Russia's Information War Aimed at African States

Dr. E.C. Beuck

For some time now, Russia has been directing disinformation at African states regarding the looming food crisis sparked by their invasion of Ukraine. The core of the message is that Western sanctions against Russia are the source of these coming shortages, and that it is Ukraine which has been deliberately destroying its own grain supplies. Essentially, Russia is weaponizing hunger.

An example of these efforts include a June 24 article on the Russian state media outlet Sputnik titled “How the UK is Doing Its Best to Stir a Food Crisis While Pinning the Blame on Russia.” Despite the claim, diplomats from the West have stated that no sanctions have been imposed on any foods or fertilizers coming out of Russia to any third country, and thus sanctions are not to blame. Another prong to this Russian strategy is to be seen like they are trying to relieve the issue, at least for states that are friendly to Russia. For example, the pro-Russia governor of the occupied territories of Zaporizhzhya recently announced on the social-media app Telegram that 7,000 metric tons of grain would be sent to “friendly” countries. Clearly the hope is to say that Russia can’t be the cause of the food and fertilizer supply issues, since we are sending additional supplies to states in need. Indeed, according to Russia, any belief contrary to this stance is simply the result of lies coming from the West. Never mind that the grain is stolen from Ukraine.

Contrary to the rhetoric and reports coming out of Russia in support of their disinformation campaign, the reality on the ground speaks a different story. Odesa, a major Black Sea port from which much of Ukraines exports depart to African trading partners, has been under threat from Russia for some time now, and has recently been included as a target for Russia’s expanded war aims as Russian forces have been directed to expand operations around the country. Beyond prevent exports, Russian forces have acted consistently to steal Ukrainian grain stores and, failing that, destroy them where they can do so, such as when Russian forces struck a grain terminal in Mykolaiv, thereby destroying about 300 tons of grain in storage for export.

To drive home the scale of this impact, one only needs to consider the Ukrainian economy itself. According to the International Trade Centre, 8 percent of the world’s wheat, 12 percent of its barley, 13 percent of its maize, and 18 percent of its sunflower-seed oil come from here (highlight all). Indeed, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the losses of Ukrainian grain in the world export market due Russia’s blockade of the country’s ports, as well as its acts theft or outright destruction of grains in storage, will inflict not just rising prices in the rest of the world but severe shortages in African states.

Many countries in Africa have relied for some time on wheat, vegetable oil, and fertilizer imports coming from both Russia and Ukraine, and the war has contributed to increasing already high food prices in the region. Kenya, for example, in 2021 imported nearly 30 percent of its wheat from these two countries, and the supply disruption will likely lead to an impact of the production of bread in the African country. This is beyond worrying given that nearly 7 out of 10 people were food insecure before the war started in Ukraine. Nigeria is another state affected, as it also imports significant amounts of wheat from both warring states, and has a population that sees nearly 6 out of 10 being food insecure according to data before the war. Other African states that will likely see similar impacts as the war goes on include Cameroon, Tanzania, Uganda, and Sudan, all of whom source more than 40 percent of their wheat imports from both Russia and Ukraine.

Given the suffering, death, and economic upheaval sure to follow, Russia has put forth significant effort to frame the food supply issues as emanating from the West and not Russian actions. Likely the hope is to eventually push African states suffering from soaring food prices and a lack of adequate imported supply to pressure the West to give in to at least some of Russia’s demands to relieve their precarious situation. The unfortunate reality is that, despite Russia being at the core of why this food shortage is occurring, the pressures of needing to provide for their own populations might push African states to lobby for an end to the war that favors Russian desires to a degree in order to relieve the looming food crisis.

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Holding a PhD in Political Science, I write about current events and on political topics related to international relations, international law, conflict both between and within states, and the interactions between technology and politics.

Washington, DC
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