Monitored Russian accounts tweeted 15,939 times last week, pulling in 165,609 retweets and 506,058 likes.
Russian propagandists last week focused on Vladimir Putin’s trip to Tehran and the agreements he reached with the leaders of Iran and Turkey during the visit. Kremlin-linked accounts sent more than 1,000 tweets referencing Turkey or Iran, making them the fourth and fifth most mentioned countries by monitored accounts, behind only Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. Moscow-funded media compared Putin’s trip to US President Joe Biden’s earlier Middle East tour, noting that “Putin beats Biden in the Middle East” and Putin “dealt Biden a ‘retaliatory blow.’” Op-ed contributors for RT and Sputnik said the trip could help shape “the new world order” and set the stage for “global transformation.” State-backed outlets amplified Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, showcased a multi-billion dollar deal between Iran and Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom, and said the two countries could stand “unified” against Western sanctions. Kremlin-linked accounts also highlighted a joint statement between Russia, Iran, and Turkey that called for a Syrian-led and UN-facilitated resolution to the Syrian conflict. Russian propagandists went on to insist that Moscow respects Syria’s sovereignty and to assert that the United States was looting Syria, impoverishing 90 percent of its population through sanctions, and funding radicals in the country. Putin also thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his efforts to advance negotiations meant to restart exports of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea.
Later in the week, Kremlin-linked accounts celebrated an agreement to resume Ukrainian grain shipments, which was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations. RT called the arrangement a “beacon of hope.” Russian diplomats argued that the deal refuted Western efforts to shift blame for the food crisis onto Moscow, and they highlighted that grain, food, and fertilizer would start moving through the ports of Odessa. One day after the deal, Russian missiles struck Odessa. Kremlin-linked accounts were initially cagey about Moscow’s responsibility for the bombing. RIA Novosti complained that the United States had assigned blame to Russia “without evidence,” and Sputnik underscored that Turkey had “received assurances” that Russia wasn’t involved. Moscow ultimately said that it had launched the missiles to destroy a Ukrainian warship and a warehouse storing US-supplied weapons. Diplomatic accounts also pushed back on the notion that Russia sought to target grain warehouses.
Russian messengers took a similar approach to address a US claim that Moscow intended to annex parts of Ukraine: first denying it, then admitting to it with caveats. On July 19, Russia’s US Embassy argued that the White House’s claim was “fundamentally false” and designed to further aggravate the conflict. Sputnik railed against the White House’s comment, which it said was made “without evidence.” The next day, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explained that Russia’s military targets expanded beyond Donetsk and Luhansk, and those targets would include a “number of other territories” if the West keeps supplying Ukraine with long-range weapons. That same day, the Russian intelligence-linked site NewsFront bluntly stated, “’Ukrainian land’” is nothing but Russian land.”
Also last week, before Russia partially resumed gas flows through Nord Stream after days of scheduled maintenance, Kremlin-backed outlets warned that European states without Russian gas would “not survive winter,” face “popular revolts,” and crash into recessions. Russian officials blamed Western sanctions for causing technical problems with gas deliveries. State media simultaneously highlighted demand for Russia’s gas, noting that a record daily amount of it had been shipped to China, that Ukraine wanted to steal it, and that Hungary wanted to buy more of it. RT underscored that European gas prices dropped as Russia started moving gas through Nord Stream again.
Other war-related narratives continued as usual. Russian propagandists framed Ukrainian soldiers as a threat to Europe and the Ukrainian government as autocratic. They alternatively claimed Western arm shipments wouldn’t sustain Ukraine, would start World War Three, and would end up in the hands of terrorists. And they complained about US censorship and “fake news.”
Outside of Europe, Kremlin-accounts prepared for Lavrov’s trip through Africa by highlighting Russia’s historic ties with the continent, discussing opportunities for cooperation between Russian and African states, and bashing the West. Lavrov placed an article in newspapers in Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The article pointed to the Soviet Union’s connection to African liberation movements and noted that partnerships with African countries “remains among the top priorities of Russia’s foreign policy.” The piece likewise thanked African states for not imposing sanctions on Russia and promised that Moscow will fulfil its obligations to export food, energy, and fertilizer to the continent. Finally, it chastised the West’s “undisguised attempts” to “impose a unipolar work order.”
Monitored Chinese accounts tweeted 20,695 times last week, pulling in 132,748 retweets and 506,958 likes.
The announcement that US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is planning to visit Taiwan over the summer sparked an irate response from Chinese diplomats and state media. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) addressed her possible visit on Tuesday and Thursday with a formal, if somewhat threatening, statement warning of ”ensuing consequences” and “countermeasures” should the visit proceed. Several diplomats echoed the MFA’s warnings, while The People’s Daily and Global Times attacked the Biden administration for failing to uphold the “One China” policy. The Global Times based its criticism on an interview the Chinese ambassador to the United States gave to Bloomberg, where he claimed the US is “hollowing out” the policy through its actions. The most extreme reaction to the planned trip came from the former editor-in-chief of the Global Times, who warned of a “possibl[e] military conflict in the Taiwan Strait” and suggested that the Chinese military escort Pelosi’s plane over the island to send a message. While it was ostensibly unrelated to the visit, on Monday, the MFA also warned the United States about proceeding with an arms sale to the island. On Wednesday, it cautioned the European Parliament not to “embolden Taiwan independence forces,” with the former ambassador to the United Kingdom and a Beijing-based MFA official both emphasizing China’s displeasure with the EU. And on Friday, it chastised Japan for a defense paper that touched on Taiwan.
“Xinjiang” was once again the most frequent hashtag and second most frequent key phrase in tweets by Chinese diplomatic and state media Twitter accounts last week. In keeping with previous Chinese messaging efforts, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying and the Consul General in Belfast played up the region’s success by highlighting fresh fruit and dancing locals; MFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian and a popular St Petersburg-based Chinese diplomat shared a map purporting to show Muslim countries’ support for China’s Xinjiang policies (though Zhao has since deleted his tweet); Zhao and Pakistan-based Zhang Heqing derided the West’s purported double standards on Xinjiang given democracies’ history of military intervention in Muslim countries; and Zhao, the Consul General in Osaka, and Xinhua dismissed Western accusations of “forced labor” as lies. At the Aspen Security Forum, the Chinese ambassador to the United States took a different tack by highlighting the West’s own history of confrontation with militant Islamism to portray China’s policies in Xinjiang as just and proportionate.
The majority of the most engaged-with tweets last week from Chinese accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0 criticized the United States. Zhao and the Consul General in Belfast used statements by former US officials like John Bolton to present the United States as a menace to world peace. In a similar vein, the MFA official Twitter account and the Global Times denounced US troops that smuggled oil out of Syria, describing their actions as “bandit behavior.” Hua Chunying and the aforementioned St. Petersburg-based diplomat questioned the quality of US democracy based on wealth, race, gender, and age diversity. The Consul General in Belfast also mocked the European commitment to what she portrayed as a duplicitous US ally.