Russian state media and diplomats last week tweeted 17,313 times, generating 196,139 retweets and 614,738 likes.
Russian propagandists last week posted more than 1,000 tweets mentioning NATO, bringing in more than 19,000 retweets and 56,000 likes. Russian officials largely shrugged off Sweden and Finland’s invitation to join the alliance. One diplomat summarized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s thoughts by saying, “Russia does not care too much” about the Nordic states’ accession. Putin, though, warned that if NATO infrastructure is deployed to Finland and Sweden, Russia would take reciprocal steps. Kremlin-linked accounts took a much harder line on NATO’s summit. They showcased protesters, argued that the alliance has created destruction instead of a rules-based order, said that NATO has made a “serious bid to confront Russia on all fronts,” and categorized its new strategy as “insane.” Russian messengers also asserted that NATO was both manipulating and uninterested in Ukraine. They likewise stated that NATO members were concerned about US political instability and highlighted calls from Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) for the United States to pull out of the alliance. Finally, Moscow-affiliated accounts posted 75 tweets that amplified China’s criticism of NATO, including Beijing’s argument that the alliance was a Cold War relic.
Moscow’s messengers also spread disinformation about a Russian missile strike that killed at least 20 people when it hit a shopping mall in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk. Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted that Ukraine staged the bombing and compared it to a “Bucha-style” provocation. Twitter labeled Polyanskiy’s tweet as false or misleading. The account for Russia’s Arms Control Delegation in Vienne said the bombing was “#fakenews” because some glass bottles in the building weren’t broken. The same account compared the bombing to the White Helmets spreading fake videos in Syria, another false claim promoted by the Kremlin. At the same time, some diplomatic and state media accounts sought to justify targeting a mall by claiming Ukrainian forces use them for weapons storage. The Russian government’s official line, though, was that a “high-precision air attack” against a weapons facility started a fire that then spread to the “non-functioning shopping mall.” BBC, the Guardian, and Bellingcat have refuted Russia’s claims.
Meanwhile, Kremlin-linked accounts continued to push back against claims that it is responsible for a global food shortage. Putin insisted that Russia is a “major and responsible” actor in the food market that meets its contractual obligations and supplies food to more than 160 countries. Moscow even said its military retreat from Snake Island was a gesture of “goodwill” meant to help alleviate the food crisis by opening shipping lanes. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson blamed Western sanctions for blocking transportation logistics and payment systems. Russia’s US embassy blamed the West’s “illiterate macroeconomic steps,” and its Canadian embassy placed part of the blame on the West’s “ill-conceived green energy transition.”
Russian state media also pushed other familiar war-time conspiracies. RIA Novosti reported that the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service said Poland was working out ways to dismember Ukraine. The Russian intelligence-liked site NewsFront warned about the “liquidation of Moldovan statehood” and said that Ukraine has “regularly arranged terrorist attacks” in Transnistria to draw Moldova into the war. NewsFront also asserted that the United States was drawing up plans “for the dismemberment of Russia.” And Sputnik stated that the CIA was recruiting ISIS terrorists to fight in Ukraine.
Kremlin-backed outlets also inserted themselves into US politics. The outlet Life predicted a US civil war in the fall over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Sputnik argued that US President Joe Biden’s stance toward Ukraine was creating a “voter exodus” from the Democratic Party, while NewsFront highlighted a poll showing that Americans were unhappy with the direction of the country under the Biden administration. RT also claimed that Biden had paid for his son’s prostitutes. Interestingly, RT also ran an op-ed arguing that Donald Trump had “single-handedly killed his own 2024 chances” by pushing lies around the 2020 election.
Monitored Chinese accounts tweeted 21,944 times last week, generating 159,342 retweets and 683,731 likes.
The prominence of China in NATO’s latest Strategic Concept, notably its portrayal of China as presenting “systemic challenges,” prompted a barrage of criticism from Chinese diplomats and state media last week. “NATO” was the ninth most frequent key phrase and eighth most frequent hashtag in tweets from Chinese accounts monitored by Hamilton 2.0 last week, and the organization was mentioned almost every day in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) press conferences (five times on Tuesday, eight times on Wednesday, 18 times on Thursday (the day the paper was released), and six times on Friday). The Chinese Embassy in Italy and the Ambassador in Malta pushed back against the verbiage used by NATO to describe China’s role in the world. A more derisive version of their message was a photomontage of various NATO interventions sarcastically labelled “defensive” that was shared by MFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian, the Ambassador to ASEAN, and a Chinese diplomat based in Russia and generated significant engagement on Twitter. Other diplomats like the cultural attaché in Pakistan Zhang Heqing and the Consul General in Belfast highlighted the United States’ supposedly hegemonic role in the alliance. Finally, several diplomatic accounts, including the Chinese Mission to the UN, the MFA’s official Twitter account, and the former Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, warned Japan not to pursue closer ties with NATO.
By far the biggest messaging priority for Chinese diplomats and state media last week was the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong. Terms related to the anniversary occupied five of the top ten most frequent key phrases from monitored accounts, with “motherland” and “return” ranking first and second, and four of the ten most frequent hashtags, with “HongKong” and “HK25” at the top. “Hong Kong” was also mentioned 33 times in the MFA’s Friday press conference. The anniversary’s crucial importance to the Chinese state was further highlighted by Xi Jinping’s personal visit to the city, an extraordinary event given the Chinese leader’s reluctance to travel abroad during the pandemic. His speech about the supposed vitality of the “one country, two systems” principle was covered by the Ambassador to the United States, Xinhua, and the People’s Daily, among others. Several diplomatic and state media accounts pushed back against Western, and in particular British, criticism of the Chinese state’s ongoing repression in Hong Kong. The Chinese Embassy in Ireland trolled Boris Johnson by highlighting the United Kingdom’s disrespect of international agreements in the context of Brexit. And the Consul General in Belfast, as well as CGTN affiliate T-House, brought up the United Kingdom’s colonial history to promote China’s supposedly superior governance of the city.
The US Supreme Court’s recent decisions were referenced in three of the MFA’s press conferences last week. On Monday, spokesperson Zhao Lijian commented on the decision to overturn gun restrictions in New York State. He used his answer to highlight gun violence in the United States: “The American public (…) fear for their lives on an almost daily basis.” Several Chinese diplomats and state media outlets echoed this rhetoric on Twitter. On Thursday, Zhao answered a question about “the debate over abortion rights in the US.” His answer about the United States turning its back on women’s rights was amplified on Twitter by Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying and the cultural attaché in Pakistan, Zhang Heqing. Chinese state media, including China Daily and the Global Times, sought to use the overturning of Roe v. Wade to damage the United States’ standing in the world. And on Friday, Zhao used a question from Reuters to highlight “the international community’s fair criticism” of the US Supreme Court’s ruling limiting the regulatory powers of the EPA. Xinhua, CGTN anchors, and CGTN America all explained that this decision made the United States an unreliable partner on climate change.
In parallel to their current events-driven messaging, Chinese diplomats and state media continued to criticize a broad range of international democracy-led institutions, often explicitly promoting Chinese-led alternatives. For instance, “G7” was the tenth most frequent key phrase and ninth most frequent hashtag in tweets by Chinese accounts monitored by Hamilton 2.0 last week. Popular tweets referencing the G7 included Zhao unfavorably comparing the grouping to BRICS, Hua alluding to a G7-free world full of possibilities, and the ambassador in Malta accusing the G7 of creating all the major crises of the modern world. The Consul General in Beirut, the Consul General in Zanzibar, and a Chinese diplomat in Russia all highlighted China’s great contribution to Africa’s development and well-being, as well as the West’s hypocritical denigration of those efforts. Lastly, many Chinese accounts accused Western countries of racism against Black people. The Consul General in Belfast compared the treatment of African refugees to that of their Ukrainian counterparts. Somewhat relatedly, state media employees at China Daily, CGTN, as well as two articles from the Global Times, went after a now-deleted tweet from the Economist they accused of comparing Chinese people to pigs.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.