Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russian Outlets Seize on Accounts of Racism 

Ukrainian frontier guards patrol an area along the Ukrainian-Russian border in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine on Feb. 23, 2022.

Russian efforts to flood the information environment and rally support for its invasion of Ukraine appear to be hitting a wall as many of Moscow's media outlets have been blocked in Europe and elsewhere.

But Russia's propagandists are still trying to seize on developments that could boost the country's fortunes in Africa.

Analysts at the Washington-based Alliance for Securing Democracy tell VOA that after initially ignoring the story, Russian-affiliated outlets have tried to amplify reports of Africans and other people of color meeting with racism as they try to flee the fighting in Ukraine.

The effort, so far, appears to be small, but has involved spreading the accounts in English, French and Arabic.

In one tweet February 28, Redfish, which describes itself as a "digital content creator," shared a compilation video posted to Twitter days earlier of Africans waiting to leave Ukraine, including what appears to be a mother and an infant.

"They have not allowed any Black people to enter outside the gates," a voice says on the original video.

Screen shot of Redfish tweet
Screen shot of Redfish tweet

That same day, Russia's Sputnik published a story with the headline, "Indians & Africans Fleeing Ukraine Accuse Ukrainian Border Security of Violence, Racism — Videos."

The article reported on statements from Indian officials and politicians and included videos of Ukranian border guards allegedly harassing Indians and Africans.

Screen shot from Sputnik
Screen shot from Sputnik

Days later, articles about the alleged racism and discrimination at the Ukraine border appeared on Sputnik's French-language website and RT's Arabic language site.

Screen shot from Sputnik France
Screen shot from Sputnik France
Screen shot arabic.rt
Screen shot arabic.rt

Ukrainian officials and others in the West, including the U.S. State Department, have condemned the reported discrimination.

"Any act of racial discrimination, particularly in a crisis, is inexcusable," a State Department spokesperson told VOA late last month, after the initial reports of racism began to emerge.

"We're engaging closely with the U.N. agencies on the ground to ensure that every single person crossing into neighboring countries is received equally," the official added.

Analysts say it is too early to tell whether Russia's efforts to play up racism are resonating with audiences, especially as recent data suggest Moscow's current influence operations, overall, are having trouble gaining traction.

But U.S. officials and lawmakers note Russia has had some degree of success in its long history of trying to amplify racial divides.

"We have seen them exploit racial fissures through a variety of means — including notable examples of Russian-linked disinformation activities that targeted U.S. elections — to undermine the United States and the West by sowing internal societal discord," the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, told VOA.

Russia could try to use the reports of discrimination against Africans, both verified and unverified, to further divisions in the West. They could also prove useful to Russia in Africa, as Moscow seeks to enlarge its military footprint there at the expense of the United States and other Western nations.

"These incidents could prove to be a propaganda gold mine for Russia," Schiff said.