US says Russia funds Latin America-wide anti-Ukraine disinformation drive

By Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Tuesday accused Russia of financing a Latin America-wide disinformation campaign that feeds media contacts with propaganda and fake news aimed at weakening support for Ukraine and boosting anti-U.S. and anti-NATO sentiments.

“The Kremlin’s ultimate goal appears to be to launder its propaganda and disinformation through local media in a way that feels organic to Latin American audiences,” said a State Department statement.

The Russian embassy called the U.S. allegations “unfounded” in an email late Tuesday.

The United States, it continued, “attributes to us the use of its favorite method – interference in the internal political processes of independent states. The reason for this is simple: the United States is losing popularity in this region.”

The State Department statement was the latest volley by Washington in its attempts to counter what it says is Russia’s use of disinformation to promote the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals.

On Oct. 20 the U.S. released a declassified intelligence assessment, sent to more than 100 governments, that said Moscow is using spies, social media and Russian state-run media to erode public faith in the integrity of democratic elections.

Tuesday’s statement said Russia uses media contacts in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay to spread disinformation to weaken backing for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion and fuel anti-U.S. and anti-NATO views.

The “information manipulation campaign” has been coordinated by three Russian organizations, The Social Design Agency (SDA), the Institute for Internet Development, and Structura, said the statement. It called them “influence-for-hire” firms that have co-opted local media and influencers in Latin America.

The European Union imposed sanctions on SDA and Structura in July, accusing them of spreading propaganda supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Teams in Russia create content that is sent to “cultivated” journalists in Latin America “for review, editing and ultimately publication in mass media,” the U.S. State Department said.

It named online Spanish-language news outlets, Pressenza, whose website says it was established in Milan, Italy, in 2009 and registered in Ecuador since 2014, and Chile-based El Ciudadano, as the primary outlets that carry the material.

Officials at the outlets did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Alexander Villegas in Santiago; Editing by Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis)