RT en Español — the Spanish language counterpart to Kremlin-backed English language news site RT — has spread pro-Russia narratives in the lead-up to (and during) the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The posts have been garnering high numbers of interactions on Facebook and other social media sites.
Russian forces invaded Ukraine this week in an attempt to take over the country of 44 million people. Russian state-backed media — including RT and RT en Español (also known as RT Actualidad) — have propagated a pro-Russia slant on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. For example, this RT en Español video that gathered 130,000 Facebook reactions alone essentially painted Russia and Ukraine as equal aggressors.
RT en Español, and its other Spanish outlets like the Facebook page RT Play en Español, have been promoting a skewed narrative to Spanish speakers by spreading misleading information in Spanish on Facebook and YouTube in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Ukraine — including heavy criticisms of the United States’ actions. Further, Russian government-backed outlets have published significantly more content referencing Ukraine in Spanish than many of the other leading Spanish language news sites.
As previously reported in Foreign Policy:
According to Omelas tracking, during the last half of January, Russian government-owned outlets drummed up 1,600 posts that referenced Ukraine, including videos, articles, and social media content garnering 173,200 engagements—such as likes, shares, and comments—which was nearly 40 percent of engagements by users on Spanish-language stories about the crisis. Russia’s state-backed outlets more than doubled the output of the second-most prolific publisher of Spanish-language content on Ukraine, the Venezuelan opposition paper El Nacional, and U.S.-based outlets, led by Univision, CNN, and Telemundo, which published only 722 posts on the crisis.
Per a recent analysis from Equis Labs, RT en Español’s Facebook account with more than 18 million followers, shared multiple posts about Russia-Ukraine relations in the weeks prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Notably, these posts have received higher engagement than their other posts on Facebook.
Immediately following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, RT en Español’s new site became littered with articles covering Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — with a heavy bias supporting the invasion. For example, when reporting on Biden’s condemnation of Putin and call for sanctions against Russia, one article is prefaced with a subhed that reads:
These articles passed along Putin’s false justification for unwarranted acts of aggression against Ukraine to RT’s Spanish-speaking audience without any pushback or clarification.
Additionally, the invasion has consistently been downplayed by RT en Español as a “special military operation” with the intention to protect Ukrainians who have supposedly been subjected to abuse and genocide since 2014. Multiple news sources have cast doubt on Putin’s claims of genocide and abuse, including BuzzFeed news correspondent Christopher Miller, who debunked Russian claims that mass graves in Luhansk — the result of overflowing cemetaries during the 2014 hostilities between Ukraine and Russia — were evidence of a “genocide.”
RT’s Spanish YouTube channel, which has over 5.8 million subscribers, is also pushing biased reporting. One clip with over 300,000 views argues that the West’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion is hypocritical because of controversial positions the U.S. has taken and continues to take regarding disputed territories like Kosovo, Morocco, Israel, Taiwan, and Venezuela.
Other videos have been used to amplify Putin’s statements in which he claims that he had no other option but to invade Ukraine, as well as his narrativization of Ukraine as being in some way controlled by Nazis.
The European Union has now announced that it is banning Russian state-backed channels, including RT. Facebook, Google, and Twitter also announced ad restrictions for these outlets in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, ad revenue is a secondary goal to the main objective of RT — the proliferation of Russian state propaganda. Further, social media platforms have been notoriously slower at taking down Spanish language misinformation in comparison to English language misinformation — thereby making the spread of Russian disinformation especially volatile within Spanish-speaking networks.