Russian diplomats and state-directed media last week continued to claim that Russia does not want to go to war in Ukraine, where the Kremlin has perpetuated a conflict since 2014. “If it depends on Russia, there will be no war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on January 28. Russia is “not going to attack anyone. We consider unacceptable even the idea of war,” a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry said. Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council, argued that “Russia is not threatening Ukraine in anyway.”
At the same time, Russian propagandists made new claims about the West attempting to incite conflict in Ukraine. Russia’s embassy in the United States said that the Biden administration was providing political and military support to Ukrainian neo-Nazis, giving them “’carte blanche’ for provocations.” RIA Novosti ran a headline claiming, “Kiev is preparing plans for armed provocations.” Russian officials also called Ukraine a “pawn in an imperial game,” “a toy in the hands of the United States and NATO,” and “just an anti-Russian tool.” As usual, NATO was framed as an aggressor and Western media was blamed for creating hysteria. These arguments came as Russian officials dismissed U.S. and NATO responses to the Kremlin’s demands for security guarantees.
Kremlin-linked accounts also covered updates related to U.S., UK, and EU plans to impose economic costs on Russia if it further invades Ukraine. Moscow said a draft U.S. sanctions bill that would target the assets of President Vladimir Putin and those close to him would be “politically destructive.” Federation Council Deputy Speaker Nikolay Zhuravlev threatened that if Western governments cut Russian banks from the Swift global payments system, “buyers, primarily in Europe, will not receive our [Russia’s] goods – oil, gas, metals.” Several state media outlets warned that new sanctions may undermine the global financial system.
Russian officials also continued to push back on potential sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry claimed that the pipeline was economically beneficial for Russia, Germany, and all of Europe. Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said the U.S. drive to sell its own natural gas was behind the potential sanctions. And state-connected media picked up arguments from German politicians against sanctions on the pipeline.
Russian-funded outlets also sought to portray the West’s position around the Ukraine crisis as flawed and divisive. Media highlighted Kyiv’s rejection of Washington’s claim that a Russian invasion was imminent. One RT tweet read, “Even Ukraine ‘shocked’ by American hype over ‘Russian invasion’.” Sputnik amplified the results of a poll that found only 29 percent of Americans support Biden’s Ukraine policy. The outlet also ran a piece based off far-right Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green’s suggestion that Biden’s approach toward Ukraine could be related to his son’s business dealing in the country. Multiple outlets circulated former President Donald Trump’s argument that Biden should defend the U.S. border instead of Ukraine. Kremlin-connected accounts also elevated comments from current and former officials in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, and India that aligned with Russia’s view on the Ukraine crisis. Furthermore, articles from places like the New York Times, Bloomberg, and Foreign Policy on Russia’s coercive capacity or the global repercussions of Western sanctions were shared.
Russia’s military buildup on the border with Ukraine was a top topic for Chinese state media last week. On Twitter, Ukraine was the most mentioned country by affiliated state media accounts after China, the United States, and Russia. However, Chinese diplomats were less engaged on the topic, with Japan mentioned more often than Russia and Ukraine registering fewer mentions than Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Pakistan. In its official messaging, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) refused to openly support Russia’s stance on Ukraine, sticking to non-committal language about solving the crisis through “dialogue and consultation” and asking parties to return to the UN-approved “Minsk-2 agreement.” The MFA’s insistence on the respect of the Olympic truce could even be read as an implicit warning to Moscow. On the other hand, the MFA and some of its diplomats were highly critical of NATO, calling it “a Cold War remnant” and a “small circle.” And there was strong opposition to any moves by the United States and its allies to splinter the Sino-Russian partnership. Spokesperson Zhao called a Bloomberg report that China had asked Russia not to invade during the Olympics an attempt “to smear and drive a wedge in China-Russia relations, but also to deliberately disrupt and undermine the Beijing Winter Olympics.” In a possible nod to the situation in Ukraine, Zhao tweeted about the “typical American style” of basing wars on a “lie” by posting a video related to the Iraq war. In its Chinese language version, the People’s Daily openly shared disinformation about an alleged Ukrainian troop buildup at the border. Chinese diplomats and state media also used the Ukraine crisis to push their own agenda, namely by denigrating the United States and threatening Taiwan.
Far more than Ukraine, however, the upcoming Winter Olympics were the primary focus of last week’s messaging from Chinese diplomats and state media, with Olympics-related terms accounting for more than half of the top ten hashtags and key phrases used by all Chinese accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0. The United States-led boycott remained a much-discussed issue. The Chinese Consul in Osaka (Japan), Xinhua, and the Chinese embassy in Switzerland were among those to ridicule the boycott, calling it “a flop” and a “political farce.” Similarly, the Global Times was keen to stress that “32 heads of state, heads of government, royal family members and heads of international organizations” would be attending. The Chinese MFA encouraged this head counting exercise by prominently highlighting the attendance of Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso in its Thursday press conference. The Olympics also provided yet another opportunity for Russia and China to loudly publicize their friendship by rejecting the Games’ “politicization,” with the Chinese MFA completely omitting to mention that Russian athletes in Beijing will not participate under the Russian flag.
The EU’s filing of a lawsuit in the WTO over China’s ongoing economic coercion of Lithuania was mostly met with indifference from Beijing. The Chinese MFA and the Global Times cautioned the EU against Lithuania’s “political maneuvering,” but avoided more confrontational rhetoric. Two days earlier, the Global Times even announced that Lithuania was sending its “largest [athlete] delegation” for the Olympics.
MFA spokesperson Zhao and his superior Hua Chunying also tweeted out the usual anti-American content, criticizing the country’s COVID record or accusing its leaders of warmongering. However, Hua and Zhao’s attempt to attack the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan backfired after it was revealed that an image they shared of ammunition held by Afghan children under a caption “this is what the U.S. has brought to the children in Afghanistan” was, in fact, Russian-made ammunition. They have both since deleted their tweets.
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