Russian officials and state media last week pushed familiar narratives about Ukraine, claiming NATO is the aggressor and Russia is seeking a peaceful solution. On February 1, President Vladimir Putin spoke for the first time since December about the Kremlin-created tensions around Ukraine. He said that the West “ignored” Russia’s primary security concerns and suggested that Ukraine joining NATO could trigger a war with Russia. He also argued that the United States was using Ukraine to pull Russia into an armed conflict to justify more sanctions. Putin and various diplomats stressed that Moscow is seeking to prevent more conflict in Ukraine, while other Kremlin-linked messengers argued that the West was seeking to provoke tension. Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said the United States was conducting an “information war,” and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the West “urgently needs an opportunity to go to a virtual war” to distract from domestic issues. State media amplified claims that Ukraine was preparing an “information provocation” and warned of snipers instigating a broader conflict in eastern Ukraine. There were simultaneous efforts to frame Ukraine as under resourced and “stuffed with weapons.” At the same time, state media showcased U.S. anti-war demonstrations, a poll showing Americans wanted a diplomatic resolution, and an article by former U.S. politician Pat Buchanan suggesting the United States “surrender” Ukraine and the Baltic states to Russia.

Later in the week, Russian officials and state-funded media tried to discredit a U.S. warning about a planned Russian disinformation operation. A range of Kremlin-directed outlets circulated a video of a reporter questioning the legitimacy of the U.S. allegation against Russia. Multiple posts compared the U.S. warning about Russian disinformation to U.S. claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Russian officials and state media also paid close attention to Putin’s trip to China, where he met with President Xi Jinping and attended the opening of the Winter Olympics. Ahead of his visit, Putin wrote an article in the Chinese state-managed outlet Xinhua, where he called Sino-Russian relations “a model of efficiency, responsibility, and aspiration for the future.” Putin’s piece cites “centuries-old traditions of friendship and trust” as the basis for the two countries’ cooperation. Russian diplomats and state media amplified the article. On February 4, Putin and Xi issued a joint statement that declared a “new era” in international relations. The communiqué stressed the two countries’ solidarity on issues of contention with the West. Russia reaffirmed support for the notion that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and China backed Russia’s fight against NATO expansion, with the two sides calling on NATO to “abandon its ideologized Cold War approaches.” The statement emphasized that “friendship between the two States has no limits.” State-backed media picked up arguments that the United States was worried about deepening Russia-China connections and unable to do anything to drive the two countries apart.

The Beijing Winter Olympics also received a substantial amount of coverage, making “Olympics” the most used hashtag last week. There were calls to not politicize sports and highlights of Russian athletes winning medals.

Outside of Ukraine and China, Russian propagandists focused on Western actions to restrict or investigate the affiliates of Kremlin-backed outlet RT. On February 2, German regulators upheld a ban on RT’s German-language channel RT Deutsch. The Kremlin called the ban an “infringement” on freedom of speech. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharov said Berlin’s decision was “a blend of propaganda and violation of democratic principles.” In retaliation, Russia banned the German outlet Deutche Welle. On February 3, French regulators opened an investigation into RT France, citing concerns over the outlet’s coverage of the Yellow Vests protest movement. Zakharova linked the French investigation to Germany’s ban, the United Kingdom’s discussion about sanctioning Russian state media, and U.S. reports on Moscow-linked outlets spreading false and misleading information. She claimed those four countries had “declared a real war on the Russian RT channel.” The pushback against RT “runs contrary to international obligations” and “discredits their proclaimed commitments” to democracy, Zakharova continued. State media ran a piece claiming the West was “showing its fear of the possible influence of RT.”    


With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics starting on Friday, content related to the games predictably dwarfed all other themes and narratives from Chinese diplomats and state media last week. A particularly popular aspect of Olympic-related coverage was tweets about the foreign dignitaries in Beijing for the games, including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. Eight of last week’s top ten tweets referenced the two leaders.

A more negative aspect of Chinese messaging around the Olympics concerned foreign media’s supposed anti-China bias. The Chinese ambassador in Austria, the Chinese Consul in Osaka (Japan), and the Chinese Consul in Beirut (Lebanon) all complained about Western media coverage. Chinese state media followed suit, with a CGTN opinion writer and China Daily’s Europe head accusing their Western counterparts of bias.

The controversy over Asian-American naturalized Chinese skier Eileen Gu also registered on Hamilton, with the Chinese Consul in Beirut tying the athlete to “a cold war against China” and the Global Times holding her up as the harbinger of a broader “reverse immigration” phenomenon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was mentioned a total of 358 times by Chinese diplomats and state media on Twitter, double the mentions of U.S. President Biden (179 mentions). On YouTube, CGTN and CGTN America released four videos covering various aspects of the Xi-Putin meeting, from actual work meetings to the touristic attractions they visited together. The fawning text and emotional music accompanying the videos was clearly meant to evoke the deep friendship that supposedly cements the Sino-Russian partnership. However, those videos all focused on Xi’s statements in the meetings, with Putin a smiling but silent interlocutor.

On Ukraine, the idea that the United States and NATO are pushing for war is becoming entrenched in Chinese diplomats and state media’s takes on the crisis.

On the other hand, a Xinhua article signed by Putin entitled “Russia and China: a Future-Oriented Strategic Partnership” received relatively limited coverage from the Chinese side. And while Russia was the third most mentioned country by Chinese Twitter accounts overall, it came in a distant fourth behind Japan when only looking at diplomatic tweets.

China Daily’s always controversial Europe head received significant engagement last week with his witty response to Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik who tweeted “America FIRST. China LAST.” His more direct attack on George Soros also proved popular.

Argentina’s formal adhesion to the Belt and Road Initiative garnered a lot of attention from U.K. officials concerned about possible negative implications for the Falklands due to China’s previous support for Argentinian claims to the islands (tweet from June 2021). Once again, Chen Weihua went on the offensive, attacking British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss after she signaled the United Kingdom’s attachment to the status quo.

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