Monitored Russian government and state media accounts tweeted 15,282 times last week, generating 170,562 retweets and 523,930 likes.
Kremlin linked outlets used US President Joe Biden’s Middle East trip to paint him as inconsistent, submissive to dictators, a threat to peace, and mentally unfit. “Biden” was the most frequently used key phrase last week by monitored Russian accounts, and Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia were the fourth, fifth, and sixth most mentioned countries by Moscow-funded outlets. State media underscored how Biden’s visit to Riyadh undercut his pledge to turn Saudi Arabia into a pariah. Renegade Inc, a left-leaning outlet, retweeted a post that said Biden went to Riyadh to “bump fists with and beg for oil from a guy that murders journalists,” which was a reference to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s order to assassinate Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. One RT correspondent, Helena Villar, amplified a tweet that claimed, “rarely has a US president humbled himself so much before a prince.” Other accounts framed Biden as a warmonger who threatened Iran and might try to “set Syria on fire.” Wyatt Reed, a Sputnik correspondent, argued that Biden’s trip normalized “Israeli apartheid,” and Reed bashed the president for mispronouncing the name of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalists killed by Israeli forces. Sputnik and RT made fun of Biden for saying people should “keep alive the truth and honor of the Holocaust.” State media also showcased protests against Biden throughout his trip. Ultimately, the president’s Middle East tour was described as a “failure” and little more than a “photo session.”
Propaganda around the war in Ukraine remained consistent. State media showed Ukraine freeing a “warlord,” forcing mothers and newborns out of hospitals, burning and looting cities, and targeting civilians with US-supplied weapons. Interestingly, there was very little push back against evidence that Russian missiles had killed at least 23 people in Vinnytsia. Monitored accounts only posted nine tweets that mentioned the city, most of which claimed that Russia had struck an officer’s house where members of Ukraine’s air force were meeting with foreign arms suppliers. Diplomatic accounts asserted the West was fighting a proxy war in Ukraine that it couldn’t win, and that Russia’s “special military operation” marked the “beginning of a radical breakdown of [the] US-style world order.” RT warned that the West would turn on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky like it turned on the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin after World War Two. The looming food crisis also remained a large topic, with propagandists alleging that Ukraine was destroying grain and asserting that Russia had done nothing to aggravate the food shortage.
State media also covered Russian President Vladimir Putin signing more than 100 new laws, which ranged from bans on “self-walking pets” to laws against foreign agents. The latter bill allows Russian authorities to designation individuals as under “foreign influence” or as a “foreign agent” without evidence of foreign payments. Putin also passed a “media discrimination tit-for-tat law,” which enables Russia’s attorney general to prohibit foreign outlets in reaction to “hostile” actions against Russian media abroad. Other bills outlawed cryptocurrency payments, toughened the punishment for torture, founded a Russian youth movement, and established special economic measures, like forcing people to work overtime, nights, and weekends when required by the state.
Kremlin-linked accounts also weighed in on US domestic politics, largely by highlighting Biden’s struggles. RT shared a poll showing that 64 percent of Democrats want a new presidential candidate in 2024, while RIA Novosti amplified Republican threats to impeach Biden if they win the House in the midterms. Sputnik noted that Senator Joe Manchin had torpedoed much of Biden’s domestic agenda, and Life.ru warned of a pending US recession. One RT contributor said that Hunter Biden’s scandals proved that “corruption is legalized” by the US political system. Outside of the Biden family, monitored accounts tweeted more than 60 times about former US national security adviser John Bolton saying that he had helped plan coups.
Monitored Chinese accounts tweeted 19,741 times last week, pulling in 118,604 retweets and 443,261 likes.
“Xinjiang” was the most used key phrase and hashtag in tweets by Chinese diplomatic and state media Twitter accounts last week. Much of the coverage was devoted to Xi Jingpin’s visit to Xinjiang last week, his first time in eight years. “XiJinping” was the second most frequently used hashtag and fifth most used key phrase in tweets mentioning Xinjiang. Chinese diplomats’ Xinjiang-related tweets last week described Xi’s visit, quoted his speeches about ethnic cohesiveness, and painted an upbeat picture of life in the region. Some extolled the bravery of Chinese security services there, while others highlighted the locals’ song and dance habits. Others diplomats were more combative. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Zhao Lijian attacked the US Xinjiang Act and accused the United States of mistreating Muslims. The Consul General in Belfast shared an infographic denigrating the research of Adrian Zenz, a critic of China’s Xinjiang policies and a regular target of Chinese propaganda. Chinese state media like the People’s Daily and Xinhua published several upbeat stories about Xi’s visit. More critical coverage came from CGTN affiliate T-House, which focused on attacking Zenz, and a Xinhua employee, who mocked Deutsche Welle’s supposedly biased coverage of the visit.
Former senior US official John Bolton’s admission that he had “helped plan coups” in other countries prompted a strong reaction from Chinese diplomats and state media. On the diplomatic side, Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying, the Consul General in Beirut, and the Consul General in Osaka were among those using Bolton’s words to discredit the United States. On the state media side, every outlet from the ultra-nationalist Global Times to the official news agency Xinhua commented on the verbal gaffe.
US President Biden’s visit to the Middle East gave Chinese accounts monitored by Hamilton 2.0 another occasion to attack the United States. Biden’s words about the possibility of a power “vacuum” in the region were seized upon in the MFA’s Friday press conference as well as by the Consul General in Beirut to accuse the United States of playing with the lives of the region’s inhabitants. The Consul General in Belfast was quick to highlight the consequences of past US military interventions in the region and the head of China Daily in Europe suggested that China may now be the more popular superpower there.
Sri Lanka’s descent into chaos was a clear embarrassment for the Chinese state. A key destination for Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) funding, Western researchers and journalists have for years pointed to the South Asian nation as an example of Chinese “debt trap diplomacy.” Last week’s developments seemed to confirm that assessment. But rather than defend its engagement in the country, Beijing attempted to avoid the topic altogether. This is evidenced by the fact that Sri Lanka only came up in the MFA’s Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday press conferences as a result of Western outlets’ questions. On all four occasion, the MFA spokesperson’s answers were brief and non-committal. By contrast, that same spokesperson was happy to elaborate when Xinhua asked him about Western private lenders’ role in Sri Lanka’s current woes. Zhao Lijian and the Consul General in Cape Town contributed to the narrative by sharing a Global Times infographic contrasting supposed Chinese altruism with Western rapacity. As the crisis intensified throughout the week, the Global Times, CGTN, and the Consul General in Beirut all spread content accusing the West in general, and the United States in particular, of being the real culprits behind Sri Lanka’s crisis.