Evo Morales is fighting for a fourth term as president of Bolivia. A group of Kremlin-related Russian political consultants responsible for social media was sent to La Paz a few months ago to help Morales, three unrelated sources told The Project. Moscow wants to guarantee its state-owned companies, primarily Rosatom, a long presence in Bolivia.
“They do not have the highest results, but there are never public scandals” — this phrase was used by Russian official, who asked not to be named, to describe the work of the political strategists who work for Rosatom. It may seem strange, but in Russia, election campaigns are not only for politicians. Often, large state-owned companies also run elections, hiring political consultants. Thus, state-owned company Rosatom, which runs all civic and military nuclear facilities in Russia, is traditionally responsible for elections in the cities where its facilities are located. For example, in 2016, when Russia elected the lower chamber of its Parliament, political strategists hired by Rosatom ensured the victory of the ruling “United Russia” party in 10 cities, the newspaper “Kommersant” reported.
In 2019, the ability of Rosatom to conduct an election campaign so covertly that it was not noticed by any media in the world for five months came in handy in Latin America.
In July 2019, a solemn ceremony of awarding the title of honorary doctor was held in the Russian Peoples’ Friendship University (RUDN) in Moscow. That title was given to a man who did not even have a college diploma and was famous for chewing a coca leaf at a United Nations conference. “Dr. Evo sounds a bit strange, ” Bolivian President Evo Morales marveled at the title. He has been the head of that Latin American country for almost 14 years, and during this time he has managed to visit Moscow several times, where he was received with constant warmth. After the ceremony at the RUDN, he went to the Kremlin, where he was met by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The visit ended with the signing of numerous agreements between the two countries.
Morales has served three consecutive terms as president, although this is not particularly consistent with the Bolivian Constitution. But most Bolivians have long forgiven Morales almost everything: the standard of living in the country rose sharply under him, mostly due to high oil and gas prices.
But beginning in 2016, the situation became more complicated. After a series of internal political scandals, it became difficult for Morales to hold his post. He lost a specially organized referendum on constitutional changes that would have allowed him to be elected to a fourth term. After that, he did not give up the idea of retaining power, and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice allowed him to participate in the elections on October 20.
The campaign was not easy: It was accompanied by street protests that broke out in Bolivia because the authorities were slow to respond to large-scale forest fires in the Bolivian Amazon. In such difficult conditions, the president needed some help.
The meeting between Putin and Morales was attended by a man who had almost as much at stake in the outcome of the Bolivian elections as Morales himself the head of Rosatom, Alexey Likhachev.
Having carried out the nationalization of the economy during his earlier terms, Morales welcomed Russian companies to the Bolivian market. So, Rosatom has a contract with Bolivia for the construction of a nuclear center worth $300 million in El Alto. Russian state energy giant Gazprom became a participant in gas production projects, and “Russian Helicopters” (part of the state company “Rostech”) has a plan to sell helicopters to the Bolivian army.
If Morales lost the election, the fate of these contracts “would be in doubt, ” because the new government can always change the policy “under pressure from the Americans” and deprive Russia of the contracts, the source close to the company’s management told The Project. And there were reasons to be afraid that Morales would be defeated. During the whole campaign polls showed that he would not gain enough votes to win the first round.
Thus, the Russian state nuclear company decided to support Morales, the source close to the management of Rosatom as well as a political consultant close to the Kremlin told The Project, on condition of anonymity. According to one of the sources, Rosatom had previously hired political advisers to help with its projects abroad. Without this, he said, contracts “repeatedly broke down.”
“When Rosatom appears on the territory of any country, environmentalists, Chinese, French, Americans immediately appeared, and they began to shout that it is impossible to build (nuclear facilities — The Project) here.” The last high-profile scandal involving Rosatom happened DATE in South Africa: The opposition and the media accused the then-president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, of receiving money from Russia for signing a contract for the construction of a nuclear power plant. As a result, Zuma lost power, and Rosatom the contract. Now the company, according to the source, sends political strategists to all points of the world where it has interests to create “a favorable information field.”
Map of Rosatom foreign projects
China. The first two power units of Tianwan NPP were put into operation in 2007. In 2019 Rosatom signed a contract for the construction of the seventh and eighth power units. In 2018, Rosatom started the construction of power units at another Chinese nuclear power plant — Syudapu. Rosatom also signed a contract with China to supply radionuclide units for the Chinese lunar program.
Uzbekistan. In 2020, Roastom expects to begin construction of the first nuclear power plant in Uzbekistan.
Belarus. Since 2011, the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Belarus continues. This is the largest project in the history of Russian-Belarusian cooperation. The station will generate a quarter of the country’s electricity.
Rwanda. In 2019, Roastom and Rwanda agreed to launch a project to build a nuclear science and technology center in the country.
India. The construction of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, the first unit of which was launched in 2016, continues. In the same year, the second phase of the NPP was started, and in 2017, construction of the third and fourth units began. Rosatom expects the launch of the fifth and sixth power units by 2025.
Bangladesh. Since 2013, the construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant “Ruppur” continues. Commissioning is scheduled for 2023.
Vietnam. In 2016, construction of the Ninthuan-1 nuclear power plant, which was to be the first nuclear power plant in Southeast Asia, was suspended. The head of Rosatom at the time, Sergey Kiriyenko, called this station “a fulcrum for the development of peaceful use of nuclear energy, nuclear technologies in the Asia-Pacific region.” The project was suspended after electricity consumption in the country declined and the prices for traditional energy sources fell
Republic of Congo and other African states. In may 2019, Russia and Congo signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the use of peaceful nuclear energy. Over the past two years, Rosatom has signed similar contracts with more than a dozen other African countries to strengthen influence on the continent.
Sudan. In 2017, an agreement was signed to develop a nuclear power plant in Sudan, but no specific projects have been launched since then.
Cuba. Rosatom will build an irradiation center on the island for radiation treatment of agricultural products. This treatment is an alternative to using chemical processing to increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.
Chile. Uranium One Group (Rosatom’s subsidiary) plans to buy 51% in the project to develop the largest lithium deposit in Chile, which produces a third of the world’s lithium output.
Turkey. in April 2018, construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, Akkuyu, began. Commissioning is scheduled for 2023.
Egypt. Egyptplans to build the region’s first nuclear power plant “al-Dabaa.” The first unit of the station is expected to be put into operation in 2026. The project is estimated at $30 billion, $25 billion of which is a loan from Russia.
Bolivia. In September 2017, Rosatom and the Bolivian Atomic Energy Agency signed a contract to build a nuclear research center in El Alto. Rosatom also signed a memorandum of cooperation in the field of the lithium industry. Bolivia ranks first in the world in reserves of this metal.
Hungary. In 2014, Rosatom signed a contract for the construction of new units for Paks NPP. Russia also gave Hungary a $10 billion loan to complete the station.
Finland. In 2014 Rosatom acquired 34% of Fennovoima and the joint company plans to start the construction of NPP “Hanhikivi-1.” Finnish authorities have still not issued a license, which delayed the construction.
In recent years, Rosatom’s political capabilities have increased even more. In 2016, the head of the company, Sergey Kiriyenko, moved to the position of first deputy head of the presidential administration. In this post he is responsible for all domestic policy in Russia and actively interacts with political strategists. At the same time, he retained his influence at Rosatom, where he took the post of chairman of the supervisory board.
It was Kiriyenko’s staff at the Kremlin that coordinated the selection of specialists to be sent to Bolivia, according to two sources close to the presidential administration. However, the federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted that the Kremlin “was only aware” of this work. The head of the regional department of Rosatom, Andrey Polosin, was directly responsible for sending the mission to Bolivia. Rosatom didn’t respond to The Project’s request for comment.
The first group of Russians to be sent to Bolivia began to form in January, said a political strategist who knows the circumstances of sending the mission. Rosatom first hired people who had experience with regional electoral campaigns in Russia, and then recruited specialists with knowledge of Spanish to help the spin doctors, describes another source. The spin doctors joked that they were going to fight for the cocaine market, says a friend of the political analysts, but in fact Moscow gave them a different objective.
“Social media is like a sewer, ” Morales said during the campaign. Indeed, social networks gave the Bolivian leader a lot of difficulties. When in the summer it became clear that the authorities were late in fighting the massive Amazon fires and the situation led to the public unrest, Morales suddenly appeared on television dressed like a firefighter.
Social media users responded to the president with memes depicting Morales with a water pistol in his hands. Russian specialists had to work within this “sewer.” All of The Project’s sources for this story claim that the group’s main purpose was to work on the Internet. In particular, they placed social media posts mentioning the theses of the Morales’ programme “Bolivia for everyone” (“Una Bolivia para toda la gente”) and were engaged in “black PR campaigns” against Morales’ critics, says the political consultant with strong knowledge of the mission’s details.
The Russian political strategists had been in La Paz since at least June 4. On that day, political strategist Vladimir Ryabinin posted on his Facebook the first photo from the city. And after that, he kept publishing photos from Bolivia, up until September 25.
Ryabinin was among the group of about 10 strategists from Russia who ended up going to work in Bolivia. This estimate was given by a political strategist who knows the details of the mission.). The rest are mostly consultants who at various times helped the Russian authorities with the elections in the cities of Samara and Yekaterinburg. Among others, they included Alexander Sheremetev, a spin doctor who helped the United Russia candidate from Yekaterinburg to win the most recent elections in the State Duma.
Another consultant who worked in Bolivia is Valery Solovyov. He is the founder of the “Internet agitation agency,” the entity that previously interacted with the Kremlin multiple times. Among other things, the agitation agency worked on the recent successful election campaign of St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov, including working with fake accounts in social media as The Project previously reported.
In Bolivia, Solovyov was also responsible for the use of “The Prism” system, according to his friend. “The Prism” has been used by Kremlin officials starting in the early 2010s, when they realized that it is necessary to monitor the blogosphere. This software produced by the company Medialogia “analyzes the interest of the blogosphere to certain problems and warns of possible reputational risks, ” according to Medialogia’s website. A source close to the management of Medialogia heard about its negotiations with Bolivia to supply the system to that country. A company spokesperson told The Project that “The Prism” has a Spanish-language version, but declined to answer a question about working in Bolivia.
The main political strategists in the group returned to Moscow by October, not waiting for the voting day. In conversations with their acquaintances, they complained that the work was difficult because of disagreements in Morales’ staff. Political strategists made a report on the results of the mission. “They said the report would go to the presidential administration, “one of their familiar colleagues said.
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The efforts of Russian consultants did not help Morales win a landslide victory. On October 20, he won about 46% of the vote, while his rival, former President Carlos Mesa, got around 37%. The fate of the presidency is still unclear.
It is strictly prohibited to spread information about this mission, it is considered very important and secret, the federal official explained s to The Project. A source close to Rosatom’s management believes that people associated with the mission are afraid of international sanctions for participating in elections abroad.
All the participants of the mission, contacted by The Project, flatly refused to comment on their trip to Bolivia or explained it with other reasons. Solovyov said he worked there with a corporate customer. Ryabinin claims that he was in Latin America on vacation: “And last year I was in Vietnam. Why don’t you ask about visiting this country?”
Edited by Pam Maples