Russian diplomats and state media last week spread disinformation to discredit reporting on Russia’s alleged war crimes in Bucha, Ukraine. With images of destruction and death in Bucha coming to light as Russian troops leave the area, Kremlin-linked accounts insisted that Russian forces had not harmed “a single local resident,” and they accused Ukraine of paying crisis actors to generate media coverage and to potentially trigger a Western military intervention. Russian embassy accounts and diplomats were particularly active in promoting the idea that dead bodies in Bucha were “fakes.” In Russian government tweets about Bucha, two of the five most used hashtags were #fakes and #debunkingfakes (data from March 28-April 5). A widely shared clip claimed to show a corpse “moves his hand” in a video that was filmed by someone driving past the bodies; the BBC has shown that a smudge on the car’s windshield briefly distorted the camera’s view of the man’s arm. Russian officials also argued that videos showing the atrocities didn’t begin to circulate until four days after Russian troops had left and “when Ukrainian Security Service officers and Ukrainian television arrived.” The open-source intelligence group Bellingcat, though, has shown videos surfaced before that date.
Kremlin-backed accounts also revisited controversies around Russia’s earlier attacks on a theater and maternity ward in Mariupol. They claimed both that Ukrainian Nazis lined the theater with explosives and that there was no evidence of the “suspicious blast.” Diplomats and state-funded outlets also shared a video in which a victim of Russia’s March 9 maternity ward bombing says that Ukrainian forces occupied the hospital, stole food from pregnant women, and fabricated the air strikes with the help of AP photographers, who harassed patients. On top of that, Moscow-linked accounts argued that Ukraine had attacked a separate maternity hospital in Mariupol last week.
Russian officials also continued to expand their conspiracy around U.S.-funded bioweapon programs in Ukraine. On March 31, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed to have documents that show Hunter Biden played a central role in funding the Pentagon’s alleged bioweapon labs in Ukraine. The Washington Post found that Hunter Biden “was not part of a decision to invest in a company at the center of the Russian allegations.” Slides released by Russia’s Defense Ministry also connected the biolabs to the Democratic Party, George Soros, and a range of U.S. government agencies. Moreover, the slides implied that a Turkish-made drone was going to be used to spray biological weapons. Russian officials said Kyiv “seriously considered the possibility of using biological weapons against civilians in the Donbass and in the Russian Federation.”
Meanwhile, Kremlin-linked messengers presented Moscow at the center of a new world order and described the West as “proudly alone.” Russian diplomats argued that Russia and China were advancing a “fair world order,” claimed that the BRICS partnership between Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa would be at the center of that order, and highlighted bilateral talks with a range of counties. State media claimed the United States had lost support from allies and been betrayed by its partners in the Middle East. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the United States, EU, and NATO represented an “overt autocracy if not a dictatorship” against the rest of the world, but that the West’s authority was “irretrievably receding.”
Outside of those larger themes, Russia’s wartime propaganda highlighted detained “Ukrainian nationalists,” blamed the United States for cyberattacks, and warned that Russophobic policies could lead to a food crisis. RT showcased division within NATO, and a range of state-affiliated outlets targeted Poland, claiming its anti-Russia policies were “becoming dangerous for Europe” and showed that Warsaw was “ready to commit suicide.”
Finally, Kremlin-linked accounts also covered elections across Europe. State media amplified Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s declaration of a “great victory” in the country’s general election, showcased Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulating Orbán, and repeated claims that Ukraine attempted to interfere in Hungary’s election. The victory of Serbia’s incumbent President Aleksander Vučić received similar coverage. Ahead of the French elections, an RT op-ed asked if France would re-elect President Emmanuel Macron after his “failure to stand up to America [which] has effectively sanctioned French citizens.” Sputnik covered Macron’s opponent Marine Le Pen gaining in the polls.
State media also lifted up content that framed former U.S. President Donald Trump positively, including his “hole-in-one from 180 yards” and his lead over President Joe Biden in polls for the 2024 election.
Many high engagement tweets from Chinese diplomats and state media last week attacked the West over its treatment of other parts of the world. A diplomat from the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan highlighted some NATO countries’ colonial past in Africa, and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) criticized the “unacceptable double standard” in treatment between European and non-European refugees. Similarly, CGTN affiliate T-House denounced the U.S. government and public’s eagerness to start wars anywhere outside of the European continent.
Following declarations by the MFA in its Monday press conference, many Chinese diplomats sought to highlight the West’s supposed isolation on the issue of sanctions. The ambassador to Malta, the ambassador to South Africa, MFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian, and the Consul General in Belfast all repeated the same statistic that 140 of the UN’s more than 190 states had refused to sanction Russia.
Zhao also amplified a Financial Times article warning that the West was too confident in assuming the rest of world supported its stance on Ukraine. Meanwhile, a CGTN reporter posted an interview with an Indian historian, who denounced the West’s “colonial mindset.”
A strand of Chinese messaging was aimed at the Arab world, notably with CGTN affiliate Frontline sharing an anti-Western speech made by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The Chinese Consul General in Beirut amplified an AJ+ video in which Russia denounced France’s double standard for freedom of expression. The video explained that France summoned the Russian ambassador over anti-France cartoons; although, it defended the Charlie Hebdo cartoon that offended Muslims worldwide.
Last week’s EU-China summit drew a fair amount of coverage from Chinese diplomats and state media. “#EU” was the most frequent hashtag in tweets by Chinese diplomats and the seventh most used key phrase. Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Hua Chunying generated the most engagement with her upbeat assessment of the China-EU meeting, focusing on the strong trade ties between both parties, while arguing that both sides are forces for good in the world. A more pointed remark widely relayed by Chinese diplomats around the world was the call for the EU to “adopt an independent China policy.” This talking point was repeated by the ambassador to ASEAN, the Consul General in Karachi, the Embassy in the Netherlands, and the Embassy in Rwanda. The Global Times explained both before and after the summit that an “independent China policy” meant that the EU should not to “be kidnapped by the US.”
Chinese diplomats and state media continued to promote Russian talking points about Ukraine, including through the use of the Kremlin-approved term “special operation” to describe the war. The Consul General in Perth and China Daily were among those to present Biden’s calls for Putin to be removed from power as proof of a U.S. plan for regime change in Russia. The Chinese MFA continued its promotion of conspiracy theories about supposedly nefarious U.S.-funded biolabs in Ukraine, which was amplified by the ambassador in South Africa and Xinhua, among others. CGTN affiliate Frontline also posted several videos on Twitter associating Ukraine and its “U.S. sponsor” with Nazism.
The security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands was featured in four of last week’s five MFA press conferences (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday). The messaging around it played down the military undertones of the agreement to focus on less threatening areas of cooperation, like disaster relief and policing. Finally, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) visit to Taiwan upset Chinese authorities, as evidenced by the MFA’s reference to NED as a “second CIA” being relayed by state media in Arabic, French, and Spanish.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.