Russian government-affiliated Twitter accounts marked Victory Day, which celebrates the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazis in World War II, by launching a patriotic messaging push across social media. Russian diplomats and state media posted more than 1,800 tweets mentioning “victory” between May 2 and May 9. Diplomats spearheaded the effort by sending more than 1,200 of those tweets. Seven of the top ten hashtags used by Russian state-backed accounts during that timeframe related to Victory Day. This high-volume messaging campaign is standard practice for Russian propagandists around patriotic holidays. Russia’s Victory Day messaging this year was actually less forceful than in 2021, when Russian-backed accounts tweeted “victory” more than 2,200 times between May 2 and May 9. The higher volume of Victory Day propaganda in 2021 than in 2022 suggests that the rapidly evolving war in Ukraine has prevented Kremlin-linked accounts from concentrating their messaging over a weeklong period.
State-backed coverage of Victory Day this year tried to justify Russia’s war on Ukraine, highlighted patriotic events, and emphasized Russia’s “decisive” role in combating 20th century Nazism. RT and other outlets amplified President Vladimir Putin’s speech, in which he claimed Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine was a “preemptive rebuff” to a planned NATO-led “invasion of our [Russia’s] historical lands.” State media and diplomats also provided live streamed videos of the Victory Day parade in Moscow and showcased Russia’s military equipment. The Kremlin, however, called off a miliary flyover, citing bad weather despite sunny skies and 5 mph winds over Moscow during the parade. State media had highlighted practice flights over the Russian capital throughout last week. Kremlin-linked accounts also emphasized Victory Day celebrations outside of Moscow, including commemorations in parts of Ukraine. Ahead of Victory Day, Russian diplomats underscored the importance of the Soviet Union’s role in liberating “Europe and the world from Nazism,” and RT posted a series of special coverage articles honoring World War Two veterans.
Meanwhile, Russian propagandists continued to react to events on the ground in Ukraine. Mariupol remained a primary target. RT claimed that Ukraine’s “neo-Nazi Azov battalion” had open fired on children and elderly people in the city, while Renegade Inc. argued that Azov fighters had hid in kindergartens and attempted to flee Mariupol in women’s clothing. State media showed Mariupol citizens criticizing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Russian diplomatic accounts highlighted citizens being “rescued” from the besieged Azovstal steel plant by Russian forces. Elsewhere in Ukraine, state-backed outlets posted videos of Russian helicopters and submarines destroying Ukrainian military targets. On Sunday, the Kremlin’s propagandists pushed back on reports that Russian forces had killed dozens of civilians by bombing a school in Luhansk.
Moscow-linked accounts also continued to spread a range of war-related disinformation narratives. Several Russian officials claimed that Poland intended to grab part of Ukraine’s territory. Others continued to promote the idea that NATO had set up bioweapon laboratories in Ukraine. Multiple state media accounts amplified a claim by U.S. director Oliver Stone that Washington may launch nuclear weapons at Russian-held parts of Ukraine. RIA Novosti reported that Ukrainian soldiers were practicing dark magic. Alexander Alimov, a Russian representative to the United Nations, retweeted a post about Kyiv inventing a pill that turned people into “universal soldiers.”
Russian propagandists also criticized U.S. assistance to Ukraine. RT argued that Washington was sending Kyiv “billions of dollars of weaponry it can’t use properly,” depleting U.S. weaponry, and making defense contractors rich. Renegade Inc. said that Biden’s requested aid package for Ukraine could provide $55,000 to every homeless person in America. Revelations that the United States had given Ukraine intelligence that led to the deaths of Russian generals and the sinking of a Russian ship provoked limited coverage, though one diplomat said it was proof that the West was waging a proxy war against Russia. State media also amplified Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s attacks on Biden’s approach to Ukraine. Outside of war commentary, Kremlin-directed outlets used debates in the United States around abortion rights to highlight division within the country. RT also criticized the Biden administration Disinformation Governance Board as “another propaganda tool.” State-funded outlets paid little attention to primary elections ahead of the U.S. midterms.
May 7 marked the 22nd anniversary of NATO’s bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade that killed three journalists and injured more than 20 Chinese diplomats. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) official account, the Chinese Embassy in Italy, the People’s Daily, and Global Times were a few of the many Chinese state-backed Twitter accounts to denounce the “barbaric atrocity” and claim that NATO owes the Chinese people “a debt of blood.” Deputy Foreign Minister Hua Chunying’s tweet commemorating the anniversary was the second most retweeted tweet from all Chinese accounts monitored by Hamilton 2.0 last week, following another anti-NATO tweet from MFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian, who tweeted about the alleged U.S. promise not to expand NATO eastward in 1990. Continuing with the anti-NATO theme, the Chinese ambassador to ASEAN called NATO a “global peace disruptor.”
More broadly, Chinese diplomats continued to accuse United States of backstabbing Europe over Ukraine, and to portray the West as globally isolated over sanctions against Russia.
In response to Japan’s increasingly vocal warnings about Ukraine potentially becoming a precursor to Chinese adventurism in Taiwan, the Chinese MFA accused Tokyo of “hyping up the so-called China threat” and the Chinese embassy in the UK “condemned [the] provocation.” Relatedly, the Consul General in Osaka, as well as the head of China Daily in Europe, highlighted Japan’s World War II history in arguing that Japan is “not qualified to say anything” about the Taiwan issue. At the same time, the Consul General in Osaka also promoted friendly Sino-Japanese relations and a CGTN reporter equated U.S. media’s current (mis)treatment of China to that endured by Japan in the 1990s.
“COVID” and “Shanghai” were the first and second most used key phrases and hashtags in last week’s tweets by Chinese diplomats and state media. While messaging on Shanghai remained upbeat and patriotic, the broader coronavirus narrative focused on the U.S. death toll reaching one million last week.
With the new chief executive of Hong Kong elected on Sunday in an election denounced by the G7 and the EU, Chinese diplomats and state media devoted some coverage to the region. Hua Chunying and the Consul General in Belfast quoted RT pundit George Galloway, who attacked British imperialism in the city, while Zhao Lijian highlighted the stunning progress accomplished in neighboring CCP-ruled Shenzhen. State media highlighted the democratic nature of the election and the new leader’s commitment to inclusion and diversity.
Finally, “Xinjiang” was the fourth most frequent hashtag and the sixth most frequent key phrase in Chinese tweets last week. The Cultural Counselor in the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan accused the BBC of lying about the region, while Hua Chunying, Zhao Lijian, and the Chinese Ambassador to the Dominican Republic all focused on the beauty of the region’s landscapes and the grit of its inhabitants.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.