Using disinformation, economic coercion, and covert and overt political action, Moscow has sowed anti-US sentiment and weakened democratic institutions in Latin America—a strategic space critical for Washington—while shaping the behavior of Latin American governments in Russia’s favor. This report examines Russia’s strategic interests, objectives, and tactics in Latin America by exploring its use of media platforms, key influencers, and institutions, and it offers recommendations for how US policymakers can begin to push back against expanding Russian influence.

A mural of Russian president Vladimir Putin and late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is seen in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 2, 2022. (Photo by Matias Delacroix/AP)
A mural of Russian president Vladimir Putin and late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is seen in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 2, 2022. (Photo by Matias Delacroix/AP)

Summary

  • Moscow’s ongoing disinformation campaigns, part of its global efforts to restore Russia’s former status and counter the US-led Western liberal order, have found fertile ground in Latin America.
  • Russia has exploited distrust of the United States by characterizing the latter as intent on resource extraction and endorsing economic policies poorly suited to Latin America, offering Russia as a friendly, less intrusive alternative.
  • Successful information operations amplify Russian messaging through Russia-allied media platforms and networks of influential actors, including journalists, social media influencers, diplomats, and intellectuals from both the right and the left. 
  • Russia’s disinformation campaigns in Latin America, which have been active since early in Vladimir Putin’s presidency, increased around Russia’s 2014 and 2022 invasions of Ukraine. Their effect can be seen in shifting public opinion and in the reluctance of Latin American countries to provide matériel to Ukraine or to participate in sanctions on Russia.
  • The United States is not without friends and allies in the region, however, and several paths remain open to bolster relations in a part of the world critical to US strategic interests.

About the Report

This report attempts to establish a baseline understanding of Russian influence operations in Latin America, including the scope, impact, and implementation strategies of these undertakings. The report also offers US policymakers recommendations on how to push back, in a time of limited resources, on Russia’s broad expansion efforts in Latin America. Research was supported by the United States Institute of Peace.

About the Authors

Douglas Farah is the founder and president of IBI Consultants, LLC, specializing in transnational criminal organizations and extra-regional actors in the Western Hemisphere. From 2014 to 2022, he led the National Defense University’s Western Hemisphere Illicit Networks Review project. Román D. Ortiz is a senior consultant with IBI Consultants and senior analyst with the Center for International Security at Francisco de Vitoria University in Madrid.


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