Russian diplomats and state media last week posted 764 tweets that referenced either “gas” or “rubles” as propagandists detailed Europe’s effort to cope with Moscow’s decision to cut gas supplies for Poland and Bulgaria. Russia made the move after Warsaw and Sofia refused to pay for gas in rubles. The Kremlin explained that the West had “stolen” a “fairly significant amount of reserves” from Russia, thereby forcing its demands. RT ran stories about Polish homes and towns left without gas, highlighted divisions within Europe about energy policies, and questioned the “EU’s chances of surviving without Russian gas.” RIA Novosti and other outlets noted that a handful of European countries had agreed to buy gas in rubles, which one diplomat said was a “good and democratic solution.” State-backed media also showed how Poland and Bulgaria were purchasing Russian gas through other EU countries and said the maneuver was a way to “stay proud and still keep buying Russian gas.”
Kremlin-linked accounts also pushed disinformation about a Western plot to restore Polish control over its “historical possessions” in Ukraine. Last Thursday, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service said that Warsaw and Washington planned to send an occupying Polish force into Ukraine under the guise of combatting Russian aggression. According to Russian officials, Polish intelligence has already started trying to co-opt members of the Ukrainian elite. The site NewsFront, which has been tied to Russian intelligence, argued that Poland is famous for “its hysterically expansive behavior” and is now rushing to “seize a piece of the collapsing Ukraine.”
Russian propagandists also accused Ukraine, the United States, and NATO of trying to bring Moldova into the war. Transnistria, a breakaway region in Moldova that hosts a small contingent of Russian troops, was rocked by a series of explosions last week. State media claimed Ukrainian drones were spotted in Moldova. Russian officials said the explosions were acts of terrorism and condemned “attempts to pull Transnistria into what is happening in Ukraine.” Kremlin-backed outlets argued that Ukraine is seeking to “drag” Moldova into the conflict, that the United States wants to provoke a “Moldovan front,” and that the “West is ready to destroy Moldova.”
Russian accounts continued to try to undermine support for Western aid to Ukraine. RT tweeted that the United States was set to provide more military aid to Ukraine “despite the economic decline at home.” The post had a video that showed President Joe Biden next to the phrase “America last.” Russia’s Embassy in the United States said those funds may be better put to use “for the needs of ordinary Americans, who are hit by a record high inflation.” State media claimed that U.S. assistance was driving Ukraine “into a debt pit.” They also reported on a group that staged a “die-in” to protest Germany’s military aid to Ukraine. Meanwhile, diplomats said Western military support was illegal and had turned Ukraine into a “hotbed of terrorists and mercenaries.” They also showcased Russian forces seizing NATO-provided weapons.
UN Secretary General António Guterres’ trips to Russia and Ukraine last week also prompted considerable coverage from Kremlin-affiliated accounts. Diplomats and state media amplified President Vladimir Putin’s messages to Guterres, including that Russia supports the UN’s founding principles and that the war in Ukraine was launched in accordance with the UN charter. State-backed outlets provided regular updates on Guterres’ visit to war-torn areas of Ukraine. There was not much commentary around the Russian missiles that hit Kyiv while Guterres was staying in the city. But Ruptly did reshare a video of Kyiv’s mayor calling the bombing “a middle finger” from Putin to Guterres. A day after the bombing, NewsFront ran an article questioning Guterres’ “professional suitability.”
Last week, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) reacted strongly to accusations by the U.S. State Department that Beijing is helping Russia amplify its talking points on Ukraine. Seemingly without recognizing the irony, Chinese diplomats and state media then proceeded to spend most of the week blaming Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on NATO expansion. As has become customary, Chinese state media frequently quoted Russian officials, from Lavrov’s warning of a potential nuclear war to Putin’s threats of a “lightening answer” to Western intervention in Ukraine. Chinese state media outlets also denounced Western double-standards related to the security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands by highlighting that the U.S. dismissed Russia’s security concerns about NATO expansion into neighboring Ukraine but is now protesting a security agreement in a state “11,000 km from the US.”
Driven by last week’s news that Twitter’s board had approved Elon Musk’s bid to purchase Twitter, mentions of “Musk” from monitored Chinese accounts jumped nearly 450 percent between March and April. In addition to factual news about the planned acquisition, the head of China Daily in Europe used the announcement to lobby for Twitter to remove or amend some of the restrictions in place on Chinese accounts. He suggested that “state media” labels be removed from Chinese accounts, asked for Twitter to eliminate warnings shown to users before they share Chinese state media content, and, echoing comments made by Musk, complained that “today’s Dems are hijacked by extremists.” Several state media accounts, in particular the Global Times, highlighted Tesla’s great financial results in China, and the Chinese Deputy Consul General in Auckland tweeted that “Tesla has benefited a lot from China (…) Hope [Musk] can lead Twitter in approaching China with more respect.” At the same time, the Global Times, the Chinese Consul General in Cape Town, and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs derided fears that Beijing may use Musk’s business interests in China to pressure him into adjusting Twitter’s policies to better suit Chinese interests. While the Consul General in Belfast seemed admirative of the billionaire’s style, CGTN affiliate Frontline portrayed his planned acquisition as part of a U.S. information attack on Russia.
A suicide bombing at Karachi University in Pakistan on April 26 killed the director of the local Confucius Institute as well as two Chinese staff and their Pakistani driver. As a result, Pakistan was the fifth most mentioned country in Chinese diplomatic and state media tweets last week (behind China, the United State, Russia, and Ukraine). Messaging from prominent Chinese accounts with ties to Pakistan, notably Zhang Heqing, MFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian, and CGTN employee Shin Shiwei highlighted Pakistani condolences and the “iron-clad friendship” uniting both nations.
China’s struggle to contain a recent coronavirus outbreak also continued to dominate messaging from Beijing. The top two key phrases and hashtags in last week’s tweets from Chinese accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0 were related to the ongoing lockdown in Shanghai. In addition to the usual propagandistic pieces about the technological prowess of the city, diplomats and state media alike blamed outside forces—namely efforts by the “biased Western media” to “stoke divisions” in the city.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.