Intelligence officials in the United States noticed the first surge in Russia against Spanish-speaking communities in August when President Vladimir V. Putin announced that he had given Sputnik V approval. Since then, Russia’s campaign has intensified, said two intelligence officials, who spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
State Department officials described Russia’s campaign of influence as a combination of state-sponsored media in Russia, highlighting reports warning of the dangers of US vaccines and promoting reports enthusiastic about the Russian-made vaccine.
A report was distributed at the Foreign Ministry last month detailing Russia’s efforts, officials said. A department spokeswoman said Russia was trying to promote its own vaccine while trying to “sow suspicion of Western vaccines” in the US. The Foreign Ministry’s Global Engagement Center analyzed over 1,000 Russian-facing Twitter accounts and found that Spanish-language accounts showed the greatest engagement. Russia’s campaign, the spokeswoman said, “undermines collective global efforts to end the global pandemic.”
The campaign of influence in Mexico best understands the efforts of the branches with ties to the Kremlin. It was different from previous Russian disinformation campaigns that put false and misleading information online. As social media companies have become more aggressive to root out disinformation, Russian operations have focused on promoting selective news that bypasses the truth, rather than rejecting it.
The new approach has been particularly effective as the Spanish-language Twitter and Facebook accounts of Russia Today and Sputnik, two state-controlled media outlets, are consistently among the most influential in Latin America, First Draft researchers said. “They have cultivated a large audience and are consistently in the top 10 most shared stories or links,” Longoria said.
In a statement, Russia Today said: “The RT stories referenced form part of our coverage and have been reported by many other news outlets. Although The Times frames them as part of a “disinformation” campaign, it nowhere points to any errors, inaccuracies or falsehoods in these stories, thereby unduly affecting RT coverage. “Sputnik didn’t respond to a request for comment.