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Information war

Moscow has more friends than we like to think

Pro-Russia protestors in Bangui, Central African Republic last month

It has become a truism of the war in Ukraine that the wheels have fallen off Putin’s propaganda machine, says Carl Miller in The Atlantic. “Russia’s playbook is outdated and has failed to adapt,” the theory goes. Moscow has been stunned by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s great skill as a media operator, we’re told, and by the “viral ferocity” of Kyiv’s own keyboard warriors. Witness The Washington Post’s claim that “Ukraine and its partisans are running circles around Putin and his propagandists in the battle for hearts and minds, both in Ukraine and abroad”. My own social media feeds are “wall-to-wall Zelensky, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and farmers towing tanks”.

But in much of the world, the blunt reality is that “antipathy for the West is deep and sympathy for Russia is real”. When disinformation researchers investigated the Twitter hashtags #IStandWithPutin and #IStandWithRussia, they found large clusters of users in India, Iran, Pakistan, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya pushing Kremlin-friendly memes with “vivid anti-colonial and anti-Western imagery”. Some celebrated “Russia’s great friendship toward India” or Putin’s apparent role in African liberation, but many targeted the perceived hypocrisy of the West, and the “aggression of Nato expansion”. Too often in the West we assume our online information spaces are far more universal than they are. The fact that we don’t see “information warfare” doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. “It might just mean that ours is not the battleground on which it’s being fought.”

🇨🇳🇮🇳 Some 131 countries have come out against Russia, says The Economist, including America, Canada and most of western Europe, meaning the West-leaning camp accounts for more than 70% of global GDP. But it only accounts for 36% of the world’s population. Russia-leaning China and neutral India, with more than a billion people apiece, skew the results.