Evidence of Russia-Linked Influence Operations in Africa

Russia’s global strategy for reasserting itself as a geopolitical superpower has led to an increased presence in Africa, where it has broadened efforts to shape the continent’s politics and pursue new economic opportunities to allay the effects of sanctions. While the presence of Russian military instructors and paramilitary groups in Libya and the Central African Republic is well documented, there is emerging evidence that Russian-linked companies are now active in the information space as well. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the oligarch perhaps best known for running the Internet Research Agency, is central to this expansion.

In this post we identify a Facebook operation attributed to entities tied to Prigozhin — including, it appears, the Wagner Group (Частная военная компания Вагнера), a Russian organization that has served as a private military contractor in several African countries. The first allusion to a social media influence operation tied to Prigozhin stemmed from Daily Beast reporting and a document shared with us by the Dossier Center that suggested the existence of a cluster of Facebook Pages tied to the Wagner Group. We identified an initial cluster of Pages which targeted Libya, and shared the find with the Facebook Threat Intel team.

Facebook subsequently provided us with data on two related networks that they had been investigating previously. These networks have been targeting the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Sudan, and included “news” Pages and websites, and Pages purporting to belong to political parties as well as individual politicians. The part of the operation we analyzed included 7 Instagram accounts and 73 Facebook Pages. In total 1.72 million accounts liked the Facebook Pages, though we note that some of these likes are possibly from the same account across multiple Pages. The Page managers were quite active; in October 2019 alone there were 8,900 posts.