Undertones: Inside Russian influencer chats in Argentina

Illustration by Global Voices

This story is part of Undertones, Global Voices’ Civic Media Observatory‘s newsletter. Subscribe to Undertones.

Welcome back to Undertones, the newsletter deep-diving into niche communities around the world. This week we present Dr. Kelly Chaib’s research on a very specific population: Russian immigrants in Argentina. Chaib is a Colombian researcher on war and peace currently based in Georgia.

Argentina is home to the largest Russian community in Latin America, with more than 18,500  who have flown in after Russia invaded Ukraine. Russians have found an active digital community, primarily on Telegram channels, where they discuss the difficulties they face to legalize their status. They also talk about politics – barring those of their country of origin.

‘What happens in Russia stays in Russia’ appears to be an underlying tone of the conversations online. The implicit narrative that states “There is no particular reason motivating us to leave Russia” is present in all of the analyzed social media posts. Chaib’s research shows that whenever someone mentions migrating due to the war, it triggers a series of comments denying this fact. 

Chaib says that when she first started the investigation, it was precisely to find narratives against the war, which she did not find on the channels she honeycombed. “We tend to idealize the people leaving Russia, thinking that most of them are leaving for political and ideological reasons, but many are leaving to escape the consequences of the economic sanctions or to avoid mandatory conscription,” she said.

Russian migrants are rather interested in Argentinian politics, especially in the ultra-libertarian presidential candidate Javier Milei, a provocative economist who is rising in the polls. Argentina will hold presidential elections in October this year, with preliminary elections on August 13, amid an economic crisis.

In this community, political opinions are influenced by only a handful of individuals. Here are some of the most prominent ones:

Yegor Vasilkov, a Russian journalist of Ukrainian descent who fled to Argentina when the war broke out. He runs a Telegram channel “Аргентина на русском языке“ (“Argentina in the Russian Language”) with nearly 12K subscribers. In it, he shares tips on living in Argentina, summarizes weekly news, and shares pro-Milei content. He is very outspoken about the alleged administrative discrimination against Russians. Items: CM_447CM_448, CM_489, CM_500, CM_514

Kirill Makoveev, a Russian journalist who migrated to Argentina in 2015 after the invasion of Crimea. He acquired Argentine citizenship in 2019. He started as a tour operator and blogger about life in Argentina and later founded RuArgentina, a news portal where he also offers his paid services to help Russians immigrate to Argentina. It has more than 9K followers on Telegram and 15K on Instagram, among other platforms. Makoveev and Vasilkov compete for influence. Item: CM_539

Georgy Polin, the Russian head of the Consular Department of the Embassy of Russia in Argentina from late 2016 to May 2023. He opened the Telegram channel “Аргентинское Зарубежье” (“Argentine Diaspora”) in 2022, which has more than 2K followers. He writes about the history of Russian migration and analyzes local politics. He states that recent Russian migrants idealize their “relocation” process and criticizes the spread of uninformed political opinions and feelings of discrimination. His removal from the consulate was unexpected and spurred many speculations about the reasons behind it. The Russian community in Argentina deeply felt his departure. Items: CM_462, CM_538

Liudmyla Holovinova is from Dzhankoy, a town in the northern part of Crimea and she studied at Kharkiv Law Academy in Ukraine. She now lives in Argentina, offering legal services to migrants and managing the Facebook group #ArgentinaДиаспора русскоговорящих (“Russian-speaking Diaspora in Argentina”), which brings together the Russian-speaking diaspora supporting Ukraine. She often criticizes “Russian migration consultants”. Items: CM_470, CM_549

The conversations happening among Russian immigrants in Argentina

Narrative 1: “
Argentina is unfairly delaying granting residency to Russian migrants before elections

  • This narrative in a nutshell: “Argentina dislikes Russians”
  • It is amplified by Yegor Vasilkov and Liudmyla Holovinova

Argentina does not require a visa for Russians citizens to enter the country as tourists and is known for being open to foreigners. It also allows the parents of children born on Argentinian soil to receive residency, and, later, a passport that opens the doors to 133 countries.

About 10,500 pregnant Russians traveled to Argentina to give birth in 2022. In early 2023, the Argentinian police uncovered a local corruption network involved in fabricating documents to expedite bureaucratic procedures for pregnant women in exchange for exorbitant fees. Although more enter each day, the administrative process for their paperwork is now slower. Many Russians also legally reside in Argentina as rentiers who receive funds from renting property abroad or collecting stock royalties.

Many Russian migrants – with influencers leading the way – feel personally attacked because of the slower bureaucracy. Some claim that it’s “Russophobia,” a “conspiracy,” or “the effect of Western sanctions.”

When the Argentinian Migration Service increased the amounts for rentiers residing in Argentina last June, claiming to adjust for devaluation, many Russians felt particularly impacted. It was the last straw for some, who protested on the streets.

How this narrative spreads online “No one got residency approval in 2023

Platform: Facebook group

Author: Liudmyla Holovinova

Content: Holovinova shares an unsourced post stating that no Russian has received documentation in 2023 and presents it as a fact.

Subtext: In the original post, the word “consultants” in quotation marks reflects the discontent of the Russian community that has migrated to Argentina, influenced by agencies offering logistical support and legal advice.

Reactions: The comments spread rumors that immigration authorities halted the processing of Russian residency applications earlier this year as part of Western sanctions against Russia and await the new government's position that will be elected in October. Another narrative suggests that the government does not want to allow right-wing Russians to vote in local elections, and some complain about Venezuelan migrants. For context, residents can vote in local elections.

Civic Impact Score: -1 out of -3, as this item presents decontextualized statements and unsourced data that feed the feelings of injustice of Russian migrants. See the breakdown of our civic impact ranking methodology below.

Perceived competition with Venezuelans

It is not rare that Russian migrants compare themselves to another large migrant community in Argentina: Venezuelans. Through Mercosur agreements, tens of thousands of Venezuelans are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections. Thus, a popular sub-narrative is: Argentina treats Venezuelan migrants better than Russian migrants.”

 Narrative 2: “Only a right-libertarian president can save Argentina

  • This narrative in a nutshell: “Milei is the way, let us vote”
  • It is amplified by Yegor Vasilkov and Kirill Makokeev

Argentina is going through a dire economic crisis, with an annual inflation rate of 114 percent – one of the highest rates globally. In this context, political outsider Javier Milei promises to completely reform the country’s economy and overthrow the political “caste”. His party “La Libertad Avanza” is third in line at the moment.

Along with the slogan “Viva la Libertad, Carajo!” (“Long Live Freedom, Dammit!”), some of Milei’s proposals are to shut down the central bank, dollarize the economy, allow the free trade of firearms, and repeal abortion rights.

“Many people in these Telegram groups seek to stay in Argentina for the time being, and are interested in the political and economic future of the country,” Chaib said. “They are perhaps hopeful that a right-wing president will be more pro-Russian and support their migration process.” Some Russians compare Milei to Mikhail Svetov, one of the main Russian popularizers of right-wing libertarianism.

How this narrative spreads online: “All about Javier Milei

Platform: Telegram

Author: Yegor Vasilkov

Content: After citing Milei’s controversial far-right proposals, Yegor asks his compatriots if they would consider Milei a good alternative, being a Trump admirer and a believer in the “cultural Marxism” global conspiracy theory. Then in the comments, the author states his sympathy with the candidate.

Reactions: Most of the commenters expressed wanting Milei to win the elections. Some are afraid of violent outbreaks if Argentina’s economy gets worse.

Subtext: Vasilkov uses sarcasm to present Javier Milei and cites his most controversial policy positions. However, he is vocal about his support in the comments.

Civic Impact: -1 out of -3, because this item opens a space for the Russian migrant community to talk about responding with violence or closing their community in the face of potential disturbances following the results of the presidential election in October 2023. See the breakdown of our civic impact ranking methodology below.

The Civic Media Observatory impact score

Researchers are tasked with evaluating every media item's impact on civic discourse according to this scorecard:

This newsletter is part of the Community CMO, a Civic Media Observatory project that works with our wider community. Learn more and pitch us an investigation idea.

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