Russian officials last week continued to insist that Moscow has no plans to invade Ukraine and made more calls for diplomatic solutions. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations claimed there is “not even a hint of common sense” to warnings about pending Russian military action. One RT host argued that “Russia has been too busy conducting diplomacy all week” to prepare for a war. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with French President Emanuel Macron received a substantial amount of attention. Coverage was generally positive, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova noting that Moscow presumes “Russia-France relations will play their stabilising role” in Europe. However, the Kremlin denied reports that the French and Russian leaders reached a deal to de-escalate tension around Ukraine. Kremlin-linked media mocked UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss for making a gaffe on Russian geography during negotiations with Lavrov last Thursday. Lavrov described his discussion with Truss as being like a “mute” talking to a “deaf.” A senior Russian diplomat reportedly said, “We don’t trust British diplomacy,” and a RT journalist claimed, “it’s hardly surprising that Russian leaders appear to have decided that the only people worth talking to are the Americans.” President Putin’s call with U.S. President Joe Biden, though, didn’t draw much attention from state-directed media. As part of that limited coverage, RT amplified Putin telling Biden that he doesn’t understand “why the US is providing the media with deliberately false information” about Ukraine.
Russian propagandists also continued to blame the West for escalating tension. In a press conference, Putin said that if Ukraine joins NATO and attempts to regain Crimea, NATO would automatically be at war with Russia, and there would “be no winners.” A RT YouTube video of Putin asking a journalist, “Do you want the war between Russia and NATO?,” brought in nearly a half million views last week. Zakharova took Putin’s argument a step further, stating, “The Anglo-Saxons need a war, at all costs.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed Western media was creating “hysteria” around the threat of a Russian invasion, while state-backed messengers painted NATO as an aggressor that has “been amassing its own troops close to Russian borders.” One Russian diplomat retweeted a post that argued, “The West is funnelling weapons to Neo-Nazis in Ukraine so they can carry out a brutal war against Russian speaking minorities.” There were also state-media reports that Kyiv was preparing to send paratroopers and an assault force to eastern Ukraine. One RIA Novosti article suggested a “large-scale” Ukrainian provocation would take place “in early March.”
Kremlin-directed media also continued to cast doubt on U.S. intelligence about Russia’s military buildup. RT ran pieces on diverging U.S. and European views about the timeline of a Russian invasion. State-linked accounts also highlighted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asking for evidence to support U.S. intelligence. One RT commentator argued, “Western media outlets can’t get their story straight” about the timing of the invasion and that Washington was “putting its citizens, its allies in a state of fear.” At the same time, RT’s YouTube account posted a series of videos showing Russian military equipment and drills in Belarus. State-backed outlets and diplomats followed suit, showcasing Russian fighter jets and warship submarines. In contrast, Ukraine’s military was shown having trouble with its drones, and RT posted a video that showed a teenage girl among those training to be a part of Ukraine’s volunteer forces.
Outside of Ukraine, the Olympics prompted a significant amount of coverage. #Beijing2022 was the second most used hashtag by Russian diplomats and state media on Twitter last week. While Kremlin-linked accounts celebrated Russian athletes, they also put forward conspiracies around the news that Kamila Valieva, a 15-year-old Russian skater, had tested positive for a banned substance in December. RT amplified a Russian lawmakers claim that Western intelligence agencies might have “manipulated” the test results, and the outlet promoted a hashtag supporting Kamila. Russian state media also circulated videos of the anti-vaccine trucker protests, known as “freedom convoys,” which started with a street blockade in Canada. RT’s YouTube channel highlighted freedom convoy supporters around the world, including in France, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. RT France tweeted that the freedom convoy had become “a global phenomenon.”
Chinese state media and government officials continued to focus on the Olympics last week, with a particular focus on the success of Eileen Gu, the American-born skier who won a gold and silver medal competing for China. #EileenGu and Chinese transliteration #GuAiling were respectively the eighth and seventh most frequent hashtags in the tweets of Chinese diplomats and officials last week. Much of the content enthusiastically described her performance. However, some tweets were more pointed, with a CGTN reporter commenting “mic drop” to one of the athlete’s combative answers to a Western journalist’s question. While the former Chinese ambassador in London and a Xinhua reporter agreed that Gu could be a bridge between China and the United States, the former Global Times editor in chief saw her as the model immigrant, not like the “weird” activists who choose to move to the United States.
Chinese diplomats and state media also pushed back against accusations of whitewashing regarding the inclusion of an Uyghur athlete as one of the torchbearers in the opening ceremony. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Zhao Lijian commented on the issue in Monday’s press briefing by repeating that “the so-called ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang is the biggest lie of the century.” Zhao further elaborated upon his answer on Thursday by bringing up the “genocide against Native Americans.” Authoring four of last week’s top ten tweets, including the first and third most retweeted, the Chinese embassy in Japan generated very high engagement numbers by tweeting about Japan’s star athletes.
Despite escalating tensions in Ukraine, the country was not among the ten most mentioned countries by Chinese diplomats on Twitter last week, suggesting a continued avoidance of a thorny topic for Beijing given its increasingly cozy relations with Moscow. In tweets from Chinese diplomats, Russia was the fifth most mentioned country (68 mentions), far behind the United States (390 mentions) and even slightly behind Japan (97 mentions). When mentioning Ukraine, Chinese diplomats struck a cautious tone. Answering a leading question about NATO expansion posed by Russian state media outlet Sputnik during Thursday’s press conference, spokesperson Zhao answered in a broad and non-committal way without taking sides. The Chinese Consul General in Belfast was the only diplomat relaying Russian accusations of Ukrainian “provocations.” Chinese state media paid more attention to the conflict, with Russia (297 mentions) and Ukraine (277 mentions) coming in respectively as the third and fourth most mentioned countries last week. Chinese state media more overtly embraced Russia’s side of the story, with CGTN highlighting U.S. ammunition deliveries to Ukraine, Lithuanian anti-aircraft missile deliveries, and Western countries “spreading false information.” They were also supportive of European diplomatic moves, with Global Times calling Macron’s visit to Moscow a “ high-note diplomatic move” and China Daily’s Europe head contrasting France and Germany’s efforts with the U.S. side’s unwillingness to compromise.
The Lithuanian Foreign Minister’s critical statements during his trip to Australia about China’s economic coercion resulted in the Baltic state being brought up in Tuesday and Thursday’s Chinese MFA press briefings, punctuated with the claim that “Lithuania should first reflect on its own deplorable human rights track record.”After the British Foreign Secretary tweeted about the sovereignty of the Falklands in reaction to Argentina joining the Belt and Road Initiative two weeks ago, Chinese MFA spokesperson Zhao did nothing to assuage her fears, commenting that “[China] firmly support[s] Argentina’s legitimate claim to sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands.”Chinese state media’s coverage of the truck convoys protesting public health measures was largely factual and unbiased. But China Daily’s prolific Europe head compared the truckers to Hong Kong protesters in an effort to highlight Western hypocrisy.