From Gaza to Global South: How Russia Weaponizes Neocolonial Narratives

Russia is spearheading a disinformation campaign to portray the US and Israel as a neocolonial villain – all while waging its own revanchist colonial war against Ukraine.

Putin, with his background in intelligence rather than the military, excels at exploiting adversaries’ vulnerabilities. Putin’s specialty is creating chaos and he sees the war in Gaza as an opportunity to undermine the West. For his vision of a multipolar world, support for the West must fail and his propaganda machine is weaponizing false colonial narratives in Gaza, positioning Russia as a defender against American hegemony and a liberator of the colonial system.

Russia supports Hamas in order to weaken the US by undermining Israel and escalating conflict, as it believes that US support for Israel will diminish Washington’s influence in the Middle East. By acting as a mediator and supporting Hamas, Putin is attempting to gain ground in the Middle East and the Global South as a diplomatic partner against what Putin refers to as “the ugly neocolonial system of international relations.” He frames the war as an imperial conflict driven by the West, claiming the “ugly neocolonial system” is coming to an end and instead a multipolar world will replace it. By supporting Hamas, Moscow is leading the fight against US hegemony and the unipolar world it created. In a speech made by Putin in 2023, he explained that the “dictatorship of American hegemony” is weakening and the war between Israel and Hamas is evidence of this.

This sentiment is repeated throughout the media in Russia. The director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, Ivan Timofeev, blames the conflict on the weakness of the US and the unipolarity of the international system, claiming the war represents another phase in the reconstruction of the global order. Ruslan Mamedov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow’s Center of Arab and Islamic Studies, known for its anti-Israel stance, suggests that Arab state leaders remain entrenched in the outdated unipolar world order. He contends that a new world order can only emerge by dismantling this mindset.

Aleksandr Dugin, a leading figure in the extreme Russian nationalist movement, interprets the Gaza conflict as a component of a broader struggle between Russia and the West. He argues that as Western nations, along with their “Israeli proxy,” engage in actions against the Muslim world, Muslim countries will recognize the Israel-Hamas conflict as part of a larger battle for a new world order and they will need to unite to help the transition to a multipolar world.

Putin is attempting to promote Russia as the leader of a global anti-colonial movement, explicitly outlined in Russia’s new foreign policy concept. In February 2024, Putin created “The Forum of Supporters for the Fight Against Neocolonialism and the Freedom of Nations” in Moscow and expressed support for Palestine. The forum brought together approximately 400 delegates from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Commonwealth of Independent States to combat contemporary practices of neocolonialism. Putin criticized the West for spreading aggressive neocolonialism and asserted Russia’s support for national liberation movements to dismantle the colonial system.

Russia’s claims about the West’s neocolonial ambitions are ironic given Putin’s ongoing colonial war in Ukraine, which denies the existence of the Ukrainian people and nation, as well as its renewed imperialist ambitions in Africa and Latin America disguised as support for their independence and sovereignty from the West.

This is nothing new, as Russia has a long history of colonialism. Russia’s colonial interest in Africa goes back to the 19th century with efforts to spread Russian Orthodoxy and proposing Russian-African companies for resource extraction in the region. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union aligned with newly independent African countries, supporting socialist or non-aligned states and aiding insurgencies.

Today, Russia continues to work as a colonial power in Africa, exploiting its vast natural resources while using disinformation campaigns to blame the West. It has also adopted memory diplomacy to gain favor with African nations, including funding monuments and holding conferences focused on Soviet support of decolonization.

Similarly, in Latin America, Russia is also using its colonial script to exploit natural resources and Putin maintains strong ties with authoritarian regimes in Latin America and is actively involved in military and nuclear energy engagements in the region.

Putin’s expansion of colonial ambitions in the Middle East and his weaponization of neocolonial narratives in the wake of the war in Gaza reveals a concerning trend. To counter Russia, the United States and Israel can shift the narrative and launch a campaign that puts the Kremlin on the defensive and expose the true nature of Putin’s colonial aspirations.

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