Russian officials and state media last week targeted the European Union as the bloc moved forward with plans to grant Ukraine candidate status. RIA Novosti paraphrased a Russian lawmaker saying that “Ukraine will not live to see EU membership,” while Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the EU would disappear before it accepted Ukraine. Kremlin-linked accounts also bashed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s “truly monstrous” claim that “Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective.” Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggested von der Leyen was “preparing” for Ukraine’s death. When the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and Romania traveled to Kyiv, in part to discuss EU accession, Medvedev tweeted, “European fans of frogs, liverwurst and spaghetti love visiting Kiev. With zero use.” Other Moscow-affiliated accounts said giving Ukraine candidate status would undermine the EU’s admission criteria, pointed to Ukraine’s corruption challenges, and noted that the EU had explored membership for states that never joined the union. Meanwhile, Russia’s permanent EU representative said Russia-EU relations were at their lowest point in history and Russian President Vladimir Putin argued the bloc “lost its political sovereignty” to the United States. Finally, RIA Novosti ran a headline calling Lithuania’s ban on EU-sanctioned goods moving through its territory to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad “a reason for war.”
Russian propagandists also framed Ukraine as a weak, Nazi-filled state that has demoralized and divided the West. The Russian intelligence-backed website SouthFront argued that Kyiv had lost hope, while Kremlin-associated Twitter accounts claimed that Ukrainian forces had acted “like terrorists” by murdering civilians with NATO-supplied weapons and raping women. One Russian official argued that the “West understands that they have grown a monster,” referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Kremlin-funded media claimed that the United States was “now ready to turn on Zelensky” and Germany doubted his sanity. RT highlighted polls showing EU citizens favoring peace, even if it required Ukrainian concessions. RIA Novosti used a Wall Street Journal piece about high gas prices to argue that “the united Western front against Russia is falling apart.” And a range of state-backed outlets amplified Turkey’s resistance to Sweden and Finland’s bids to join NATO. At the same time, state media showcased China’s support for Russia and emphasized the Kremlin’s ties with countries in Latin America and Africa.
Outside of Ukraine, Kremlin-backed accounts weighed in on U.S. politics. They posted nearly 400 tweets about U.S. President Joe Biden, painting him as incompetent and unpopular. Thirty of those tweets were about him falling off a bike. Others showed Biden losing support among Democrats and enduring long-shot Republican efforts to impeach him. The Russian intelligence-linked website NewsFront warned that “revolutionary violence… threatens to overwhelm America this summer.” One Sputnik contributor retweeted a claim that the January 6 Committee hearings were meant to distract from U.S. bioweapons in Ukraine. Propagandists also highlighted domestic U.S. criticism of the Pentagon’s “woke” spending on Pride month activities and critiques of trans athletes.
There was limited coverage of the French parliamentary elections, where President Emmanuel Macron lost his absolute majority in the National Assembly and fringe parties saw gains. However, RIA Novosti did show far-right leader Marine Le Pen expressing her satisfaction with the results and far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon doubting the integrity of the vote before it took place.
Kremlin-affiliated media showed slightly more interest in the election of Colombia’s first leftist president, Gustavo Petro. Most of the coverage revolved around basic updates about the opening and closing of the polls. Some Russian journalists, however, spread warnings about a “preemptive coup” against Petro and claimed there were likely wide-spread efforts to manipulate the vote. One RT writer highlighted “fraud tactics” in the election and reminded her fallowers that Colombia is “NATO’s main partner in Latin America.”
For the second consecutive week, Chinese officials and state media focused heavily on Xinjiang-related topics, with #Xinjiang and “Xinjiang” registering as the top hashtag and key phrase among monitored accounts on Twitter. As is customary, outputs ranged from the promotion of the region’s cultural and economic opportunities to blunt rejection of Western accusations of genocide and forced labor. On YouTube, one of the ten most viewed CGTN videos last week featured a pro-unification Taiwanese commentator who gushed about her visit to Xinjiang, relayed a conversation with a local about the supposed benefits of China’s “training centers,” and claimed that coverage of Xinjiang in Taiwan is orchestrated by separatists “reared by the U.S.”
Pushback also included the now rote whataboutism argument that the “real” cultural genocide has been perpetrated by the United States against Native Americans. Relatedly, a meme posted by China’s Consul General in Belfast comparing the wide use of the Tibetan language by Chinese Tibetans and the low use of native languages by Native Americans was the most retweeted tweet last week from the network of accounts monitored on Hamilton. Perhaps not coincidentally, she was also the most retweeted Chinese account last week, cementing her status as one of China’s premier wolf warriors.
Although Russia and Ukraine were respectively the third and fourth most-mentioned countries on Twitter and in website articles last week, the United States was mentioned more than twice as often as the two countries combined. The ongoing war also did not register as a top topic on Twitter or YouTube. Coverage of the war continued to largely ignore atrocities on the ground, shifting the blame and focus to alleged NATO aggression and past wars conducted by the Alliance or the United States. A number of posts also highlighted the supposed folly of Western sanctions, suggesting that the measures have strengthened the Russian economy, hurt Western consumers, and created global food shortages (citing Russia’s deputy prime minister as their source). Chinese sources also continued to trumpet greater cooperation with Russia, especially through the expansion of the BRICS format. BRICS registered as the seventh most-used hashtag last week. Official Chinese sources also repeated statistics showing that most countries in the world have refused to support sanctions against Russia.
Relatedly, China targeted many of its messages towards audiences in the Global South last week, positioning itself as being interested in “common development” rather than the West’s efforts to build coalitions among “like-minded” countries. In one of the ten most retweeted tweets last week, China Daily’s EU bureau chief celebrated a new public opinion poll showing that China has surpassed the United States in terms of favorability among African youth, in what he called a “huge” development. Additionally, China’s ambassador in South Africa suggested that Western efforts to drive a wedge between Africa and China were “doomed” to fail.
Finally, Chinese messengers continued to bash the United States on both foreign and domestic issues. Though coverage of the January 6 committee hearings was extremely limited and factual, Chinese diplomats and state media alike waded into multiple domestic debates in the United States, most notably those related to gun control. The Consul General in Belfast tweeted, “In China kids don’t need bulletproof blankets nor drills to use them.” The Consul General in Osaka added that the failure of the U.S. government to control gun violence was evidence of a “false democracy.” Racism towards Asian Americans was also featured in a widely viewed CGTN video, in which Asian Americans were portrayed as “perpetual foreigners” in their own country. As is customary, U.S. foreign policy was also roundly criticized, with the Ministry of Foreign affairs labelling the United States’ China policy as “deceptive, hypocritical, and dangerous.”
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