For the past two weeks, Russian diplomats and state media continued to focus most of their attention on the conflict in Ukraine. On December 30, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin exchanged warnings over the Ukrainian crisis during a 50-minute phone call. Moscow-backed media covered the conversation closely. RT noted that the Kremlin was “pleased” with the discussion but warned that new sanctions on Russia would be a “colossal mistake” that would lead to a “complete breakdown” of bilateral relations. The Moscow-funded outlet Life ran an article after the discussion based on the comments section of a U.K. newspaper that suggested Biden was senile and weak compared to Putin. Russia state media provided little coverage of Biden’s follow up conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. However, Kremlin-linked accounts spread Putin’s comment that Zelensky had been influenced by extremists and picked up claims that Kyiv ”will shoot” citizens with NATO weapons. Russian officials and state-controlled outlets also continued to blame the United States, NATO, and Ukraine for escalating tensions. Putin rhetorically asked, “Are we deploying missiles near the US border?” The Russian president claimed, “we are not the threat” and noted that NATO “should give us guarantees.” RT published an op-ed arguing that “there will be no peace in Europe” until the United States and NATO comply with Russian demands to stop NATO expansion and rollback military equipment. Russian officials also rehashed debates about NATO’s first round of expansion, arguing that the alliance misled Russian leaders about its willingness to move east. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested NATO was attempting to provoke a “little war” in Ukraine in order to justify sanctions that would limit Russia’s competitiveness on the world stage. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that NATO is preparing for a large-scale conflict with Russia. Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that U.S. private military companies were set to launch a chemical weapons attack in Eastern Ukraine to incite a conflict. State media also amplified claims that U.K. mercenaries were in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Mikhail Delyagin, a member of the State Duma, warned that Ukraine could attack Russia as early as February. And RIA Novosti circulated an argument that Russia would “defeat Ukraine in less than ten minutes.”
Anniversaries and holidays in December gave Russian propagandists a chance to praise the Soviet Union, bash Biden, and make fun of “woke” culture. December marked the 99th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s founding and the 30th anniversary of its collapse. Russian diplomatic accounts claimed the Soviet Union had a “glorious history marked with some of the most brilliant achievements.” RT highlighted the USSR programs that brough about free education and universal healthcare. The outlet’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan tweeted, “Long live… [the] mighty Soviet Union!” Russian lawmakers moved to designate the fall of the Soviet Union as the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century. State media also amplified the Russian government’s explanation for shutting down Memorial, an NGO dedicated to exposing the abuses of the Soviet era, which they claimed was funded by outside actors and attempting to rewrite history. RT celebrated Christmas by posting a video making fun of “woke” culture in the United States. It showed Santa being canceled, a kid unwrapping a book titled “Peter the Pansexual,” and the same kid being handed an “elves lives matter” sign. State media also used the new year to reflect on Biden’s time in office, highlighting his trouble containing the coronavirus and inflation and the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Lithuania was still a major topic for Chinese propaganda last week. As in the previous week, the country was mentioned in all the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) daily press conferences. Last Monday, spokesperson Zhao Lijian implied that the Lithuanian government was acting against “the fundamental interests of their people.” On Tuesday, he attacked Vilnius’ decision to pull its diplomats out of China, calling Lithuania’s allegations that its diplomats were at risk in Beijing “pure defamation.” On Wednesday, he commented that a letter co-signed by heads of the EU, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, calling for de-escalation was written by a club whose name had “strong colonial overtones,” before saying that the letter was “malicious hype-up.” On Thursday, Lithuania was the topic of three questions/statements from state and Beijing-friendly media: one suggesting that Lithuania’s main port was losing money over its stance; one asserting that Lithuanians were losing trust in their government; and a third one saying that opposition parties in Lithuania are questioning whether “their government is in its right mind.” And on Friday, Zhao intimated that the Lithuanian government had chosen to waste money on fighting China rather than helping its own people. State media relayed the MFA’s threats and added a few more insults. The Global Times also tried to drive a wedge between Lithuania and German firms. This follows a Global Times article published the previous week (and amplified by several diplomats) that claimed that Lithuania would get “nothing but lip service” from the United States.
During the week of December 20, Taiwan also was in the crosshairs after Jake Sullivan stated that the U.S. position on the island was to maintain the status quo. Zhao and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that reunification is inevitable and “unavoidable.” Zhao also covered the elections in Hong Kong, pushing back against comments about low turnout and reacting angrily to democratic activist Nathan Law’s presence at the Summit for Democracy. The U.S. appointment of a special coordinator for Tibetan issues also elicited an angry reaction from Zhao and led to a propaganda push to promote the Chinese Communist Party’s positive impact on the region’s economy and inhabitants. Additionally, Zhao responded to the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act by accusing the United States of “sexual slavery” and child labor. He also seemed satisfied with Intel’s apology after announcing it would not source products or labor from Xinjiang.
Last week, the MFA denied reports that China was indoctrinating Tibetan children to have them fight for China in case of a hypothetical standoff with India. The patriotic chest-thumping was also present on Twitter, where the most retweeted tweet last week from the network of Chinese accounts monitored on Hamilton was about a “very special” Chinese flag being raised over the Galwan Valley, where fighting occurred between China and India in 2020. The CGTN reporter who posted the flag tweet shared another tweet that read “never yield an inch of land” and another showing Chinese soldiers sending New Year’s greetings from the Galwan Valley. As per usual, Chinese messaging also attacked the United States.
During the week of December 20, the Chinese MFA promoted three reports criticizing the U.S. system: “The World’s Human Rights Dilemma Clouded by US Interference,” “Human Rights Disaster of the US Incompetent Pandemic Containment,” and “Limitations and Drawbacks of American Democracy.” The Summit for Democracy was also still being maligned by Chinese diplomats and state media in the week after it concluded. Last week, Zhao accused the United States of spreading COVID in Okinawa; denounced the Voice of America (VOA), accusing it of “dancing to the tune of the US government;” slammed the Summit for Democracy; and, along with his colleague Hua Chunying, promoted videos and infographics ridiculing U.S. democracy on Twitter. CGTN also interviewed Max Blumenthal about “U.S. and modern slavery.” Finally, the Chinese Consul General continued to push the #NoMore hashtag, using it to attack U.S. hypocrisy, colonialism, the media, and Western narratives about Xinjiang.
With the Winter Olympics just over a month away, Zhao seized on the fact that the United States is applying for visas for several officials accompanying athletes to the Games to further delegitimize the diplomatic boycott. He also labeled the decision by German officials to stay away from the games “political manipulation.”
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