Nearly a year since invading Ukraine, Russia-aligned militants are using a coordinated French-language network spanning Facebook, YouTube, Telegram and other online channels to spread a pro-Kremlin message in Africa.
According to researchers at Logically, a company that tracks misinformation and disinformation online, the network, known as the “Russosphere,” is linked to a far-right Belgian political activist who helped oversee the 2014 massacres in Crimea and Dunbar. A controversial Russia-backed referendum in Sri Lanka. Activist Luc Michel is also involved in efforts to create an independent “Republic of Detroit” in the US by 2021, a plan that has received little attention but could serve as a blueprint for a joint Russian effort to influence US politics, Logically said .
It is the latest example of how Russia-linked influence campaigns are exploiting social and political divisions — a continuation of tactics used by the Kremlin during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It shows how social media remains a powerful channel for disseminating pro-Russian messages, even as big tech platforms try to combat manipulation and state-sponsored propaganda.
“These individuals’ connections to known platforms that support extremist and often Russia-related propaganda and misinformation suggest the potential for Russian state-affiliated misinformation campaigns to expand, directly or indirectly, to target specific U.S. communities, in addition to influence operations in Africa,” Logic researchers Kyle Walter and Nick Bakovich wrote in a report on Michel’s activities published Wednesday.
Michelle’s election watchdog group Eurasian Democracy and Election Observatory ‘gives legitimacy to expanded invasion of Ukraine’ [in 2022] Then oversaw the U.S. independence referendum,” Walter said in an interview.
Russia strives to build influence in Africa
Russia has for years expanded its efforts to build influence in Africa through arms deals, economic investments and military support in the form of the Wagner Group, Russian private mercenaries believed to be run by a ·Oligarch funding close to President Putin.
According to reports in Logically and The Daily Beast, Michel has long been focused on Africa, running a series of websites masquerading as local news organizations in countries including Chad, Equatorial Guinea and the Central African Republic.
“Much of Michel’s business in Africa promotes pan-Africanism and anti-colonial sentiment as a rallying point in support of Michel’s central thesis: that African countries would benefit from moving away from European colonizers and building closer ties with Russia. relationship,” Walter and Bakovich wrote.
Emerging in mid-2021, the Russosphere has amassed more than 65,000 fans and subscribers on platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, as well as messaging app Telegram and Russian social network VKontakte.
Linking social media accounts and website domain ownership records logically to Michel and Belgian activist Fabrice Béaur, who is also involved with the Eurasian Observatory for Democracy and Elections.
But they differ from Michel and Béaur’s previous “unified brand” efforts in Africa under the Russosphere name, in the degree of coordination between the different channels, and in the traction they’ve gained online, Walter said.
Logically, these accounts often share content from Michel, who has ties to European neo-Nazi groups and founded her own political party, the Parti Communautaire National-Européen, in 1994.
According to The Daily Beast, Michelle also has ties to the Wagner Group. Logically, it had identified a pro-Wagner Telegram group run by Michel and Borr, with about 800 members, that promoted mercenaries and shared contact information for recruiters.
Michel founded the Eurasian Organization for Democracy and Elections (EODE) in 2006. The group claims to monitor elections and “audit” the political system. It says it specializes in the former Soviet republics, as well as Moldova’s Transnistria region, Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region – areas whose status is disputed and which Russia encourages separatist movement. EODE also claims to have “delivered numerous missions” in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the Balkans and Black Sea region, and North Africa, especially Libya.
movement to declare detroit an independent republic
Logic also identified a separate campaign involving Michelle and EODE targeting Americans. EODE claimed to oversee a referendum in Detroit that attempted unsuccessfully to create a divided republic within the United States.
The Detroit Republic movement appears to be the product of Ramzu Yunus, an American whom Detroit city attorneys have dubbed a “snake oil salesman.” In 2021, city officials warned Detroit residents that Yunus was running a scam claiming to provide free housing.
Yunus and Michel also serve as co-chairs of the North Atlantic Peace Organization, which claims to be an alternative to NATO’s military and security alliance, focusing on “African-American and American citizens who uphold the right to self-determination” in the Russian Federation. ”
Logically’s Walter said that while Yunus’s separatist efforts in Detroit amounted to a “weird sideshow” that had no impact or impact, its message echoed what Michelle and the Russian Circle account had been pushing in Africa: The anti-colonial narrative centered on the need to break away from the West and align with Russia.
Walter describes this as Russian “firehose mode” propaganda: repackaging narratives for repeated use. Efforts in Detroit and across Africa will likely be used to identify and improve techniques that generate the most engagement, which will be reused at future events, he said.
Russia is “looking for a segment of the global population that is receptive to these messages,” Walter said.
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