Reviews | The main Russian propagandist in Latin America has changed his mind

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Vladimir Putin has been at war with Ukraine for over two months now, but he has been active on the propaganda front for much longer. And in Latin America, the Russian disinformation machine has been particularly effective.

RT News, the Spanish-language subsidiary of Russia Today, has more than 3.5 million followers on Twitter. Before YouTube blocked her, 6 million people followed her channel in Spanish. RT’s reach on Facebook is even greater: in recent years, its Spanish version has been more popular than its English counterpart, effectively pushing Russia’s favorite narratives in Latin America, stoking anti-Americanism and praising authoritarian regimes, all under the veil of a supposedly objective platform.

Once the war against Ukraine started, Actualidad RT and Sputnik Mundo, another Russian channel, has abandoned any claim of impartiality. A recent analysis proves that both outlets worked closely with Russian embassies in the Spanish-speaking world to amplify Kremlin propaganda. Russian state media and its diplomatic missions have turned to Telegram to promote Putin’s war logic.

For some of RT’s propagandists, this has brought an uncomfortable toll — or rather, an unmasking. Unable to claim the mantle of objectivity, they began to back down, carefully distancing themselves from the government they had served for years.

Take Inna Afinogenova. Born in southern Russia, Afinogenova is a charismatic communicator in Spanish, a language she speaks with remarkable fluency. She became the biggest Russia Today star in Latin America. “She’s the Spanish voice of Russian propaganda,” Iria Puyosa, senior researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told me.

Over the years, Afinogenova has produced videos mocking the very idea of ​​Russian propaganda and allegations of electoral interference in Latin America, criticize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó and defender of the Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro.

In the months leading up to the invasion, Afinogenova used her RT platform to rule out the possibility of a Russian assault. “January will come, then February and March; 2022 will come to an end…and you will surely continue to read in the mainstream media that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is imminent,” said Afinogenova. post in December. “Those of us who follow this conflict know that those who repeatedly warn of an alleged impending invasion do so not because they are ignorant, but because it is all part of a plan.”

After the Russian invasion, Afinogenova, usually an avid Twitter user, fell silent. A week into the war, she posted a provocative thread, criticizing the “blockade” against Russian state media. “They FINALLY found a reason to end even a hint of an awkward story,” she said. tweeted.

Then this week, 70 days into the brutal war she once rejected, Afinogenova posted a video in Spanish on YouTube. “I’m recording myself. There won’t be any graphics or special effects,” she says. “I owe you an explanation.” Afinogenova goes on to announce her resignation from Russia Today. I don’t agree with this war,” she explains. “I will never understand or justify a war that targets civilians.” Afinogenova then seems to hint at the true nature of Russia Today: “I won’t say if the platform I’ve worked for all these years does propaganda. The truth is, I don’t know. But I, personally, won’t do war propaganda.”

How are we supposed to react to the reversal of Afinogenova? (I sent him several messages on Twitter asking for comment, but did not receive a response).

Kevin Rothrok, editor of the independent Russian news site Medouza, warns against sympathy for such propaganda figures as Afinogenova. “She’s not one of those little cases,” Rothrok told me. “With over a quarter of a million followers, she is fully guilty.” Puyosa agrees. “It is not credible that she resigned because she is opposed to wars in general,” she pleads. “She has been a journalist for RT for 12 years. During this period, Russia was involved in many such conflicts.

Rothrok sees a pattern. “You’ll find that people who leave RT publicly usually try to absolve themselves by arguing that ‘the other side’ is bad, but they eventually decide that RT is bad too,” he told me.

“In the video where Afinogenova announces her resignation, she repeats key points of Russian propaganda against Ukraine, Europe and the United States,” Puyosa told me. “Listening to him, one wonders if there is a sector in Russia that proposes to stop the war given its political effect of strengthening NATO and this is a preparatory episode. Or it’s something much simpler: remove the “state-affiliated media” label from its accounts and increase its reach. »

But could a propagandist build a successful following on a Western platform?

Suddenly unemployed, Afinogenova is already looking for an opportunity. “I’m no longer funded by a supposed ‘evil government’,” she says at the end of her video. “But if there’s anyone from the axis of evil who wants to work with me, I’m all ears. I’m kidding, of course.

If only propaganda was a laughing matter.

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