Hamilton 2.0 is an interactive tool that monitors the outputs of Chinese and Russian state media and government officials across a range of social media platforms. The weekly report provides a summary analysis of the most salient topics and narratives promoted by state-backed actors during the specified date range.
Makiivka Missile Strike
Russian diplomats and state-funded media last week sent only 54 tweets mentioning either “Makiivka” or “Makeyevka”, which are spelling variations for a city in eastern Ukraine where Russia’s Defense Ministry said 89 servicemen were killed by a Ukrainian-fired missile. That is the biggest loss of life from a single attack that Moscow has acknowledged since the full-scale war began in February of last year. Ukrainian officials said that the Russian casualty numbers were far higher. Russian officials initially said only 63 people had died in the strike. On Wednesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that the servicemen who were attacked gave away their position by using their cell phones. State media picked up calls by Russian lawmakers to “find those responsible” for the strike, including “those who agreed on this act in NATO”.
Russian propagandists’ limited Twitter activity around the Makiivka blast is reminiscent of their reluctance to comment on previous battlefield losses. In the week after Russia’s Moskva battleship sank in April 2022, Kremlin-linked accounts tweeted only 34 times about the incident.
Putin’s New Year Speech
“Putin” was the most used key phrase by Kremlin-affiliated accounts as they amplified the Russian president’s New Year address. Putin asserted that 2022 was a “year of difficult but necessary decisions” to protect Russia’s sovereignty. He thanked Russia’s military for their efforts in Ukraine and insisted that “the moral and historical truth” is on Russia’s side. Putin also claimed that the West provoked the war, “fully encouraged neo-Nazis,” and used Ukraine to “divide and weaken Russia”.
Russian propagandists put a positive spin on the inauguration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as Brazil’s president. Kremlin-backed media amplified Lula’s pledges to fight hunger and deforestation. Sputnik Mundo said that Russia would support Lula’s effort to bolster Brazil’s global image, while RT en Español showed the new Brazilian president meeting with and being praised by leaders around the world. Meanwhile, some Kremlin-linked accounts bashed Brazil’s outgoing president, Jair Bolsonaro. Renegade Inc retweeted a post that mocked Bolsonaro for eating KFC in Orlando, Florida, while Lula was being inaugurated.
New US Congress
Monitored Russian propaganda accounts tweeted very little about the Republican Party’s struggle to select a House speaker, though RT, Sputnik, and others did post updates on Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) failed bids to gain the position. There were also some examples of Kremlin-linked accounts amplifying posts that were critical of McCarthy. RT argued that the new Congress would beat the “same old war drums” as the last Congress. The outlet also took a swipe at Nancy Pelosi as she stepped away from being the speaker of the House.
No Limits Partnership with Russia
Russia was the third most mentioned country by monitored Chinese accounts last week (behind only China and the United States), after Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladmir Putin’s virtual meeting on Friday. The most retweeted tweet from monitored Chinese accounts mentioning Russia—and one of the most retweeted tweets overall—was MFA spokesperson Hua Chunying’s message that China is ready to “join hands with Russia and all other progressive forces who oppose hegemony and power politics, to reject any unilateralism, protectionism and bullying”. That message was parroted by several diplomatic accounts, including the Chinese Embassy in France.
While there was some limited coverage from Chinese state media of heavy Russian casualties suffered in Makiivka, Ukraine, Chinese diplomats did not mention the attack and largely avoided the topic of the war altogether. When the war was referenced, Chinese officials maintained their posture of pro-Kremlin neutrality or presented China as a peaceful arbiter. Chunying noted, for example, that China “commends” Russia’s statement that it has “never refused to resolve the conflict through diplomatic negotiations,” while China’s ambassador to the UN claimed that China has made “unremitting efforts for world peace” in Ukraine and other global conflicts.
Mixed Messaging on the United States
As is typical, the United States was largely vilified by Chinese diplomats and state media last week. However, there were a few exceptions, most notably the cordial parting words from China’s ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, who is leaving his post to become China’s new foreign minister. In a tweet on January 2 (written in Mandarin), he expressed his “heartfelt thanks” for the strong support he received from “people from all walks of life in the United States”. He stated similar sentiments in an op-ed in the Washington Post. More realist messages about the importance of the bilateral relationship between China and the United States were expressed by several diplomatic accounts like the Chinese Consulate in Osaka, Japan, which tweeted, “The world will be safer if cooperation and cooperation [sic] between China and the United States is deepened”. But those messages remained in the minority of US-focused content, including messages pushed from the personal account of the consul general in Osaka, who tweeted at least a half dozen missives about the dangers of living in the United States compared to China. He also accused the United States of being the “biggest creator of disinformation” and retweeted a post warning followers to “not trust any information coming from the US, or from any organization backed by any US government organization”.
China’s Zero-Covid Pivot
The Chinese government’s decision to lift stringent lockdown measures was widely celebrated by state media and diplomats, who also took the opportunity to bash Western media coverage of China’s covid-19 mitigation efforts. More than 20 tweets from state media and diplomats used variations of the phrase “optimized” to describe the newest phase in China’s pandemic response. The consul general in Belfast shared a Xinhua video purportedly showing scenes of “diners crowding in restaurants” (the video itself showed a restaurant that was, at best, half full) and other scenes of life returning to cities. She later tweeted that the “optimized” covid response was leading to a “sizzling” economic recovery. In response to criticism from the World Health Organization and other governments about the lack of transparency in China’s coronavirus reporting, Chinese diplomats asserted that China is, in fact, ready to cooperate with the international community. Other Chinese accounts were more combative, accusing certain “vicious” Westerners of denying the success of China’s Covid mitigation efforts and threatening “reciprocity” for those criticizing China for “political purposes”. Despite obligatory criticism of the West, sympathetic Western voices were also showcased by state media to validate China’s covid response.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.