Latin America Loves Russia Today Publication
Russia Today’s highest readership outside of Russia comes from its Spanish-language publications.
Recently, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland made an impassioned call for countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America to fight against the “powerful role of post-Soviet propaganda” and “fake news” surrounding the ongoing war in Ukraine. Indeed, there’s little dispute that the world’s “airwaves”—conventional media and social media both—have been chock full of disinformation emanating from Moscow regarding the war, its causes, and progress.
To be clear, Russian disinformation aimed at undermining support for democracy worldwide and promoting other Russian overseas priorities began long before Putin ordered his invasion of Ukraine. What UN votes and lack of support for Western-led sanctions in the Global South has laid bare is how Russian efforts seem to have increasingly taken hold with audiences like Spanish speakers in Latin America.
Russian government-controlled media outlets operate Spanish language variants of both Sputnik and Russia Today, or RT. With more than 200 Spanish-speaking employees at its Moscow headquarters, RT en Español, also known as Actualidad RT, has developed a successful network of offices across Latin America. In fact, the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford recently found that “RT en Español is more successful than any of the other services of RT, which include English, Arabic, German and French.”
In some ways, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The former Soviet Union invested vast resources to leverage anti-colonial sentiments and reinforce voices of those that fought against the spread of western ideals like multiparty democracy and market-based economics. Even though many of the countries targeted by the USSR eventually reformed their socialist political systems, Russia found ways to hold on to bilateral relations with several through arms deals and non-market economic partnerships, and by quietly supporting whatever remained of socialist parties and voices. It’s no coincidence that RT en Español’s principle offices are located in Caracas, Havana, and Buenos Aires.
When RT en Español launched in 2009, it exploited anti-Western fatigue and the desire for a more “multipolar world order” that was in fashion in some parts of Latin America. Since then, RT’s popularity across television and social media platforms has only skyrocketed, with RT en Español’ssocial media presence outpacing those of Western Spanish-language mass media outlets. RT en Español’scable service now reaches audiences in nearly all Latin American countries, as well as a number of Caribbean nations. This widespread broadcasting range, along with free television programming and website publications on actualidad.rt.com, make RT particularly accessible.
Americans often express surprise that more of Latin America and other developing economies in the southern hemisphere haven’t been willing to join the West in condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine or in supporting economic sanctions. While perceived economic self-interest may be the single biggest reason for their relative silence—even as thousands of innocent people have been killed by Putin’s invasion and numerous atrocities have occurred—false narratives about the war, both from RT and other pro-Russian outlets, have likely made their acquiescence politically easier. After all, RT relentlessly runs narratives that blame the war on “NATO aggression,” America’s “anti-Russian bias,” and the West’s “neo-colonial foreign policy.” As to the government in Kyiv, RT has reported over and over again, with a straight face, that Kyiv is essentially governed by Nazis… making Putin a liberator of sorts.
In some parts of Latin America, local outlets go out of their way to echo RT’s themes and influence. For instance, Telesur, a Venezuelan broadcasting company that is also popular in Argentina, has aired myriad stories that paint a positive picture of Russia’s reputation during the war. In 2022, the Brookings Institution found that Russian embassies in Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico, and independent journalists in Latin America are among the most popular pro-Russian voices on Twitter.
This blog was researched and drafted with the assistance of Kurtis Yan.