Russian Disinformation Seeks to Capitalize on Weapons Trafficking in Africa
As Ukraine acquires weapons and materiel from NATO and other Western countries, Russia is pushing disinformation using social media to say that these weapons are falling into the hands of terrorists and criminals in Africa and around the world.
“A considerable part of these weapons have already entered, or will soon enter, the black market,” Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, told reporters in Moscow in October 2022. “Now the world community is facing this.”
“The NATO military cargos are ending up in the hands of terrorists, extremists and criminal groups in the Middle East, Central Africa and Southeast Asia,” Zakharova added, giving no evidence for her assertion, according to a Reuters report.
Similar claims have surfaced in other media environments. The Lebanon-based news channel Al Mayadeen reported on its website in December 2022 that weapons sent to Ukraine had ended up in the hands of Finnish motorcycle gangs, Asian black markets, and Albania and Kosovo.
In July 2022, Newsweek magazine published an analysis of pro-Russian social media accounts that engaged in a disinformation campaign by faking weapons smuggling and unauthorized sales originating in Ukraine.
The report also says Russia is “weaponizing” legitimate Western news reports by twisting their words and meaning.
Russia’s persistent disinformation efforts also rely on unwitting, credible public figures repeating the phony information. Such was the case with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who may have restated the false information in a November speech: “Regrettably, the situation in the Sahel and the raging war in Ukraine serve as major sources of weapons and fighters that bolster the ranks of the terrorists in Lake Chad Region,” according to Modern Diplomacy.
Although plausible, fact-checking website Polygraph.info said that there have been “no public reports of arms from the Eastern European conflict coming into the Lake Chad Basin region.” In fact, most evidence suggests that terrorists and criminals are seizing and using weapons from legitimate army, police and peacekeeping forces.
The Africa Center for Strategic Studies reported in March 2022 that arms losses from peace operations were a “significant problem,” with the primary sources of illicit weapons in Africa from “national stockpiles and peacekeeping forces.”
Moreover, huge numbers of weapons have made their way out of Libya since 2011 and into the hands of militants across the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin.
Former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi stockpiled arms across the country, including an estimated 1 million AK-47 rifles.
“Those stockpiles were immense,” Ambassador Martin Kimani, the permanent representative of Kenya to the United Nations, told Africa Renewal magazine in 2021. “Today, thousands of Africans who have been killed in the Sahel by terrorist groups have been killed by the stockpiles diverted out of Libya following the fall of that government.”
Regardless of whether weapons originate from Libyan stockpiles or are pilfered from peacekeepers and national security forces, evidence indicates that most originate and circulate within Africa. Despite these facts, Russian disinformation efforts continue to malign Ukraine’s reputation in Africa by mixing facts of weapons trafficking within Africa with fictitious Ukraine origins, thus obscuring the truth within the confusing, murky world of illicit arms trafficking.
As the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels is credited with saying: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”
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