tilting public opinion, especially in the developing world, in Moscow’s favour.

Do mesmo xeito que ocorre con moitas misións rusas no estranxeiro, a embaixada rusa con sede en Pretoria participou nunha agresiva campaña de redes sociais en X (anteriormente Twitter) que busca cambiar a mesa e retratar a Moscova como vítima da agresión occidental e da OTAN. Entre febreiro e abril de 2024, a embaixada encargouse das publicacións de 466 publicacións, ademais de republicar 231 contidos antigos e amplificar 66 pezas de propaganda do Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores (MFA) ruso aos seus 171,000 seguidores. Estes esforzos deron lugar a case 24 millóns de visualizacións e case 800,000 compromisos, mostrando o importante alcance da súa campaña.

Representación visual dos temas e narracións identificadas nas publicacións X (anteriormente Twitter) compartidas pola embaixada rusa en Sudáfrica. Canto maior sexa a palabra, maior ocorrencia da palabra ou frase.

Unha análise por parte de Ucraína Crisis Media Center (UCMC) highlights the embassy’s strategic focus. Instead of  promoting bilateral relations between Moscow and Pretoria, or furthering the country’s economic aims at a time of severe crisis, the embassy’s activity on social media has instead focused on pushing two primary narratives, namely portraying the U.S. and the West more generally as imperial aggressors. This narrative employs South Africa’s historical grievances, and seeks to align Russia with anti-colonial sentiment that the embassy believes will resonate with citizens. Posts also glorify Russia’s military prowess and depict Ukraine’s leadership as a “Nazi” regime which is supported by Western imperialism.

A mensaxe central que estes esforzos pretenden promover é que Rusia é non un agresor at all. Rather, Moscow should rightly be seen as the last sole defender against Western encroachment, defending its allies in the developing world in particular from modern day imperialistic tendencies. Posts oft claim that NATO is establishing bases in Ukraine with an eye towards threatening Russia and its allies and that the government of Ukraine has no legitimacy, but instead, is a terrorist regime. Top of the agenda, according to the embassy, should be the “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine.

propaganda

Through these social media efforts, the Russian military is praised for standing up to these threats. President Putin’s rhetoric is amplified, drawing “obvious” connections to Russia’s historical resistance to Western attempts at domination. Efforts are pushed forward without any regard for Russian losses throughout the course of the conflict, and without any regard for the severe economic impact. Un informe de Rand Corporation estimou que a guerra custou a Rusia entre 81 e 104 millóns de dólares en perdas de PIB só en 2022. Isto nin sequera explica o enorme custo da súa campaña militar, centrándose só no custo para a economía. O Balance Militar en a informe 2024, observou que Rusia perdeu máis de 2,900 tanques de batalla, aproximadamente tantos como tiña en inventario activo ao inicio da operación en Ucraína.

A embaixada en Sudáfrica colabora con influenciadores locais, coa intención de que amplicen as narracións relevantes. Julius Malema, o líder da organización radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), aceptou o chamamento e apoiou vocalmente a Rusia, enmarcando o conflito como algo que debe ser apoiado xa que é unha postura contra o imperialismo. Nun entrevista coa BBC, Malema expressed his desire to “align and arm” Russia against imperialist forces, such as the United States, Europe and their allies. Similarly, student leader Nkosinathi Mabilane of UNISA, the largest correspondence university in the world spoke out praising Russia’s historical resilience against Western expansionism. This was done through the drawing of far-fetched parallels between Russia’s current actions and its past resistance against Western colonial forces. Mabilane, at a diplomatic event with the Russian Ambassador Ilya Rogachev, eloxiou o dirixente estudantil A postura de Rusia contra o imperialismo occidental, instando aos seus concidadáns de Sudáfrica a ver a Rusia como un modelo de soberanía e independencia a imitar e replicar.

TikTok tamén se utilizou como medio para transmitir a mensaxe. Influencers como Lulama Anderson foron recrutados para difundir propaganda rusa. Un destes vídeos, que atraeu preto de 1.8 millóns de visualizacións, fixo a falsa afirmación de que Rusia está gañando a guerra a pesar do apoio militar occidental. Outro vídeo deste tipo made the case against Ukraine joining NATO, as it has the potential to ignite World War III. This further echoed Mabilane’s earlier remarks about the West pushing smaller nations toward global conflict, identifying a coordinated effort to push similar messaging.

o Embaixada de Ucraína in South Africa’s social media presents a very different reality, with a minimal presence. From January to April 2024, anything which it did post was primarily focused on the documentation of Agresión rusa. Fixo un punto en destacar a destrución de infraestruturas críticas e pediu o fin da guerra xunto aos retorno of prisoners of war and abducted children in line with international law. Even the posts by the Russian Embassy’s account which were not directly related to the war, ended up finding a military connection. Such were the two posts celebrating South Africa’s Freedom Day, which ended up being posts nostalgically recalling Russia’s support during South Africa’s liberation struggle, and naturally depicting Russia as a longstanding ally.

The disparity in the volume on the respective social media accounts underscores the Russian Embassy’s rather aggressive strategy to dominate the online space and thought, to win South African hearts and minds. Ignoring the reality on the ground in what is a blatant attempt to dictate reality as Moscow sees it, the embassy’s tweets often paise Russia and President Putin for efforts to eliminate what it calls, the “Nazi Kyiv regime”, all the while ignoring completely the heavy toll on Russia’s economy and military capacity. A post on May 9th for example, quoted Putin, asserting that the Russian Armed Forces’ actions in Ukraine are proof of Russian military valour, likening soldiers to their ancestors who fought in the Great Patriotic War.

Esta agresiva campaña de desinformación foi reforzada por influencers e personalidades políticas locais, cun obxectivo moi claro en mente; a distorsión da comprensión pública da guerra. É fundamental para os sudafricanos avaliar criticamente a información que atopan na esfera en liña, buscar perspectivas de contrapeso e, o máis importante, só confiar en fontes cribles. Isto vólvese cada vez máis importante a medida que se desenvolven conflitos globais no ámbito dixital. Así, a alfabetización mediática e o pensamento crítico están a ser primordiales para contrarrestar a influencia xeneralizada da propaganda.

Russia’s strategy in South Africa reflects a broader geopolitical tactic which it employs in other locales as well; that of narrative control. Through the unabashed manipulation of historical fact and with the help of local influencers perceived by the public to be reliable, Russia seeks to undermine international support for Ukraine and reposition itself as the true victim of Western aggression. The integrity of the global information environment is dependent on our ability to differentiate between truth and manipulation with an eye towards promoting more informed understanding and when necessary, debate, in this era of toxic misinformation.

Štephan Dubček recibiu o seu estudante de posgrao na Universidade de Bohemia do Sur en České Budějovice e actualmente avanza na súa investigación sobre a historia dos legados coloniais en África.

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