Russian propagandists last week reacted to Finland and Sweden’s announced bids to join NATO by threatening military retaliation, accusing the two countries of violating international agreements, and highlighting division within NATO. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Finland’s accession to NATO would turn Finish territory into “a line of military confrontation with the Russian Federation.” The ministry warned that it would be forced to take “reciprocal steps, both military-technical and otherwise.” Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, said that Finland and Sweden would “become a possible target for the Russian military.” While Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Glushko said it was too early to discuss moving nuclear weapons toward the Baltics, RT Arabic tweeted, “Finland and Sweden joining NATO will be faced with nuclear warheads.” And the outlet tweeted a poll asking, “Does Finland’s accession to NATO ignite a war between Russia and the alliance?” Moscow also claimed that Finland’s potential NATO accession would violate multiple international agreements. State-backed outlets highlighted division within NATO about Finland and Sweden’s memberships. And diplomats pushed claims that Finnish citizens didn’t want to join the alliance. Meanwhile, Kremlin-linked accounts covered a Russian energy supplier’s decision to cut electricity to Finland. At least seven Moscow-funded outlets amplified warnings that Russia planned to cut gas to Finland before the Kremlin’s spokesperson called those reports “false.”
Russia’s Ministry of Defense also rolled out new details to advance its conspiracy about a U.S. bioweapons program in Ukraine. The ministry claimed that leaders of the U.S. Democratic Party used the bioweapons program to generate money for political campaigns. According to Russian officials, billionaire investor George Soros was the main sponsor of bioweapons research in Ukraine, which also involved the pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna, as well as Poland and Germany. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the research involved “criminal experiments on Ukrainian civilians” who were patients in a psychiatric hospital near Kharkiv. The ministry argued that the bioweapons program was responsible for a 2020 tuberculosis outbreak in Luhansk. It also asserted that U.S. President Joe Biden, when he was vice president, directly oversaw the program and was “involved in financial fraud in Ukraine.” Russian officials said that Ukraine was preparing to spread the bioweapons via drone before Russian forces disrupted the program.
Kremlin-backed accounts continued their efforts to undermine support for Western aid to Ukraine. State media highlighted domestic opposition to Biden’s proposed $40 billion aid package to Kyiv, including by echoing one U.S. senator’s claim that the additional funding would ruin the U.S. economy. The Russian intelligence-linked outlet NewsFront said that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought to personally profit from selling arms to Ukraine, while Sputnik said the additional aid would prolong the war and “sacrifice Ukrainians at unbelievable numbers.” At the same time, Russian accounts were warning that NATO’s aid to Ukraine would increase the odds of war between NATO and Russia. State media argued the West was “sleepwalking into disaster.”
Russian propagandists also continued to paint Ukrainian forces as weak and war criminals. The Defense Ministry claimed that Russia had destroyed 30 drones, 14 aircraft, and three ships belonging to Ukraine as the two forces clashed around Snake Island. Reuters wasn’t able to confirm the claim. Russian state media also accused Ukrainian troops of torturing Russian soldiers for likes on social media, attempting to frame Russia for a chemical weapons attack, and preparing a massacre like the one that happened in Bucha. There were only three tweets last week mentioning the Donets River, where satellite imagery showed a Russian battalion taking heavy losses.
Russian state-directed messengers also played up how the war in Ukraine was impacting Western economies. NewsFront claimed that the West’s sanctions against Russia were “economic suicide,” while RIA Novosti covered an op-ed in the New York Post from a former lieutenant governor of New York who said that “going to the store turned into torture” because of inflation. RT warned that high gas prices would be “another nightmare” for Biden’s approval rating. State media also forecast European gas prices tripling, “martial law for energy” in Germany, and millions of U.K. homes without heat this winter. State media, though, claimed that Russia’s economy was weathering the sanctions and that the ruble was the strongest currency on earth.
Chinese diplomats and state media last week continued to attack “the West,” with the harshest criticism, as per usual, directed at the United States. A cartoon initially shared by a CGTN employee showing the Global South pillaged of their resources by North America and Europe was reposted by a CGTN affiliate, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Zhao Lijian, the Consul General in Kolkata, and the Consul General in Belfast. Several anti-American tweets ranked among the most retweeted tweets of the week, including one in which the Chinese Embassy in Venezuela attacked U.S. sanctions, another where Deputy Foreign Minister Hua Chunying quoted Rand Paul calling the United States the “greatest propagator of disinformation in the history of the world,” and several where Chinese officials relayed the MFA’s accusation that the National Endowment for Democracy is a “second CIA.”
Beijing was far more tactful toward other countries. For instance, Zhao meticulously avoided calling out Israel for the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during his daily press conference. And while CGTN affiliate T-House attacked Western media for not naming the culprit, CGTN and Xinhua adopted similar noncommittal wording to their Western counterparts.
There was a high level of Chinese state media interest in Finland and Sweden’s possible accession to NATO, with both countries registering among the ten most mentioned countries by monitored Chinese accounts last week. The head of China Daily in Europe warned that NATO enlargement “could be a trigger of WWIII,” and T-House cautioned that Nordic expansion would “be the most dangerous geopolitical decision the West has made in decades.” Diplomats were less vocal in their opposition than state media, but those who commented unanimously denigrated NATO, defended Russia’s position, and warned of dire consequences.
Despite’s China struggles to control its COVID-19 outbreak, and with mounting discontent over the government’s drastic implementation of its zero-COVID policy, many Chinese diplomats and state media continued to praise the authorities’ handling of the situation. Some went on the offensive and highlighted the United States’ poor handling of its pandemic response and predicted an upcoming surge in cases. The WHO chief’s declaration that China’s zero-COVID policy is not sustainable received little but largely negative coverage from Chinese diplomats and state media. When pressed on the WHO chief’s statement in the MFA’s Wednesday press conference, Zhao highlighted instead the WHO regional director for the western Pacific’s positive assessment of China’s public health policies.
With UN human rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet slated to visit China, including Xinjiang, later this month, Chinese diplomats and state media repeated many of their usual talking points about the territory, highlighting the economic prosperity in the region, denouncing genocide accusations as lies, and portraying inhabitants as happy and dancing.
Continuing from the previous week, Chinese messengers also continued to defend the election of John Lee Ka-chiu as the chief executive of Hong Kong, claiming he received “overwhelming support.” The MFA denounced “external forces’ interfering tricks,” while Xinhua relayed accusations that “Western countries [are] smearing [the] Hong Kong election.”
Finally, Japan’s warnings that it would not accept a change of Taiwan’s status quo by force caused angry responses from the MFA, as well as from other Chinese diplomats and state media.
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