Russian officials and state media last week focused on three rounds of high-level diplomatic meetings between Russia and the West. Kremlin-linked accounts gave live updates of U.S.-Russia talks in Geneva on January 10. State media complained that while Russia wanted to discuss banning future NATO expansion, the United States was ready to “discuss only arms control.” Russia’s lead negotiator Sergey Ryabkov vented that Moscow was “fed-up with loose talk” and wanted “bulletproof, legally binding guarantees” from the United States and NATO. Moscow-linked accounts played down expectations for a breakthrough at U.S.-NATO talks on January 12. After the negotiations, state media claimed that NATO ignored Russia’s offers to de-escalate tension, and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said that “there is no room for a positive common agenda” between the two sides. Grushko also argued that NATO had reverted to a Cold War strategy of “containment” toward Russia and is seeking “full spectrum dominance.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the talks were “unsuccessful,” and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that Russia’s “patience has come to an end.” Meanwhile, Russian-backed accounts continued to portray NATO as an aggressor that is pushing Ukraine into war. The final round of talks at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) received little coverage, but Russian diplomatic accounts pressed for the OSCE to begin playing a leading role in European affairs.
Russian officials and state media last week also pushed back against a range of accusations from the West. On January 14, U.S. officials warned that Russia was planning a false flag operation in Ukraine to serve as a pretext for further invading the country. Russia’s embassy in the United States said the charge was “unfounded and cannot have any confirmation.” Russian officials also denied launching cyberattacks that defaced dozens of Ukrainian government websites, leaving them with a message reading, “Be afraid and expect the worst.” State media highlighted initial struggles attributing the hack to anyone. They seized on Ukrainian officials claiming Belarusian intelligence was behind the hack before assigning blame to Russia. Kremlin-funded outlets also picked up on Microsoft finding destructive malware on a range of Ukrainian government, non-profit, and private sector organizations, but did not speculate about attribution. Meanwhile, RT and others celebrated Russian intelligence operatives arresting members of the notorious REvil ransomware crew.
Kremlin-backed accounts also followed a U.S. Senate vote against sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. State media amplified Democratic lawmakers warning that penalizing entities associated with the gas line could damage U.S.-German relations. Lavrov called a separate U.S. proposal to sanction Russia if tension escalated around Ukraine a “nervous breakdown.” State media also circulated comments from the German defense minister urging that policymakers avoid linking Nord Stream 2 to the Ukrainian conflict and highlighted a German lawmaker’s suggestion that U.S. opposition to the pipeline was driven by Washington’s desire to sell its own gas to Europe. Lavrov said the debate around the pipeline reflected Berlin’s lack of economic independence.
Russian state-backed messaging around the quashed demonstrations in Kazakhstan dropped dramatically last week. However, Kremlin-linked outlets continued to monitor the unrest’s consequences, which include more than 200 deaths and 4,000 injuries. Officials and propaganda agencies also showcased Russian troops arriving and restoring order in Kazakhstan. Lavrov stated that the West watched with “astonishment” how quickly Russian troops were deployed. RT picked up on Chinese reports that Russian “electronic warfare” shut down communication between “terrorists.” State-funded outlets also showed Russian troops leaving Kazakhstan and ran self-congratulatory quotes from officials involved in the mission.
Last week, Chinese messengers continued to promote whataboutism arguments to defend against U.S. criticism of China’s human rights record. The most prominent anti-U.S. narrative last week was yet another push around the mistreatment of Native Americans. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) fired the opening salvo on Monday by talking about nuclear tests conducted on Native American land. Three tweets by spokesperson Zhao Lijian about the massacre of Native Americans were among last week’s ten most retweeted tweets by Chinese officials and diplomats. Meanwhile, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying tweeted about American interventionism and islamophobia, contrasting U.S. belligerence with Chinese humanitarian aid. On Thursday, the Chinese MFA insisted that the United States was the main culprit behind the 80 million refugees worldwide.
Following Xi Jinping’s description of the events in Kazakhstan as a “color revolution” fomented by “external forces” at the end of the first week of January 2022, Chinese diplomats and state media converged around this narrative at the beginning of last week. The head of China Daily’s Europe office put out several highly engaged-with tweets criticizing CNN’s coverage and denigrating U.S. reactions to the crisis. The People’s Daily and Xinhua both described how Russia was stepping in to reestablish order in the country. The Global Times also extolled Sino-Russian unity in the face of this crisis. Coverage of Kazakhstan declined sharply by the middle of the week.
On Friday, Chinese MFA spokesperson Wang Wenbin gave an almost 1,500 word, slide-supported lecture about Xinjiang during his daily press conference. It rehashed China’s well-rehearsed arguments about the region; namely, people who conduct research on Xinjiang (like Adrian Zenz and researchers at ASPI) are biased and disingenuous; Uyghur victims are “third-stringer actors”; the United States lied about Iraq and is lying about this as well; and Uyghurs in Xinjiang are, in fact, prospering.
Former British Secretary for Business Vince Cable delighted several Chinese diplomats last week after he told Euractiv that the United Kingdom only banned Huawei because of U.S. pressures. The statement was used as evidence that the United States uses national security claims as a “pretext” to pressure Chinese companies.
The Chinese MFA also continued to attack Lithuania for the government’s pro-Taiwan stance, criticizing Vilnius at its Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday press conferences.
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