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Tactics and tools How Russian propaganda uses anti-colonialism to achieve its goals

Anti-colonialism is a term used to describe various resistance movements against colonialism and imperialism. This is opposition to the policy of conquest of one country by another, its territory and peoples, political, economic and cultural enslavement. To become the leader of the Global South and anti-colonialism, Russia discredits Ukraine, although it itself is essentially the first among isolated dictatorships.

Russia instrumentalizes positive memories of the Soviet Union and its support for African wars of independence against Western colonialists. It uses positive memories of the past to enhance its influence now. On December 2, 2022, on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, the official Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in South Africa stated the following text: “Russia was one of the few world states that did not have colonies in Africa or other places and did not participate in the slave trade throughout its entire history. Russia did its best to help the peoples of the African continent gain freedom and sovereignty”. However, they are silent about information about the conquest of the peoples of Asia and Eastern Europe, because this contradicts the agenda of Russia, which positions itself as a fight against colonialism. Not to mention the war of aggression in Ukraine. Moreover, Russian propaganda does not mention the significant presence of Wagner group on the African continent, representing the interests of Russia and defending the Kremlin’s plans.

After Germany announced its readiness to transfer Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Putin said that Russia was forced to “repel the aggression of the collective West”. This term appeared in Putin’s rhetoric in 2021, but in the public space back in the early 2000s. By contrasting itself with the event, Russian propaganda puts pressure on the painful past of African countries that were at one time enslaved by European empires. Russian propaganda was able to present Russia’s war in Ukraine not as an aggressive one, but as a defensive one, in response to Western aggression. Allegedly, the Russian people have a special task to save the Ukrainians, because they oppose them and are waging an anti-imperial struggle against “Western oppression” - the same as the countries of Africa are waging.

At the end of January 2023, Russian Foreign Minister Serhii Lavrov arrived in Angola on a working visit. Then he made a statement to the media in which he compared the war in Ukraine with the war in Angola. During a meeting with Angolan Foreign Minister Tete  Antonio, Lavrov emphasized that “Russian-speaking Ukrainians” need Moscow’s protection, because Kyiv is biased against them.

On August 3, 2023, the speaker of the Russian State Duma, Viacheslav Volodin, wrote in his Telegram channel that “the USA, Great Britain and France must compensate African states for the damage caused” and this issue should be considered by the UN. He also accuses the United States and a number of Western countries of the fact that “colonial interests have not disappeared anywhere. Only the methods change”. Russian propaganda uses reflection tactics to make the same accusations against the West that they make against Russia itself, and to divert attention from the subject matter, which is the war in Ukraine and Russia's occupation of Ukrainian territories and enslavement of the Ukrainian people.

It is worth mentioning the grain. Russia not only allegedly “protects” Ukraine, but also devalues it as a partner. For African republics, Russian propaganda spreads narratives that Ukrainian grain, which is supposed to save them from famine, does not reach countries in need, but ends up in Europe as animal feed. Such statements were promoted, in particular, during the Second Russia-Africa Summit, held on July 27-28 in St. Petersburg. Thus, Russian propaganda discredits Ukraine and the Black Sea Grain Agreement and seeks to worsen its relations with Africa.

Russia plays the role of the poor heir to the former USSR empire. It has never recognized that the territories it has captured are colonies, and always justifies its actions by “voluntary annexation”, for example in the case of the Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Kherson regions temporarily occupied by Russia, or by the spread of the so-called “progressive Russian culture”, the fight against Nazism, etc. However, no matter what words Russian propaganda chooses, in fact, Moscow’s policy is the genocide of Ukrainians, the destruction of Ukrainian culture and the seizure of territories.

Russia now acts as a champion of justice and defender of enslaved peoples and victims of colonialism due to the fact that it is still not perceived as a colonial empire, and falsely pretends to be a friend of the African continent. Russian propaganda spreads anti-colonial messages that are pleasant to hear for African leaders and residents, and therefore gain adherence and can manipulate their opinions.

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