‘It’s not a pretty picture’: Russia’s support in developing countries is growing

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – January 20, 2023: A banner of Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen during a protest in support of Burkina Faso’s President Captain Ibrahim Traore and demanding the withdrawal of the French ambassador and armed forces.


Russia’s sphere of influence is expanding as propaganda and diplomatic efforts gather momentum and Western powers fail to counter Kremlin narratives, analysts say.

A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit earlier this month suggested that net support for Russia has increased in the year since the all-out invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow ramps up its diplomatic charm offensive against previously neutral or geopolitically misaligned countries.

Assessing countries’ enforcement of sanctions, UN voting patterns, domestic political trends and official statements, as well as economic, political, military and historical ties, the EIU observed a significant increase in the number of countries now leaning towards Russia — from 29 last year to 35 today .

“China remains the most significant country in this category, but other developing countries (particularly South Africa, Mali and Burkina Faso) have also entered this group, which accounts for 33% of the world’s population,” the EIU report said, adding to underscore these trends the growing influence of Russia in Africa.

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this month, and the two leaders vowed to deepen economic ties.

While South Africa stirred controversy in February by holding joint military exercises with Russia and China on the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor noted that the “massive transfer of arms” from the West to Ukraine had changed Pretoria’s perspective and praised the country’s “growing bilateral economic ties” with Moscow.

The EIU said the number of neutral countries had increased from 32 to 35 and now accounted for almost 31% of the world’s population.

“Some previously western-facing countries, including Colombia, Turkey and Qatar, have entered this category as their governments seek economic benefits from working with both sides,” the EIU said.

“However, both Russia and China are upping the ante in recruiting those countries that are non-aligned and neutral.”

In contrast, the number of countries actively condemning Russia fell from 131 to 122. The US-European Union-led bloc, including “Western-oriented” countries, represents about 36% of the world’s population and has a “strong measure “Showed sanctions” along with consistent military and economic support to Ukraine, the report said.

However, this bloc also represents just under 68% of global GDP, underscoring a looming divide between prosperous Western economies and the Global South.

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“Russian propaganda in developing countries works very well, it fuels resentment against former colonial powers, and I would say it also fuels the idea that sanctions from Western countries are fueling global food insecurity and global energy insecurity, particularly in emerging economies,” according to EIU Global Forecasting Director Agathe Demarais told CNBC.

“Obviously that’s wrong, that’s not the case, but I think it works very well for disinformation campaigns, propaganda campaigns.”

The Russian government has been asked for comment.

Demarais stressed that Western condemnations of Russia are perceived in the Global South as “hypocrisy” given the history of Western military interventions – a sentiment Russia is trying to foment in order to divert attention from its actions in Ukraine.

Many in developed Western countries consider the notion that Russia is an “appealing” and “attractive” country to some in the Global South as “impossible,” Demarais said, underestimating the power of the Russian embassy and its positioning as a savior.

Russia and China have increasingly presented themselves to developing countries as alternatives to the West as economic and military partners, with neither attaching demands for democracy or human rights to diplomatic relations.

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“There is a lack of willingness to acknowledge that people may not think the way we do, and that’s really worrying,” Demarais said.

Western leaders “think that we’re on the right side of history, which is true, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to explain.”

To counter organized Russian propaganda, one must first acknowledge the problem and create awareness of the goals and effectiveness of sanctions, she said.

“I think there is a lack of knowledge about sanctions and how they work, what they do etc. and Russia is obviously using this to its advantage. It’s going to be a very long term trend so I’m not sure no quick magic fix. It’s not a pretty picture.

A “regional conflict”

The largest economic and population center that still falls under the EIU’s “neutral” designation was India, and Moscow earlier this week claimed that oil is exported to India has increased 22-fold over the past year.

At the recent geopolitical forum of the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov caused laughter from delegates when he suggested that the Ukraine war had “started” against Russia.

However, he received supportive applause as he bemoaned Western hypocrisy and double standards in highlighting the US-led invasion of Iraq and other perceived Western transgressions.

He also tried to push the narrative that Western sanctions were responsible for the grain supply shortages that developing countries were experiencing as a result of the war.

Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center, was in the audience and told CNBC that the perspectives on the war in India were vastly different.

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“What becomes clear if you are outside of US/European circles is that for us the Russian invasion of Ukraine is at the very clear core of a lot of our policy decisions and conversations, and then when you talk to people, who are not in the United States or Europe, it is becoming clear that the conflict is very regional and is a much smaller piece of a larger puzzle,” Rizzo told CNBC by phone from Washington DC

“What I found interesting, what I’ve heard a couple of times, is that this is a regional conflict that the US and Europe, especially the US, have made global because of our great power competition with Russia and our global sanctions regime.”

She said many developing countries were being put in positions they “don’t want to be in” by calls from the US and Europe to side more closely with Ukraine, even though many nations that make up the Global South actually support the UN -Resolution would have voted condemning the invasion.

“What happened in the US is that this framework of democracies versus autocracies was the framework position of Biden and his foreign policy and I don’t think that applies to much of the rest of the world and that’s not a framework I think countries identify with it in many ways,” Rizzo said.

“It’s interesting to see that the conversations we’re having here don’t necessarily reflect what’s happening in countries that I think are very important to our foreign policy and geopolitical standing.”

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She also pointed out that attributing the quicksand mainly to Russian disinformation campaigns is too easy as it underestimates the countries’ capacity to act and their self-interest.

“Not every country that decides to accept Russian energy imports, etc., or has a pro-Russian sentiment among its population, not everything is the result of Russian information campaigns or disinformation campaigns,” she said.

“Some of these are the very real consequences of Russia viewing these countries as opportunities, since the US is not viewed as the benevolent hegemonic power we like to think of ourselves. It’s a lot more complicated than Russia pushing disinformation narratives, and unfortunately I think if you attribute pro-Russia sentiment to this, as we like to do, you lose a whole lot of what’s actually going on.

Source : www.cnbc.com

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