Russian officials and state media last week framed the West as being solely responsible for increasing the chance of war in Ukraine. RT, Sputnik, and others closely followed shipments of Western military aid to the country. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova argued that Kyiv “sees such assistance as carte blanche” to stage an attack in eastern Ukraine. As Russia gathers more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “We are not threatening anyone, but we are hearing threats addressed to us.” Kremlin-backed accounts complemented this claim with a range of warnings about the United States and Ukraine preparing a false flag operation. Zakharova speculated such an attack could occur ahead of the Winter Olympics in China. There were also claims that Western media coverage about Russia’s military buildup was meant to provide “an information cover” for the West’s own “large-scale provocations.”
State-directed media also closely covered commentary from Western officials about Ukraine last week. U.S. President Joe Biden’s January 19 press conference was scrutinized, with RT highlighting Biden’s statement that NATO members differed on how to respond to a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine. The president’s threat to impose sanctions on Russia and his willingness to hold another meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin were also showcased. A significant amount of coverage was dedicated to questioning Biden’s mental fitness. At the same time, Russian state media amplified French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments about the need to rethink Europe’s security framework. Later in the week, Kremlin-linked accounts covered the resignation of Germany’s navy chief after he drew criticism for saying Crimea will never return to Ukraine and that Putin “demands and probably deserves” respect. Renegade, a Moscow-linked outlet, called the resignation a “political earthquake.” RT noted the Navy chief’s comments demonstrate a “split in the Western political community.” State media also picked up comments from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz about the potential blowback of new Russian sanctions and reported that Scholz turned down a call with Biden.
State media gave limited coverage of U.S. sanctions against four current and former Ukrainian officials for being involved in an alleged Russian conspiracy to install a pro-Moscow government in Kyiv. A similar warning by the United Kingdom provoked more pushback. Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the U.K. statement “disinformation”; its U.K. embassy said the allegations were “dumb and dangerous”; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed the United Kingdom’s comments were “unfounded” and meant to escalate tensions. A U.S. State Department report on Russian disinformation also prompted a strong reaction from officials. Zakharova said the document was filled with “passages of simply inhuman lies” that only the “Ministry of Truth” could publish. The Russian Foreign Ministry also put out tweets countering each claim in the State Department report.
Finally, Russian officials and state-funded outlets characterized Ukraine as a failed and isolated state. In a January 20 briefing, Zakharova said Ukrainian politicians were “corrupt” and have “lost control of the state – if it is still a state.” She argued that “there are no valid institutions of governance” in the country. Zakharova went on to claim that “Ukraine is not of much importance to the West” and is “only needed as a geopolitical prop.” State media noted that while the West is shipping equipment to Ukraine, “Kiev will fight alone.” RT ran an op-ed that argued, “Washington would be ready to turn Ukraine into hell on Earth if only it can embarrass Russia.” Kremlin-linked outlets also highlighted comments from current and former Western leaders that said Ukraine’s accession to NATO was not being considered at the moment.
The Winter Olympics occupied a large portion of last week’s messaging from both Chinese diplomats and state media. #Beijing2022 was the most frequently used hashtag for both networks of accounts and Olympics-related hashtags occupied five of the ten most frequently used hashtags by Chinese diplomats. The bulk of the coverage positively promoted China’s organization of the games, from the efforts being made to have an environmentally friendly event to high tech infrastructure developments and previews of the pomp and circumstance of the opening ceremony. A sizable portion of Olympics-related coverage also took a swipe at the United States-led diplomatic boycott. That included showcasing foreign leaders who have committed to attend the event in-person (notably Polish President Andrej Duda) and implying that U.S. officials accompanying athletes showed the boycott was an empty threat.
With tensions high in Eastern Europe, Russia was an oft-discussed topic, particularly during the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ daily press conferences. On Monday, spokesperson Zhao Lijian praised the excellent state of the Moscow-Beijing relations by stating that “China-Russia relations enjoy boundless potential”; he also dodged a question about the Russian military buildup at Ukraine’s border. On Wednesday, Zhao answered a question from Russian state media about information Russia possessed “about the campaign of the United States and its allies to discredit the Winter Olympic Games” by simply reiterating China’s opposition to the boycott and its confidence in its own ability to deliver great games.
Lithuania, a regular target over the past few weeks, was not alone to face China’s ire last week, as Slovenia drew criticism by announcing it was also seeking closer ties with Taiwan. The French Parliament’s decision to pass a bill recognizing the genocide in Xinjiang and the European Parliament’s call for sanctions on Hong Kong’s current leaders also drew sharp criticism from the Chinese side. On the other side of the coin, China praised Estonia and its adherence to the one-China principle “in sharp contrast to Lithuania,” as well as Germany after a virtual meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock, where trade seemed to take precedence over “microphone diplomacy.”
A report from the human rights group Safeguard Defenders accusing China of kidnapping and pressuring families to force some 10,000 fugitives to return from overseas was attacked by Chinese diplomats and state media. In contrast, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer’s report showing that Chinese citizens trust their government by a more than two to one margin compared to U.S. citizen’s trust in their governments was widely shared and amplified by Chinese diplomats and state media.
Finally, Chinese messaging highlighted CIA experiments on children in Denmark, accused the United States of genocide against Native Americans and African Americans, and asserted that the U.S. government is mistreating Guantanamo inmates.
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