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How Russian support is growing in the developing world

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 to demand the departure of the French Ambassador and forces military.


Russia’s sphere of influence is expanding as propaganda and diplomatic efforts grow and Western powers fail to counter the Kremlin’s narratives, analysts suggest.

A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit earlier this month said net support for Russia has grown in the year since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow steps up its diplomatic charm offensive against previously neutral or geopolitically non-aligned countries.

Assessing countries’ sanctions implementation, UN voting patterns, national political trends and official statements alongside 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 largest country in this category, but other developing countries (including South Africa, Mali and Burkina Faso) have also entered this group, which represents 33% of the world’s population. “, says the EIU report, adding that these trends highlight the growing influence of Russia in Africa.

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

While South Africa sparked controversy in February by organizing joint military exercises with Russia and China on the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said the West’s “massive arms transfer” to Ukraine had changed Pretoria’s outlook and hailed the country’s “growing bilateral economic relations” with Moscow.

The EIU said the number of neutral countries has fallen from 32 to 35, now accounting for almost 31% of the world’s population.

“Some previously Western-aligned countries, including Colombia, Turkey and Qatar, have entered this category as their governments seek to derive economic benefits from engagement with both sides,” the EIU said. .

“However, Russia and China are upping the ante by recruiting non-aligned and neutral countries.”

By contrast, the number of countries actively condemning Russia has fallen from 131 to 122. The US-EU-led bloc, including “Western-leaning” countries, accounts for about 36% of the world’s population and has demonstrated a “strong level of collaboration on sanctions” as well as consistent military and economic support for Ukraine, according to the report.

However, this bloc also accounts for just under 68% of global GDP, highlighting an emerging disconnect between wealthy Western economies and countries in the South.

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“Russian propaganda in developing countries is working extremely well, stoking resentment against former colonial powers, and I would say also fueling the idea that Western country sanctions are fueling global food insecurity, global energy insecurity, especially in emerging countries,” EIU Global Forecasting Director Agathe Demarais told CNBC.

“Obviously it’s wrong, it’s not, but I think it works very well in disinformation campaigns, propaganda campaigns.”

The Russian government has been contacted for comment.

Demarais pointed out that there is a perceived “hypocrisy” in Western condemnations of Russia in the Global South, given the history of Western military intervention – a sentiment that Russia has sought to foment in order to deflect the attention of his actions in Ukraine.

Many people in developed Western countries consider the idea of ​​Russia to be an “attractive” and “attractive” country for some in the global South to be “impossible”, Demarais said, which underestimates the power of the message of Russia and its positioning as a saviour.

Russia and China have increasingly portrayed themselves to developing countries as alternatives to the West as economic and military partners, as neither will attach relating to democracy or human rights to diplomatic relations.

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“There’s a lack of willingness to recognize that maybe people don’t think like us, and that’s really concerning,” Demarais said.

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

Countering organized Russian propaganda begins with acknowledging the problem and raising awareness of the goals and effectiveness of the sanctions, she said.

“I think there’s a lack of knowledge about sanctions and how they work, what they do, etc., and Russia obviously uses that to their advantage. It’s going to be a very long-term trend, I don’t am not sure there is any quick magic fix.It’s not a pretty picture.

A “regional conflict”

India is the largest economic and population center still under the EIU’s “neutral” designation, and Moscow claimed earlier this week that oil exports to India had increased 22-fold in the past year. .

At the recent Raisina Dialogue geopolitical forum in New Delhi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made delegates laugh when he suggested that the war in Ukraine was being “launched against” Russia.

However, he received supportive applause when he lamented Western hypocrisy and double standards as he highlighted the US invasion of Iraq and other perceived Western transgressions.

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

Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s European Center, was in the audience and told CNBC that the outlook on the war was dramatically different in India.

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“What becomes clear when you step out of American/European circles is that for us, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the very clear centerpiece of most of our policy decisions and conversations, and then, when you talk to people who are not in the United States or Europe, it becomes clear that the conflict is very regional and that it is a much smaller part of a larger puzzle” , Rizzo told CNBC by phone from Washington DC.

“What I found interesting and heard a few times is that this is a regional conflict that the United States and Europe, particularly the United States, have made global because of our great competition with Russia and our global sanctions regime.”

She said many developing countries are being put in positions they “don’t want to be in” due to demands from the United States and Europe to get more onside with Ukraine, even though many countries constituting the South actually voted in favor of the UN resolution. condemning the invasion.

“What’s happened in the United States is that this framework of democracies versus autocracies has been the framing position of Biden and his foreign policy, and I don’t think that lands for much of the rest. of the world, and it’s not a framework that I think countries identify with in many ways,” Rizzo said.

“It’s interesting how the conversations we have here don’t necessarily reflect what’s happening in countries that are very important, I think, to our foreign policy and our geopolitical position.”

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She also suggested it was too simplistic to attribute quicksand primarily to Russian disinformation campaigns, as it underestimates the countries’ agency and self-interest.

“Not all countries decide to accept Russian energy imports etc. or have pro-Russian sentiment among their population, all this is not the result of information campaigns or Russian disinformation campaigns,” she said.

“Part of it is the very real consequences of Russia looking at these countries as opportunities, with the United States not seen as the benevolent hegemon as we like to see ourselves. It’s a lot more complicated than Russia pushing misinformation stories., and unfortunately I think when you attribute, as we like to do, pro-Russian sentiment to that, you lose a lot of what’s really going on.”


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