Monitored Russian accounts tweeted 16,236 times last week, generating 191,388 retweets and 584,066 likes.
Kremlin-linked accounts took aim at UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson after he announced his resignation, making “Johnson” the second most used key phrase by Russian state media last week. Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov noted that Johnson “doesn’t like us, and we [don’t like] him either.” Other propagandists were more vitriolic. The left-leaning outlet RedFish called Johnson a “lying racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, and homophobic” person. RIA Novosti said he was a “greasy pig.” RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan argued Johnson was the “personification of British political culture… a discouraging combination of arrogance and pigheadedness.” Others pointed to his scandals and the record high inflation he’s leaving behind. Many of the posts criticized Johnson’s support for Ukraine, calling him a “radical Russophobe” and suggesting he become the mayor of Snake Island or get a timeshare in Mariupol. The RT en Espanol-affiliated account Ahi Les Va said Ukraine was more shaken by Johnson’s resignation than the United Kingdom. Some accounts began speculating about his replacement. Sputnik correspondent Wyatt Reed shared disinformation about UK intelligence selecting the next prime minister.
Russian propagandists gave former prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe much more sympathetic coverage after news of his assassination. Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to Abe as an “outstanding statesman” and “magnificent person,” who strengthened ties between Russia and Japan. Russia’s Embassy in Japan showed diplomats laying flowers for Abe, while state media discussed how he was “a friend of Russia” and was being mourned around the world. Though most of the coverage expressed condolences, RedFish argued that Abe would be remembered as “a denier and apologist of Imperial Japan’s war crimes.” Other outlets spread conspiracies. The Russian intelligence-linked website NewsFront suggested Abe was assassinated for his pro-Russian policy and warned that former Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl would be targeted next. Zvezda published quotes by someone saying Abe’s guards were either “unprofessional or it was planned” before comparing Abe’s assassination to the murder of John F. Kennedy. On the other hand, RT ridiculed a French politician and a Greek television station for reporting disinformation about a video game producer being Abe’s killer.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Ministry of Defense rolled out new details to advance its conspiracy about US bioweapons labs in Ukraine. It claimed to have evidence that US microbiologists were researching tick-borne illnesses when there was a “rapid increase” in “tick-borne borreliosis” in Ukraine and regions of Russia. It also said that University of Florida researchers were studying the spread of pathogens through wild boars when African swine fever broke out in several Eastern European countries, causing more than €2.4 billion in damages to agricultural products. The ministry argued that members of the Ukrainian military had been used in US biological experiments, as supposedly evidenced by the fact that they had unusually high levels of rare diseases and high concentrations of antibiotics in their systems. Finally, the Defense Ministry pointed to a US government study on bioweapons programs during the Korean War to demonstrate the “continuity” of the United States building up its biological capabilities. These messages gained little attention on social media, though. The most popular tweet only had 355 retweets. When the conspiracy was at its height in March, tweets about it brought in more than 2,500 retweets.
Other lines of Russian propaganda continued as usual. Putin argued that the “collective West” was the “direct instigator” of the war and was attempting to undermine Russia by supporting terrorism and separatism in the country. Ukrainian forces were shown killing children, while Russian forces were shown destroying NATO-supplied weapons. State-backed outlets continued to blame the West for “artificially” blocking grain exports and said the EU “will be held responsible for starving millions.” Russian intelligence-linked sites claimed that the Ukrainian military had turned against President Volodymyr Zelensky and that the West was “ready to abandon” parts of eastern Ukraine.
Kremlin-affiliated accounts used last week’s G20 meeting to assert that the West was isolated, while Russia was embraced by the international community. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs argued that the “G7’s plan to boycott Russia failed.” One Russian ambassador said the G7 had isolated themselves, while another diplomatic account relayed, in a reference to the G20, that 20 minus 7 was 13, putting Russia in the majority. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had driven himself into isolation by not attending G20 meetings, where “few people even noticed” his absence. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was shown having bilateral side meetings with a range of countries and giving statements condemning the West’s approach to Ukraine.
Russian propagandists also weighed in on US politics. They bashed President Biden for supply chain issues and called into question his mental fitness. Hunter Biden was shown doing drugs in a sensory deprivation tank. RT amplified former president Donald Trump’s claim that crime rates proved the United States was “a failed nation.” Multiple outlets also pushed a video of a state senator from Rhode Island twerking. Russian media also played up the “invasion” at the Mexican border. Brittney Griner, the WNBA star detained in Russia, was only mentioned in nine tweets.
Monitored Chinese accounts tweeted 21,218 times last week, generating 136,496 retweets and 551,263 likes.
China’s diplomatic messaging continued to be dominated by the prodigious outputs of three otherwise obscure diplomats, the consuls general in Osaka and Belfast and the cultural consular in Pakistan. Combined, the three diplomats posted over 4,000 tweets in June, an average of more than 130 posts per person per day. Zhang Meifang, the consul general in Belfast, received the second most retweets and likes, bested only by the always popular Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Zhao Lijian. Her most engaged-with tweet highlighted comments from US scholar Jeffrey Sachs, who claimed that he is “pretty certain [covid] came out of US biolab technology.” The claim was repeated by more than a dozen other diplomats and state media entities and affiliated personnel.
Other strategically amplified messages included whataboutism posts highlighting the United States’ record on human rights and international interventions. The most liked and retweeted tweet last week was a post by another relatively obscure diplomat, this one based in St. Petersburg, who, in a seeming defense of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, highlighted the number of US bombs dropped in Laos during the Vietnam War. This message was again amplified by a contingent of the usual wolf warrior suspects, including Zhao and the consul general in Osaka, Japan. A similar message was posted by Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying, though she widened the aperture to include NATO bombing campaigns from Kosovo to Iraq. “NATO” also registered as the ninth most mentioned key phrase by monitored accounts, continuing the recent trend of China bashing the alliance.
Hua also took aim at police brutality in the United States after the killing of Jayland Walker. In a tweet echoing her famous “I can’t breathe” retort to a State Department spokesperson after the killing of George Floyd, Hua asked, “How many more #GeorgeFloyds and #JaylandWalkers must die before there is fairness and justice in the US?” She included an image comparing the shooting death of Walker, who was shot after allegedly fleeing a traffic stop, to the peaceful arrest of Bobby Crimo, the Highland Park Fourth of July shooter. The police brutality narrative was picked up by multiple other diplomatic accounts, including the official MFA account, which tweeted a statement made by Zhao Lijian during a daily press briefing that “under US hegemony, it was not only George Floyd who can’t breathe. Many people in countries like #Syria and #Afghanistan can’t breathe either.” In total, George Floyd was mentioned in at least 23 posts last week, which included coverage of the sentencing of his convicted killer, Derek Chauvin, for civil rights violations.
Finally, Xinjiang was once again a top messaging priority for Chinese accounts last week, with the region registering as the most used key phrase and hashtag by monitored Chinese accounts. The most retweeted Xinjiang-related tweet featured an “elegant Chinese Uyghur lady[‘s]…tough words for some US politicians,” in which a woman denounces the United States’ Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Other top posts mentioning Xinjiang included the usual panoply of messaging about the region, from misdirection posts touting the region’s tourist attractions to a cartoon denouncing US “lies” about the mistreatment of Uyghurs.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.