Russia and Venezuela: Allies to disinform

Russia and Venezuela: Allies to disinform

Published on 12 Oct 2022

Research with Transparencia Venezuela, EsPajaVE and Cazadores de Fake News

We conducted an investigation in alliance with Transparencia Venezuela, EsPajaVE and Cazadores de Fake News on the disinformation and propaganda campaigns between Venezuela and Russia:

The alliance between Russia and Venezuela goes beyond the diplomatic corridors, beyond the cold headquarters of the United Nations, beyond the military forts where Venezuelan soldiers wield modern Russian weapons and beyond the joint work in the oil wells. Also, in terms of propaganda, there is a joint effort.

Russia not only demonstrates its interest in slowing down the West’s advance in Eastern Europe, what it calls the “near abroad”, but also wishes to play a strong role in the area of influence of the United States: Latin America. Already in 2008 in its strategic foreign policy lines, Russia had expressed its intention to give greater impetus to global relations with this part of the world.

The strategic lines document stresses that the Russian Federation will pursue the “development of regional and sub-regional integration in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) area, in the Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific regions, in Africa and Latin America”, given that integration partnerships are becoming increasingly important in the world economy and are emerging as an important factor in regional and sub-regional security, including peacemaking activities” 1.

This concept was updated in 2013, when the priority countries in Latin America for its interests were directly mentioned and the topic of “communications” was incorporated as a fundamental area 2.

Rafael Camargo Lima, explains in a journal on NATO strategic communications (2019) 3, that “Strategic communications were integrated into the kind of balancing strategy the Kremlin chose to employ.” He adds that “Russia’s more aggressive military posture also resulted in more offensive strategic communications, weaponizing the information sphere for military purposes and opposing narratives from the West.”

In 2008, Russia went to war with Georgia, one of its former republics: Researcher Vladimir Rouvinski points out that it was the “coverage of the war by the Western media that turned the Russian military victory into a defeat in terms of international public opinion” 4 (p 480).

At the end of that year, then President Dimitri Medvedev arrived in Caracas to participate in the summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America (ALBA) and not only gave his support, but also proposed his country as an associate member of the multilateral entity, made up of leftist nations and led by Havana and Caracas.

Russian communications support for the interests of leftist governments was not long in coming. In June 2009, Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya was overthrown and the ALBA diplomatic machinery was set in motion.

In Moscow, the Cuban Embassy organized a meeting of the group’s ambassadors to Russia, requesting Russia’s contribution to restoring democracy in Honduras. “Perhaps not surprisingly, but many Russian media outlets reported on the joint press conference, as well as on the ALBA Emergency Summit in Managua. The Russia Today news service provided in-depth coverage, from the ALBA perspective, as the story unfolded,” notes Rouvinski 4 (p. 484).

The researcher adds “It is difficult to judge to what extent the way the mass media in Russia presented the coverage of the crisis in Honduras could have encouraged Chavez to take a decision that Moscow had already been waiting for more than a year: a diplomatic recognition of the territories under the Russian sphere in the South Caucasus. In any case, the long-awaited words of ‘friend Hugo’ were finally expressed, during Chavez’s visit to Moscow in September 2009, when the Venezuelan president, ‘seizing the opportunity’ announced his country’s recognition” 4 (p. 484).

Russian communication support for Venezuela’s geostrategic interests in 2009 was well received in Caracas and would only be the beginning of joint work in this area.

Telesur: The communicational artillery

Venezuela had already promoted the creation of Telesur in 2005. An initiative in which Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay, all with leftist governments, were also associated. Chávez was convinced of the need to have a communicational “artillery” that would allow a different view of the leftist political processes in the world and narrated in Spanish 5.

At the beginning, the paradigm to follow was the Qatari news network Al Jazeera, with which an agreement was signed in 2006, as Telesur’s first president, Andrés Izarra, admitted at the time of the signing 6.

A journalist who held a senior position at Telesur, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains the reasons why the two networks drifted apart. In 2011, Al Jazeera showed on screen images of Tripoli’s Green Square, supposedly taken over by sectors opposed to Muammar Gaddafi. This had important implications for the development of the conflict in that country. But it was later proved to be a set-up and was denounced by Telesur and Russia Today (RT). 7

“Al Jazeera had a positioning and respect from the Latin American public. Telesur seeks to position itself in the Libyan conflict, and it achieves it thanks to this Al Jazeera montage, which is beginning to dethrone itself as a reference media”, explains the source.

A communicational rapprochement with Russia began then, while the interests of Putin and Chávez in the geopolitical and economic framework increasingly coincided. The former Minister of Communications, Andres Izarra, who left office in 2012, confirms through an email to this investigation that the rapprochement with Russia Today took place when he no longer had links with Telesur and while he was there “the relationship was minimal, almost null”.

Our journalistic source on condition of anonymity worked until 2014 at Telesur and witnessed the beginnings of the links with RT. “Telesur represented the great center of rapprochement of other countries to reach Latin America. There was not so much a journalistic interest, but for relationship building. In this way, Telesur served as a catapult for the penetration of channels such as RT or Arab media such as Al Mayadeen”, he explains.

He says that what is striking is how RT was able to strategically use Telesur to position itself in terms of political contacts, in the media and to appear linked as if it were the great ally of the Latin American news network based in Venezuela. He explains that Telesur, as compensation, received training courses from RT and, since it functioned as a news agency, it provided them with Russian images. “These ties became closer over time,” he says.

RT in Moscow

In Moscow, Russia Today’s work has a particular dynamic. What seems to be important is not so much the journalistic truth, but the narrative according to the Kremlin’s interests.

Edgar Espinoza is a Venezuelan who worked between September 2011 and September 2013 in the offices of Russia Today in Moscow and agreed to collaborate for this investigation from his residence in Spain. He explains that “the governments that had an affinity with Vladimir Putin had a better treatment when it came to reflecting the news. If something negative happened, they tried to give it a more positive nuance, to look for other experts, people or analysts to give a more favorable point of view to those governments. It happened in the case of Venezuela with Chávez, Maduro and Argentina”.

To get the right news treatment, there was no need for editorial meetings where the news angles were discussed, it was enough with a recruitment and selection policy to have the appropriate personnel to respond to their interests. “These channels like RT and Sputnik are mostly staffed by people who are not journalists. They are people who have a certain loyalty and allegiance to the government and they put them in those positions so that nothing gets out of hand, because the priority is to give Russia’s point of view. There are kids who study philology or economics and then learn a little Spanish and immediately they are put to work as editors or journalists,” says Espinoza.

He comments that there is a kind of unwritten contract in the way information is treated, “in which it is known that we speak well of countries that are sympathetic to Russia, and not so well of governments that criticize Russia. So we no longer have to set an editorial line directly, but everyone just takes it.

Vision of the Kremlin on the Venezuelan screen

In 2014 -after Chávez’s death and with Nicolás Maduro in power- Russia’s invasion of Crimea took place. At that time Telesur and Russia Today are already aligned and share the same narrative of that event.

A Telesur note on the web says on the subject: “Crimea and Russia have a centuries-old historical and cultural relationship, a fact that was reflected in the result of the 2014 referendum”, which originated the Russian accession of that territory 8.

That same year they exchange material: RT broadcasts Oliver Stone’s documentary My Friend Hugo, on the life of Chávez produced by the Latin American network; and Telesur broadcasts the Russian produced program Why? on the bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO in 1999.

Russia Today began to be broadcasted in 2014 in Open Digital Television and through Directv, later it would be incorporated to the offer of the cable company Inter, always in its basic package. Celebrating this fact, President Nicolás Maduro granted an interview to Eva Golinger, then RT correspondent in Caracas, in which she highlighted: “RT is a revolution in the processes of change of the old communicational schemes in the world, such as Telesur”, she stated 9. She said that RT and Telesur “are like two pillars that are pointing the way of what alternative communication should be” 9.

More than 90 cable TV operators throughout the country carry Russia Today’s signal, being the one with the largest coverage Inter. Simple TV used to offer it as part of its channel 709, but in March 2022 it went off the air, due to the impossibility of using North American satellites because of the sanctions imposed on the media after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which were complied with by the American Directv, provider of the signal offered by the Venezuelan cable operator 10.

A 2018 report by the Rand Corporation studies RT’s role as part of the Russian propaganda structure 11. In 2022 American sanctions backed up that reading, just as the European Parliament passed a resolution against the network to prevent “poisonous and harmful disinformation in Europe” 12.

Intergovernmental agreements

In the area of communications, relations have continued to strengthen. On April 12, 2021, the highest authorities in the field of communication from Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Grenada met online to discuss joint strategies of ALBA members in that area. In this sense, they approved “To establish contacts and new collaboration alliances with media from allied countries, such as Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and others, with a view to projecting the achievements of the Alliance in other latitudes and making our realities known at the global level” 13.

Following these instructions, in October 2021 an inter-ministerial agreement on communications between Russia and Venezuela was established during the development of the XV Russia-Venezuela High-Level Commission. At the end of the meeting the Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information of Venezuela and the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of Russia signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the field of mass communications 14.

In 2022, since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian narratives are replicated in Venezuelan state media; with the use of terms such as “special mission” instead of “invasion”, stigmatizing the Ukrainian government and hiding Ukrainian civilian deaths in news reporting.

Recent analysis shows that RT and Sputnik aligned with Russian embassies in the Spanish-speaking world to amplify Kremlin propaganda. Both Russian state media and their diplomatic missions turned to Telegram to promote Putin’s war justification. These are findings from a study published by the Atlantic Council’s DFR Lab in March 2022 15.

Moscow loudspeakers and symbiosis

In Venezuela, the public media have become regular replicators of content produced by Russian platforms. News pieces from RT en Español are habitually used in local newscasts, particularly those of the state-owned Venezolana de Televisión during prime time, with an almost fixed presence on the screen of “channel 8” between 1 and 2 p.m. between two and three times a week, sharing the time slot with Telesur’s news broadcast. They are also used as a favorite source to portray international news events in their own newscasts but using images provided by the Russian platform.

The Venezuelan state-run news channel also uses Russian-made content in opinion programs. For example, in La Hojilla it is common to read headlines taken from the website of, at a rate of at least 3 to 5 per broadcast on average, in addition to videos taken from the news broadcasts of that channel, between June and July 2022 16. Likewise, it was common to include the micro Ahí les va 17, which until May of that year was led by Inna Afinogenova, who also served as deputy director of the website of the Russian media in Spanish.

Afinogenova was treated by the public media system as a star of “alternative” information. For example, the newspaper Últimas Noticias – whose editorial line is in tune with the official narrative – even in November 2020 described her as an “empress” in a note dedicated to the impact of the commentator on the discussion about the Sputnik V 18 vaccine.

On the other hand, several state-owned media outlets broadcast Russian content of different types, adapted to the contents promised in their programming. For example, the public channels VTV, TVes, Vive TV and Conciencia TV, as well as the TVepaco signal -close to the pro-government editorial lines- have broadcasted emblematic non-news RT programs such as La Lista de Erick (on tourism, with episodes recorded in Venezuela), Conversando con Correa (with the former Ecuadorian president), Tecnología en punta, El Zoom and Los Fixis, an animated children’s series.

Narrative and political links

In the Venezuelan state channel, VTV, they have not only replicated Russian content, but they have also included the narratives in their newscasts and news programs, thus stigmatizing nations with liberal democracies and whose governments are not considered allies, but above all they attack the main common enemy: the United States, which they present as an imperialist nation, racist, exploitative of the poorest nations, while Russia and its allies, would be part of the progressive forces that would advocate for the rights of the working classes.

With Telesur, the joint work led them to create a joint broadcasting program with Russia Today, called Venezuela and Russia in the spotlight. “In the first episode of their joint project, RT and Telesur channel, with the help of renowned international analysts, reveal the other side of the coin, offering the information hidden by large media corporations to dispel the “information intoxication” spread by the West against Russia and Venezuela”, said the promotional note of the program 20.

The relationship between the Venezuelan government and the RT channel has been evidenced not only on screen. In the last five years, the faces of the news from Caracas on that channel have been journalists Jessica Sosa and Érika Ortega Sanoja, both former members of Venezolana de Televisión and Radio Nacional de Venezuela.

In the case of Ortega Sanoja, she was elected as alternate deputy for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela in 2015. In 2016 she assumed the role of correspondent in Venezuela for RT, without publicly disclosing her resignation from parliamentary representation. Then her profile was inaugurated on the website of the Russian channel where she stated: “To exercise journalism in this important channel is to be part, as the Liberator Simón Bolívar used to say, of the ‘artillery of thought'”21.

RT’s transmissions from Caracas are mainly produced from Telesur’s headquarters in the Venezuelan capital, located in the Boleita Norte neighborhood.

War disinformation

On February 24, 2022, Russia formally launched a long-feared military operation on the soil of Ukraine -a former Soviet republic with a pro-Western government- with the alleged aim of “defending” the Russian ethnic minority in that country, according to Vladimir Putin. Since then, the communicational apparatus of the Venezuelan State has been at the service of the propaganda promoted by the Kremlin, or that benefits its war efforts.

On the first day of the invasion, Freddy Ñánez, Minister of Information of the government of Nicolás Maduro, published a series of messages that replicated the propaganda points of the Russian narrative on the military operation on Ukrainian territory, as part of a thread of posts on his Twitter account @luchaalmada 22. He then stated, “This military operation poses no threat to the civilian population of that country.”

That same day, the Spanish portal El País published that “civilian casualties (in Ukraine) have reached thirty, according to data from the Efe agency: four civilians have died in an attack in the Donetsk region and at least 22 in a Russian air attack in the Odessa region, on the shores of the Black Sea” 23.

Similarly, the Venezuelan minister stated in his Twitter profile that “the objective of the operation is to protect the people who have been abused and genocided by the neo-Nazi regime for eight years” 24. The term “neo-Nazi” was used by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speeches to justify the invasion and was repeated by pro-Russian media.

Nanez also published that “Ukrainian border guards do not resist Russian troops”. This is an unclear transcript of Russian Defense Ministry news reports taken from the official RT en Español 25. On February 26, the official echoed a falsehood that described Zelensky promising to annihilate pro-Russians in his country 26.

Ñáñez is not the only high-level official who has assumed such a role in the spokesmanship. The anti-blockade vice minister William Castillo promoted on Twitter on March 1 a video published by Katu Arkonada, collaborator of the Telesur channel, where a Nazi flag is shown waving in a trench as if it were current, but it has been circulating on the Internet at least since 2020 27.

On March 15, the Minister of University Education, Tibisay Lucena, said that she had seen videos of “pregnant women saving themselves from a bloody Russian bombardment to go and model for a famous brand”, in reference to the image of a woman with blankets in her arms and injuries on her face, during the evacuation process of the mother and child hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, after the Russian attack on that facility on March 9. With that statement he also echoed a falsehood 28.

Russian sources in numbers

As already mentioned, information generated from Russian media serves as a prominent source. Several news portals close to the Venezuelan government regularly quote or reproduce articles published by RT and Sputnik, the two Russian propaganda media with the greatest penetration in Latin America, and since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, the number of articles mentioning these media close to the Kremlin as sources has increased considerably.

In order to evaluate with numbers the influence of Sputnik and RT in the national information ecosystem, Cazadores de Fake News identified and analyzed publications on Venezuelan media websites that explicitly quoted, at least once, content generated by either of these two Russian media outlets.

Articles published between January 1, 2019 and May 30, 2022 were considered and three study phases were established:

  • Phase 1, Pre-pandemic: between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019 (the day the first COVID-19 pandemic-related article was identified).
  • Phase 2, Pandemic: between January 1, 2020 and February 15, 2022 (the day the first article related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was identified).
  • Phase 3, Invasion: between February 16, 2022 and May 30, 2022.

During the entire period studied, a total of 4,522 articles indexed by Google were identified, published by eight news portals controlled by chavismo. Among them, 4,402 articles (97.3%) were published by only five media: Telesur (, Venezolana de Televisión (, La Iguana (, Últimas Noticias ( and Agencia Venezuela News ( 29.

Sputnik was cited at least once in 2,413 different publications, and RT at least once in 1,989 of the 4,402 articles evaluated.

Citations to Sputnik and RT in the Venezuelan media studied remained more or less constant from January 2019 to July 2021. During this period, considering the five media as a whole, an average of 29.7 monthly citations to RT and 26.1 monthly citations to Sputnik were detected.

This monthly number of citations to both Russian media began to increase as of July 2021, reaching its peak in March 2022 when the five Venezuelan portals together published 331 articles citing Sputnik and 234 citing RT.

Distribution by subject

Considering the subject matter of the articles published in the five selected national media, with citations to Sputnik and RT, four categories were defined:

  • Articles on COVID-19: related to the discovery and progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, policies to control the spread of the virus, vaccines, treatments and the impact of the pandemic around the world.
  • Articles on the invasion of Ukraine: published since February 16, 2022 and related to the invasion of Ukraine: political statements and narratives of the Russian government, progress of the conflict, phase of negotiations and related economic impacts.
  • Political and social articles: political and social issues, not related to the COVID-19 pandemic or the invasion of Ukraine, highly influenced by the editorial line of the Russian media, including protests, war conflicts, events, among others.
  • Others: include various reports with little influence from the editorial line of the Russian media: natural catastrophes (earthquakes, earthquakes, hurricanes), space exploration, articles on health, food, ecological issues, among others.

Articles in the COVID-19 category are consistently cited by national media from the beginning of 2020 until the end of the study. Overall, national websites mentioned a monthly average of 16.2 articles with citations to Sputnik or RT during this period.

In the rest of the categories, there is an increase in the number of citations since July 2021 -three months after the meeting of the ALBA Ministries of Communications and three months before the signing of the Russia-Venezuela inter-ministerial agreement on communications- with the number of citations of articles on the categories Invasion of Ukraine and on Political and Social issues soaring at the beginning of 2022.

During 2022, Venezuelan media published 1,343 articles on the Invasion in Ukraine or on Political and Social issues, with citations to Sputnik and RT.

Distribution by national media

Among the five Venezuelan media studied, Telesur leads in the number of articles published with citations to the two Russian media (2076 articles), followed by Venezolana de Televisión (1562 articles), La Iguana (561 articles), Últimas Noticias (104 articles) and Venezuela News (99 articles).

The number of articles published monthly with citations to Sputnik and RT by Telesur and Venezolana de Televisión, increased notably since July 2021 and was boosted since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. La Iguana, Últimas Noticias and Venezuela News also increased the number of articles quoting Russian media since the beginning of the invasion:

Comparing the three time phases studied, there is a sustained increase in the monthly number of citations made to Sputnik and RT by the Venezuelan media evaluated.

During Phase 2 (pandemic, before the invasion of Ukraine), Telesur, Venezolana de Televisión and Últimas Noticias had already increased 1.5 to 2 times the number of articles published with citations to Russian media, compared to Phase 1 (pre-pandemic).

But since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine (Phase 3), all the media studied increased at least 3 times the number of citations made to Sputnik and RT.

La Iguana, is the media outlet that increased in the highest proportion of citations made to Russian media since February 2022, publishing 50 times more articles with mentions of Sputnik and RT than it used to publish between January 2020 and February 2022.

Overall, the five media studied increased on average 5.5 times the number of articles with citations to Sputnik and RT since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, compared to the number of citations made since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the entire period studied, between 82 and 93% of the articles with citations to Sputnik and RT published by Telesur, La Iguana, Últimas Noticias or Venezuela News, were related to political, social content or the invasion of Ukraine.

On these issues, Telesur published 422 articles with quotes from Sputnik and RT, followed by 403 published by La Iguana and 192 published by Venezolana de Televisión.

Sputnik is the Russian media with the highest number of articles cited, during the period under study, by Venezolana de Televisión (61.78% of the total number of citations to Sputnik or RT of the media), La Iguana (74.15%) and Últimas Noticias (60.58%). RT was mentioned in 54.43% of the articles published by Telesur and in 76.77% of the articles published by Venezuela News, which had citations to either of the two Russian media.

Contents guide

In addition to the action of official spokespersons or the digital broadcasting apparatus of the government of Nicolás Maduro, the state media have received specific instructions on how to deal with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, through messages sent via the WhatsApp platform to members of their newsrooms.

The team received from a confidential source, a member of the state-owned Venezuelan News Agency, a message forwarded on March 2, 2022 stating that the sender was “the boss”.

Among the instructions to the journalistic teams, it is indicated that the informative line must “dismantle the anti-Russian matrices”, that “Venezuela is not impartial”, that they must be attentive “to the official communiqués of the Russian Ministry of Defense and of President Putin” and, emphasizing, that it is not an invasion of Ukraine but “special operations to protect the population from the genocide of the Ukrainian neo-Nazi government”, with particular emphasis on the qualifier “neo-Nazi”.

The recent coverage of Venezuela News, which calls itself a news agency, deserves a special mention. Officially, it does not belong to the public media structure, but it is made up of journalists from VTV’s staff and the advertising on the WEB is exclusively from State-owned companies.

Pedro Carvajalino, communication figure of the government and anchor of the program Zurda Konducta on VTV, traveled to Russia in June 2022, together with journalist Lucía Córdova, former member of VTV and Telesur, to report from the area.

Network support

The communication management of the Venezuelan State regarding the conflict in Ukraine is framed within the “total support” of Nicolás Maduro to Vladimir Putin, announced on February 22 in a presidential chain and through social networks 30. Its reflection in the digital space occurred as of March 1, after the telephone call between both presidents in which they discussed how to “increase the alliance and the strategic support of Venezuela to Russia”, records the digital observatory ProBox 31.

As a reference, ProBox recorded between February 22 and 26, 2022 the first nine Twitter tags on the Ukraine-Russia conflict as trending on Twitter in Venezuela, with a clearly differentiated organic behavior with respect to what was seen from Maduro’s declared “total support” to Moscow.

Articles in the COVID-19 category are consistently cited by national media from the beginning of 2020 until the end of the study. Overall, national websites mentioned a monthly average of 16.2 articles with citations to Sputnik or RT during this period.

In the rest of the categories, there is an increase in the number of citations since July 2021 -three months after the meeting of the ALBA Ministries of Communications and three months before the signing of the Russia-Venezuela inter-ministerial agreement on communications- with the number of citations of articles on the categories Invasion of Ukraine and on Political and Social issues soaring at the beginning of 2022.

During 2022, Venezuelan media published 1,343 articles on the Invasion in Ukraine or on Political and Social issues, with citations to Sputnik and RT.

According to the report, exactly one week after Maduro’s announcement, “Radical Officialism” – a category determined by ProBox of accounts affiliated to the official discourse – positioned on Twitter the hashtag #EEUUIrrespeta, which reached approximately 38,000 messages referring to “hypocrisy” about the US stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. According to the analysis, at least 52.56% of his tweets were generated from possible automated or fake accounts.

On March 1, the Ministry of Communication and Information (MIPPCI) promoted #VenezuelaConRussia as the second hashtag of the day.

On March 2, several pro-government entities positioned this hashtag as a trend, mainly from the Twitter account of Venezolana de Televisión with around 4,105 tweets. Most of the messages were unrelated to the conflict and at least 42.95% were made by possible bots or accounts with inauthentic behavior.

On that day, MIPPCI positioned #VenezuelaApuestaALaPaz with around 240,000 tweets condemning “the disinformation campaign promoted by Western countries against Russia”. At least 68.43% of these messages were generated by accounts with inauthentic behavior.

On March 10, the Russian ambassador to Venezuela published through his Twitter account a message of a “high-level meeting” with Delcy Rodriguez, vice-president of the Maduro regime, in Turkey with the foreign minister of that country within the framework of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum. In said forum, Rodriguez referred to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, causing MIPPCI to post #DiálogoEsReconciliación on March 11 with images of the meeting, generating approximately 290,000 messages, 72.85% of which were made by accounts with possible inauthentic behavior.

On March 13, MIPPCI positioned the trend #DiplomaciaBolivariana talking again about Delcy Rodriguez’s intervention at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, with at least 300,000 tweets of which approximately 76.94% were made by possible bots.

Before the war information, Russia was a protagonist of digital propaganda on health and pandemic COVID-19. In 2021, the Officialism dominated the conversation about vaccines: While Civil Society demanded the importation of vaccines and massive vaccination days in the country, generating on average 6,011 tweets per trend (example: #VacunasYaParaTodos of April 11, 2021 with 42,071 tweets); the Officialism towards promotion of the Russian Sputnik V generating on average 488,377 tweets per trend.

In total, 21 local trends with content about Russia were registered in 2021, of which only one was informative about the arrival of the third batch of Sputnik V vaccines in the country. However, the other 20 trends were intentionally positioned by the Officialism, with approximately 7,376,983 tweets. However, this content was not organic, about 62% of tweets were made by possible bots or accounts with inauthentic behavior.

Up to June 2022, 19 trends on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were registered in Venezuela: 6 were promoted by the ruling party, all in support of the Russian Government, with 1,072,105 tweets, and with an average disorganization of 61.88%.

Russia’s and Venezuela’s attempts to influence and manipulate social networks already had an important precedent. The 2019 protests in Chile against the government of Sebastián Piñera had given clues about a possible joint work between these regimes, in this case to generate destabilization against an ideological adversary.

A study carried out by the Chilean government found that many of the messages that were disseminated through social networks during the intense protests that the nation experienced came from Moscow and Caracas.

The study, published by Chile’s La Tercera, explains that 43,129 tweets came from Venezuela, promoting hashtags such as #RenunciaPiñera. It adds that “out of ten tweets generated outside Chile, approximately six come from Venezuela”. And it adds that, from a random sample of the tweets, profiles of accounts were found that did not maintain a normal behavior, due to the fact that they were recently created accounts, other older ones, but without continuous movement and others used only to spread information related to the Chilean contingency 31.

This joint propaganda effort was detected in an Oxford University study entitled The Global Disinformation Order 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation 32, where Russia and Venezuela, in addition to China, India, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, were singled out as the leaders in the use of Twitter and Facebook to conduct foreign influence operations.

Venezuela as seen from a medium in Moscow

If we were to browse the print media – or a news web portal – in a city like Moscow, what would we find about Venezuela?

Since the invasion of Ukraine (24/02/2022), a law prohibits the Russian media from using the terms “war”, “aggression” or “invasion” instead of the official term “special military operation” (The New Yorker 04/03/2022). 33 Those who do not follow the governmental discourse can be accused of spreading “false news” and receive prison sentences of up to 15 years.

The news portal (“tape”) gives an idea of what is meant by a media with a “middle” position in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It is one of the most popular and receives some 600,000 visitors per day in a country of some 144 million inhabitants. Almost half of its staff resigned or was fired in 2014, after the media was acquired by an oligarch close to Putin (Alexander Mamut), and it has still encountered episodes of official censorship after the invasion of Ukraine 34.

Lenta records six entries on Venezuela (Венесуэла) since June 2021 35, some of them not favorable to Maduro’s government, e.g., a complaint by the Venezuelan Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences about the destruction of the environment by PDVSA 18/02/2022 36.

An alleged Lenta “critical report” on Venezuela, “Oil Curse” (signed by Victoria Kondrátieva, 6/24/2022) 37, is part of a series on countries affected by U.S. sanctions. Although the article questions the country’s “dependence on oil exports” and some of the economic policies of Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro, it is full of inaccuracies, biased views and half-truths about the recent history of the South American country.

“In the 1990s, large oligarchs shared power in Venezuela. Even then, the economy depended heavily on resource extraction, and all revenues from oil sales were divided among the political elites. Corruption and nepotism flourished in the country, social stratification was monstrous, ordinary citizens were poor. The situation began to change when the charismatic Hugo Chávez was elected President in 1998”, reads one of the paragraphs.

Vchernaya Moskva (“The Evening”) is not a media outlet directly financed by Vladimir Putin’s regime, but by the regional government of the city of Moscow (since 2011), and is probably the most popular printed evening newspaper in the capital. On its website, it has not published entries on Venezuela since December 2019. In the political events of that year, amid the thinness of its news coverage on the distant tropical country, it showed an editorial line aligned with the interests of the Maduro government. For example, to analyze the US sanctions, it turned to a pro-Maduro Russian political scientist as a source (29/01/2014) 38, without mentioning other aspects of the national situation.

The official media Rossiyskaya Gazeta (“Russian Gazette”) performs similar functions to the Official Gazette in Venezuela, although it also publishes general information. Since 2021, it has published five entries on Venezuela: as a curious fact, two of them were obituaries of figures from the world of culture and entertainment, dancer and dance teacher Nina Novak and entertainer Josemith Bermudez. In January 2021 he highlighted that the military alliance with Russia had turned the Venezuelan Aviation into “the strongest in the region” (26/01/2021) 39, and in May 2020 the Russian anti-aircraft systems deployed on the island of La Orchila “designed to protect Iranian oil tankers from a possible boarding by the United States” (23/05/2020) 40.

Tass is Russia’s official news agency, and its website offers an English-language version. It meticulously records diplomatic statements on the Russia-Venezuela bilateral relationship 41, and on any given day, for example July 4, 2022, it may contain up to eight pieces of information related to the South American country, including an article on the “unbeatability” of the Sukhoi fighter jet 42, commercial agreements between the two countries 43 – such as space cooperation 44 – the establishment of weekly flights 45 and mutual thanks for support in a hostile Western environment 46.

A search for the words “Venezuela” and “human rights” – the regime of NIcolás Maduro is under investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for violation of fundamental rights – in the Tass agency leads to results from May 2019 to find an unofficial source: a complaint by activists about arbitrary detentions in protests that year (25/05/2019).47

Otherwise, there are notes on the “violation of human rights” of Alex Saab, economic operator of the Maduro regime prosecuted in the USA (08/11/2021) 48, or the effects of Washington’s sanctions on the rights of citizens of countries such as Venezuela 49.

The famous Izvestia (“Herald”), which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017, was once the great national newspaper – obviously of officialist tendency – in the Soviet Union. After its dissolution in 1991, it reinvented itself as an independent, liberal-leaning media that rose to international prominence in the 1990s.

To survive in the context of growing authoritarianism, the media assumed a position increasingly inclined towards the Kremlin, and after its purchase by the National Media Group (2008), another conglomerate linked to oligarchic interests, it could be catalogued as a carrier of extremist positions in favor of Putin -and his international interests-. Izvestia bought the Maduro regime’s public thesis that the March 7, 2019 “mega-blackout” had been caused by a U.S. 50 cyber-attack.

Igor Pshenichnikov’s writing says: “All these ‘dramatic to tears’ articles and twitter messages about the lack of electric power in hospitals and even about the ‘death of 79 patients’, as reported by the same Senator Rubio (Marco, from the United States), turned out to be false (…) all hospitals in the country, on the initiative of President Maduro, were previously equipped with backup power generators. Not a single hospital was left without electricity and, consequently, no one died”.

Other papers referred to the swearing in of Juan Guaidó as “President in charge” stating that “a possible change of power in Venezuela could turn into a civil war with the subsequent introduction of peacekeepers” 51, with some more delving into scenarios of a hypothetical U.S. military invasion of Venezuela, even with the intervention of nuclear submarines 52.

Here you can see the original publication.

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