OSINT in the fight against disinformation operations: Russia and Africa

OSINT in the fight against disinformation operations: Russia and Africa

In addition to its strategy of influence aimed at Western countries, and Europe in particular, Russia is also particularly involved on the African continent, with a clear predominance for disinformation operations. Moscow’s aim is to invest in African networks in order to exploit and amplify anti-colonial messages, to set itself up as a revisionist power for a supposedly fairer world order and to assert its strength against the supposed weakness of the Western armies that have intervened in recent decades. This disinformation relies on state intermediaries and local relays of influence, and takes advantage of the rise of African social media.

Russian interference in the African information scene

In recent years, there have been a number of striking examples of Russia’s involvement in creating false information on the African continent, often to discredit the West. In April 2022, videos taken by a French army drone showed men covering corpses with sand in northern Mali near the Gossi military base, with the aim of accusing France of abuses. At the time, this was one of the rare occasions on which France accused the Wagner Group of an informational attack and manipulation, with evidence to back it up.

In the spring of 2023, the Wagner Leaks revealed the integration of the “Magadan” project into the structure of the Lakhta project. This instrument of disinformation, financed and operated by Prigozhin, had already been used in the United States in 2020 to sow discord on subjects such as immigration, firearms and women’s rights. Despite the efforts of the US government and the FBI to counter its activities, ‘Magadan’ continues to spread anti-Western propaganda in the African countries where Wagner operates.

Although the Kremlin has always denied any link with these mercenaries, the evidence now clearly establishes this connection.

In Sudan, a company supervised at the time by Prigozhin obtained government permission to undertake gold mining activities. In 2018, Wagner spent around €50,000 to influence the editorial content and operations of media outlets such as Khartoum Star, Radio Africa and Sudan Daily, with the aim of promoting pro-Russian propaganda. Similar actions have been seen in Mali, the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Niger and Madagascar, among others.

The case : African Initiative

The Russian media in Africa, African Initiative, supports the objectives of disinformation and Russian influence on the continent and illustrates the means used to achieve them.

We are not the first or the last to take an interest in African Initiative. Indeed, Le Monde published an article on this Russian propaganda organ last March. AllEyesOnWagner looked at African Initiative’s activities in Burkina Faso. Disinfo.africa also covered African Initiative in an article in which they looked at their presence on social networks, the writers on their WordPress site and some of the influence campaigns they run in Africa.

In February 2024, the organisation was singled out by the US State Department for a disinformation campaign aimed at undermining US-funded public health projects in Africa, starting with misinformation about an outbreak of a mosquito-borne viral disease.

The media first emerged from Russian Telegram channels. African Initiative aims to be an information bridge between Russia and Africa. The aim of the medium is to raise awareness among the Russian public of the “many opportunities open to Russia in Africa and to the continent’s inhabitants”. The content shared ranges from the role of the Russian army in Africa to professional opportunities.

Among these presentations is that of one man, Artyom Kureev. According to his profile, he is the editor-in-chief of the African Initiative media.

According to The Insider, an independent media outlet specialising in investigative journalism, Artyom Kureev is a suspected agent of the FSB’s 5th Service, a department dedicated to international relations. The man is said to have been involved in recruiting a Latvian MP for the FSB’s interests.

By browsing the “about” page of the site, we find the presentations of other people in charge of the media. These presentations are only available in the Russian language of the site.

To find out more about Artem Kureev and his media, we returned to the African Initiative website where a whois search of the domain name, Afrinz[.]ru, revealed the company behind the purchase: INITSIATIVA – 23 LLC. A visit to the Russian commercial register reveals Mr Kureev as the managing director of INITSIATIVA – 23. The dates are also interesting: the domain name was created on 13 September 2023 and the company was registered in the commercial register on 21 September 2023.

The company’s legal form has become a relevant pivot for establishing a financial OSINT analysis, FININT (Financial Intelligence). On a Russian consulting service for legal entities and entrepreneurs, we obtain a financial chart.
The chart contains a wealth of information, not all of which relates to our subjects, Mr Kureev and INITSIATIVA – 23. Even so, we manage to identify new links.

INITSIATIVA – 23, the company behind the acquisition of the domain name, is owned by Artem Kureev and a second individual by the name of Volsok Sergei Anatolyevich. The latter is said to be an active beneficiary of the company.
We obtain additional information identifying Mr Kureev as having a role in another company called “CENTRE DE COOPÉRATION INTERNATIONALE: APPRENDRE EN RUSSE”. Artem Kureev therefore appears to be particularly involved in promoting Russia and its interests abroad.

We will now take a closer look at the various individuals involved in the African Initiative project, contributing to Russian influence and disinformation campaigns on the African continent against the West.

Artem and his team

On the website’s ‘About’ page, as mentioned above, you will find the presentation of various personalities in charge of the media. Artem Sergeevich Kureev, an alleged agent of the 5th FSB service, is the Editor-in-Chief of African Initiative and describes himself as a political scientist and publicist.

On the website of Myrotvorets, a Ukrainian web platform based in Kiev which draws up a list of people considered to be “enemies of Ukraine” or “involved in activities constituting crimes against national security, peace, human security and international law”, there is a page devoted to Artem. The page lists his date of birth, telephone numbers, email address and passport number. Although this information is potentially useful for tracking individuals like Artem, it is difficult in our case to confirm its reliability.

The second person featured on the African Initiative page is Anna Sergeevna Zamaraeva.

Anna Zamaraeva has a rich and varied professional background. Before working for African Initiative, Anna was responsible for communications with the media and bloggers at the Wagner Centre in Saint Petersburg. Videos show Russian bloggers visiting the premises of the Wagner group with her.

A graduate of the History Faculty of St Petersburg State University, Anna worked as a public assistant to the head of the Budget and Finance Committee of the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly. She was then elected deputy of the city council of the Vasilievsky municipal district. Anna headed the Anti-Corruption Committee of the St Petersburg regional branch of the Russian LDPR party, responsible for identifying corruption in the city’s circles of power. She also hosted a podcast called “Свободные Уши” (Free Ears) and was a lecturer at the University of Management Technology and Economics in St Petersburg.

We don’t know exactly when she left her political career to work for Wagner, but it seems to have been in 2023.

After Prigozhin’s death and the renaming of the Wagner Centre, she refused to comment on the reasons for the rebranding to Russian journalists. However, following Wagner’s failed rebellion and after a search, she declared that the Wagner Centre would continue to run projects in the future. In August 2023, in response to questions from the independent Russian media outlet Meduza, she said she was unable to comment on the Wagner Centre’s activities because she had changed jobs, without telling Meduza’s journalists what her new position was.

Anna is now the deputy editor-in-chief of the African Initiative website, and can be seen in some of the images on the organisation’s premises.

African Initiative’s third and final ‘expert’: Darko Todorovski.

Presented as a correspondent and military analyst for African Initiative, Darko is a ‘journalist’ who has written articles for balkanist.ru, which is similar to a think-tank whose members are linked to the Balkan region. Darko is Macedonian and studied international relations in Russia after a bachelor’s degree in international economics in Northern Macedonia. He has never worked as a journalist for a real organisation, apart from contributing to balkanist.ru and the Russian Council of International Affairs. In addition, he was very active on social networks before 2023, particularly on Twitter.

On Twitter, Darko shared a good deal of pro-Russian information from Telegram channels. He ceased his activity a few days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He supported the idea that the invasion would not take place and that it was the Western media that were propagating this idea. It should be pointed out, however, that although this person is pro-Russian, his CV was produced thanks to “Europass”, a platform made available by the European Union. Darko is still active on balkanist.ru, posting several articles a month.

In June 2023, Darko was pinpointed by Christo Grosev, a Bulgarian investigative journalist who also works for Bellingcat, for disseminating Russian propaganda in the Balkan region. Grozev claimed that texts containing Russian propaganda, written by Russian military intelligence, were distributed to the Bulgarian media through the intermediary of Macedonian Darko Todorovski in exchange for cash payments of between 150 and 300 euros. Darko presents himself as a correspondent and expert on Russian-Ukrainian issues, and many Bulgarian media quote his reports. For example, Todorovski published an article in the Bulgarian newspaper Pogled following the capture of Marioupol by the Russian army. In his article, he claims that the public are happy that the Russians and the “Donetsk army” are in Marioupol. However, his report omits important elements. For example, not a word is mentioned about the mass graves full of Ukrainian victims in Marioupol. Todorovski’s report was written a fortnight after the Ukrainian authorities revealed that mass graves had been discovered near Marioupol, as well as trenches in the village of Manush in Donetsk, for which Vadym Boichenko (former mayor of Marioupol) claimed that Russian forces were collecting bodies in lorries and throwing them away to hide their atrocities. This subject is never mentioned in Todorovski’s reports on Marioupol.

We currently have no precise information about the work Darko may have done at African Initiative.

We were then able to exploit the WordPress API of the media website, which enabled us to retrieve the pseudonyms of the writers and thus gain a better understanding of who is involved in this organisation’s activities.

Thanks to this and an in-depth search of the site, we were able to collect the identities of various authors working for African Initiative, some of whom do not have an account on the website :

  • Alexandre K.
  • Alexeï G.
  • Artem B.
  • Dmitry N.
  • Iuliia R. K.
  • Mousa Adel G.
  • Oleg A.
  • Andreï D.
  • Maxim S.
  • Maxim R.
  • Elizaveta A.
  • Maxim R.
  • Alena F.
  • Ers B.
  • Alexei G.
  • Mikhail P.
  • Victor V.
  • Anastasia B.
  • Ekaterina E.
  • Sergei E.
  • Anastasia M.
  • Ilya L.
  • ….

The list is not exhaustive, but it gives an idea of the team behind this organisation.

In the rest of our article, we take a look at the profiles of some of the authors.

Ilya L.

One of the editors, named Ilya L., had an email address as a pseudonym. Thanks to an EPIEOS search, we were able to confirm his name and the information matched.

Contributions by Ilya L. on African Initiative, the author seems to have joined the editorial team recently

Now that his identity has been established, it is possible to gather important information from his Instagram, Facebook and Telegram accounts. We then cross-checked the information collected.

We can now paint a portrait of this media editor. We know that Ilya is bilingual in French and Russian, and that he has a passion for the literature of both countries. He regularly visits libraries and bookshops and shares various works with his subscribers. On his Facebook account, we note several publications sharing the pro-Russian narrative. He regularly posts on social networks, particularly in story format. This feature provides a wealth of information on his activities in real time, enabling us to geolocate him.

We used Geospy, a recent artificial intelligence tool dedicated to geolocation. On this photo, the tool came up with a false positive: Lebanon. But on consulting the sources, we confirmed that it was in fact the city of Baghdad in Iraq. On 26 March 2024, at the time of our presentation at the FIC, Ilya was still in the country. What’s more, after a short stay in Iraqi Kurdistan, he was still in Iraq on 16 April.

Alexandre K.

Alexandre K., also known as “renegadeofage” on the website, is one of the authors featured on the site. He uses the same handle on Twitter. After a complete clean-up, there’s nothing left on his account, apart from a photo of Alexandre. However, on Wayback Machine we found some interesting information about this author.


Thanks to his Twitter bio, we discovered that he works for a Russian newspaper called ‘Tomix-33’, which has been confirmed by articles he has written for it. Tomix-33 is a local newspaper in the city of Vladimir, about 170km from Moscow, Russia. In 2022, Tomix-33 had a domain name in the Latin alphabet, but now its domain name is written in Cyrillic.

Wayback Machine’s history of the site’s previous domain name, in the Latin alphabet, includes pro-Russian disinformation articles dating back to the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On the Cyrillic site, there are anti-IVG polls on the home page:

Alexander was the site’s editor-in-chief, and there are over 1,400 articles mentioning Alexander Kholodov or written by him.

Digging around the site reveals that another African Initiative author, Andrei D., was one of Alexandre’s colleagues at Tomix-33. Several articles mentioning him can be found on this site.

Both individuals’ activity on the site ends in June 2023. Further digging reveals additional information about them, such as the fact that Andrei travelled to Iran in autumn 2022 and is believed to be 29 years old. There is also a YouTube channel @True_Reporter belonging to the two Russians, as well as an associated Telegram channel.

Dmitry N.

According to disinfo.africa, Dmitry N., also known as Nikitinde97, is a journalist working for the privately-owned Russian media RTVI. In the course of his work, he received numerous rights of reply from the former leader of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin. In November 2023, Dimitry took part in a round table organised by African Initiative on the specifics of the influence of foreign information and the transformation of information warfare. At the round table, it was stressed that, given Russia’s growing influence on the African continent, an in-depth study of the workings of analysis centres is needed in order to develop ‘defensive’ and proactive campaigns to counter ‘Western propaganda’.

Dmitry was active on RTVI until October 2023, where he published numerous articles, including several on PMC Wagner.

A look at his Facebook account shows that he started working for RTVI in December 2021, and that before that he was also a journalist for other media, including Daily Storm.

Ioulia R. K.

As with Ilya L., one of the editors named Ioulia R. K. had used a pseudo-email address. This enabled us to find some interesting information. She has a degree in the history of journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St Petersburg State University.

In 2014, she took part in the 53rd international conference “Media in the Modern World – St Petersburg Readings 2014” at her school. In 2018, she also took part in lectures at her college in St Petersburg, giving a “Game-Seminar” on the History of Journalism, among other things.

In 2019, she took part in an international conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, “Balkan Dialogue – 2019”.

Moussa Adel G.

Moussa Adel G. appears to be African Initiative’s Arabic language specialist. Like Ilya and Iuliia, he has also included his e-mail address in his username. Unfortunately, this did not allow us to find much information. However, we can see that the majority of articles in Arabic available on the African Initiative site are linked to Moussa’s account.

In addition, some articles in Russian, linked to other authors, are also associated with his Arabic account. It is possible that he is responsible for translating the articles into Arabic. Similarly, of all the accounts registered on the website, he is the only one without a Russian-sounding name.

In the course of our research, we found a pro-Russian, pro-Bashar al-Assad, anti-United States, Russian-Syrian journalist with the same first and last name as the African Initiative journalist. However, it was not possible to determine whether these two profiles were the same person or whether they were homonyms.

Maxim Reva

Maxim Reva is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of African Initiative. According to disinfo.africa, Maxim was an analyst at the Institute of Contemporary State Development, a pro-Medvedev think tank based in Moscow. He was arrested in Estonia in 2007 for being one of the leaders of the “Night Watch” group, which opposed calls for the removal of the Bronze Soldier monument, a statue commemorating Soviet soldiers in Tallinn. The statue was finally removed in 2017. According to the Estonian National Security Directorate, he worked in Kremlin-controlled media disseminating disinformation, hostile propaganda and inciting hatred. Maxim Reva was also awarded the “For Crimea” medal for his active role in the 2014 Russian hybrid operation in Ukraine. He said that although he was born in Estonia, he considered himself a Russian patriot. His Estonian residence permit was revoked in May 2022, as his activities were considered a threat to the constitutional order.

Maxim Reva runs a Telegram channel bearing his name, where he shares numerous African Initiative articles and information about the organisation’s activities.

Thanks to one of his posts, we learn, for example, that Vitaly T. (Виталий Т.), one of African Initiative’s writers under the pseudonym “taysaevsubscribe”, is African Initiative’s “head of the Mali office”. We can therefore deduce that African Initiative operates a system of offices for each country or region in which the organisation is active, with a head of office and probably a dedicated team.

Maxim has written and co-written several articles on the website, mostly under the pseudonym “Maxim”, but with the identity of a certain “Maxim S******”. We are not in a position to say whether Maxim S. is a pseudonym for Maxim Reva or a completely different real person.

A lot of information is available about Maxim Reva. For example, he was one of the participants in the “Human Dimension Implementation Meeting” at the OSCE in 2013 through his NGO “East-West” based in Tallinn, Estonia. He was also one of the leaders of the NGO “World Without Nazism”, a self-proclaimed international movement for the defence of international legal rights. According to the 2011 annual report of the Estonian National Security Directorate, the organisation aimed to be the most influential pro-Kremlin umbrella organisation in the world. The organisation was founded by a Russian oligarch, Boris Spiegel, who is close to Putin.


From this research, it is possible to deduce that the organisation operates on a model of regional offices in Africa, each headed by a manager overseeing local activities. Although African Initiative positions itself as a media targeting both Russian and African audiences, some articles are only available in French, suggesting a specific focus on the African audience. This is notably the case for an article stating that the F16s will not help Ukraine, praising the strength of the Russian army against the Ukrainian air force with anti-neo-colonialist and anti-Western rhetoric, available only in French and in no other language. In addition, not all the writers had individual accounts on the site, indicating a complex editorial structure where articles may be attributed to authors but published under the accounts of others.

In terms of the profiles behind African Initiative, former associates of Wagner, Kremlin-affiliated operatives such as Artem Kureev and Maxim R., and journalists with backgrounds in pro-Kremlin media have been identified. The organisation also appears to have teams of translators in different languages to facilitate the dissemination of articles.

Following this presentation at the OSINT day at the In Cyber 2024 Forum, and all this interest in African Initiative, it seems that the organisation is trying to improve its opsec. Indeed, the author pages are no longer accessible as before and redirect to the site’s home page. In addition, WayBackMachine backups no longer work for these pages.

The appearance of a new user “Editor 6”, a large proportion of whose new articles seem to be linked to this account, raises questions about his role within the organisation. Is this a new editor? Or simply an account for grouping together certain articles? We can’t say for sure at the moment. There is still a lot to be said about African Initiative, and this investigation into the Kremlin’s propaganda arm is by no means exhaustive.

African Initiative is just one example of the information outlets set up by Russia to serve its interests. According to The Insider, over the past six years, Prigozhin’s network has set up a vast system of Telegram groups serving Russian interests in Africa and with links to African Initiative. These include: 

  • Smile & Wave (target: Africa in general, launch: 14 June 2019)
  • Gaddafi’s Tent (target: Libya, launch: 1 April 2021)
  • Laying Low in Bangui (target: CAR, launch: 9 November 2021)
  • Catcher in Sudan (target: Sudan, launch: 18 May 2022)
  • Arab Africa (target: Arabic-speaking Africa, launch: 21 July 2022)
  • French West Africa was Here (target: West Africa, launch 26 January 2023)
  • Africa Behind the Glass (target: Africa as a whole, launch: 30 August 2023)

Finally, it seems that Russia considers African Initiative a success, as the propaganda organisation is now expanding into Central Asia. Viktor Loukavenko, a figure of Russian propaganda in Africa and founder of the “African Initiative” association in Burkina Faso, appeared in Kyrgyzstan in the first video broadcast on a channel known as “Central Asia Initiative”.