Russian diplomats and state media last week mentioned “Mariupol” in nearly 500 tweets as they blamed Ukrainian Nazis and their Western backers for war crimes committed in the battered Ukrainian port city. Diplomatic accounts claimed that Ukrainian forces had shot women and children in Mariupol with snipers and machine guns and promised to hold Ukrainian Nazis accountable. State outlets said that Ukraine had attacked hospitals and tortured people with pro-Russian views. Kremlin-linked accounts also claimed that hundreds of foreign mercenaries—largely from Europe and Canada—were fighting in Mariupol, and Moscow-funded media said that “NATO trainers may be hiding” in the city. NewsFront, a site linked to Russian intelligence, warned that there could be secret NATO bioweapons in Mariupol. State media also shared quotes from a U.K. mercenary, who blamed Ukrainian forces for the “catastrophic” conditions in the city. Meanwhile, Russia was shown delivering humanitarian aid and freeing captives. Moscow-linked accounts consistently reupped Russia’s demand that Ukrainian forces surrender the city. They also claimed that Kyiv was preventing Ukrainian fighters from laying down their arms and showcased instances of “mass surrender.”
Russian officials last week also built on the conspiracy that the United States tried to develop bioweapons in Ukraine. The Defense Ministry published a list of Americans who were allegedly involved in the bioweapons project. The Russian military also stated that from 2019 to 2021 the United States tested dangerous drugs on patients from a psychiatric hospital in Kharkiv. Moreover, Russian officials said that the United States planned to spread typhus and hepatitis throughout Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Moldova. Kremlin-linked messengers also argued that Germany was involved in the bioweapons program. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Berlin proved its understanding of bioweapons when it saved Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny from a “mysterious poisoning.” RT Arabic tweeted a poll asking its followers, “In your opinion, has Germany been involved in US military biological activities in Ukraine?”
Kremlin-backed messengers threatened a new military buildup near the Baltics in response to reports that Finland and Sweden were considering NATO memberships. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said that “Russia will have more officially registered opponents” if the two countries join NATO. Medvedev promised Russia would meet such a move by strengthening its land, naval, and air forces in the Baltic Sea, and he warned of a new nuclear deployment to the region. Zakharova argued that Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO would compromise the security and sovereignty of both countries.
Russian-affiliated accounts also pushed back on U.S. and Ukrainian reports that two Ukrainian missiles struck and sank the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. The Defense Ministry confirmed that the warship, known as Moskva, sank but said the cruiser was overwhelmed by stormy conditions after it had been damaged by a fire that caused ammunition on board to explode. Russian outlets initially tried to minimize the damage by stating that the fire was “contained” and that the ship’s missile capabilities weren’t affected. State media also claimed Ukraine was circulating a fake video of the warship being damaged.
Meanwhile, Russian diplomats and state media continued to push familiar wartime propaganda. Last week, Kremlin-linked accounts tweeted about Ukrainian Nazis in 480 posts, accusing them of various crimes and claiming that the West was downplaying their presence. RT said, “sanctions on Russia are screwing up the world,” while other outlets warned about inflation costing U.S. Democrats the midterms and the possibility of a toilet paper shortage in Germany. Russian accounts also accused the West of treating Ukrainian refugees more favorably than Syrian refugees.
Russian state-affiliated accounts did not make a meaningful effort to insert themselves into French debates around the second round of the presidential election, which will take place next Sunday. Tweets from monitored Russian accounts about French President Emmanuel Macron and his challenger Marine Le Pen were written mostly for a Russian-speaking audience. Those messages included highlights of French protests against both presidential candidates and showcased Le Pen’s Russia-friendly policies, like her promise to pull France out of NATO’s integrated command. Coverage of Macron was largely factual, with Kremlin-linked accounts amplifying his refusal to call Russia’s actions in Ukraine genocide.
For the second consecutive week, Chinese accounts monitored on Hamilton played more defense than offense, as Chinese officials and state media tried to deflect growing criticism of the government-imposed coronavirus lockdown in Shanghai. By a wide margin, Shanghai was the most used key phrase and hashtag, followed closely by variations of Covid-19 and coronavirus. As with previous weeks, the content was relentlessly optimistic, depicting the government’s response as competent, necessary, and in stark contrast to the supposed inhumane responses of Western governments to the pandemic. Particular attention was paid to human interest stories, especially those of expats in Shanghai who praised the “solidarity” and “social harmony” on display in the city. Chinese officials and state media also lionized a Uyghur man who purportedly traveled “over 5000 km to support Shanghai’s logistics,” and highlighted that Chinese hospitals, despite supply chain woes, continue to serve halal meals to Muslim patients, which “shed[s] a different light on how China treats its Muslim[s].” There was virtually no mention of the civil unrest in the city or the growing criticism of the government on Chinese social media platforms. However, the U.S. decision to withdraw non-essential personnel from its consulate in Shanghai was roundly blasted by Chinese officials as an effort to “politicize” the issue. In an attempt at a zinger, the Global Times quipped that the move makes the United States the “biggest Karen globally.”
Official Chinese sources continued to amplify Russian narratives about Ukraine last week. Once again, the harshest criticism was directed at NATO, which ranked among the ten most mentioned key phrases and hashtags. The alliance was depicted, often graphically, as a warmonger and “peace destroyer.” The framing of NATO as a “Trojan horse” for U.S. power in Europe also continued to be a dominant theme, with Chinese messengers clearly seeking to paint the alliance as a tool for malign U.S. influence. This was juxtaposed, sometimes explicitly, with messages of China as a “force for peace.” China’s consul general in Zanzibar, for example, retweeted an anti-NATO missive that ended with a message to “support China [and] disband NATO.” Chinese officials and state media also amplified messages accusing the U.S. government of “fabricating fake news” to inflame public opinion over Ukraine. This fits a pattern of China amplifying Russian claims of “staged” provocations, including China’s consul general in Osaka, Japan, who retweeted a tweet from Russia’s UN account last week alleging that Bucha was the product of “fake factories” in the West and Ukraine.
Related to China’s anti-NATO campaign, Chinese interlocuters blasted U.S. opposition to China’s announced security pact with the Solomon Islands as evidence of a “double standard.” As evidence, at least six monitored accounts shared a video from U.S. scholar Jeffrey Sachs, who claimed it was hypocritical for the United States to criticize China’s pact while “pushing into Ukraine” via NATO.
While not uncommon for China’s wolf warrior diplomats to rank at or near the top of the most engaged-with Chinese Twitter accounts monitored on Hamilton, last week saw the coronation of one of China’s newest wolf warrior influencers. The consul general in Belfast, who has in the past promoted, among other conspiracy theories, the idea that Ukrainian President Zelensky is hiding out at the U.S. Embassy in Poland, was the most retweeted and liked Chinese diplomat or state media account on Twitter last week, garnering nearly 14,000 retweets and 48,000 likes. All of her most retweeted and liked posts focused on anti-U.S. and anti-NATO messages, including accusations that the alliance was “spreading disinformation about China.”
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