Last week, Russian diplomats and state-funded outlets continued their media push around the Belarusian-manufactured migrant crisis playing out on the Polish border, resulting in both “border” and “migrant” appearing among the top five most frequently used phrases by Russian accounts tracked on Hamilton 2.0. President Vladimir Putin addressed the topic at a meeting of the Foreign Ministry Collegium last week. Putin criticized the West for manipulating the crisis simply to put pressure on Minsk and increase tension around Russia. He claimed the West was “forgetting their own humanitarian commitments,” and he expressed concern for the “poor children” suffering at the hands of Polish forces. State media advanced these talking points. RT ran a piece titled, “Dismantling the EU’s hypocrisy in Belarus.” Multiple state-backed outlets posted content about Polish forces abusing migrants. When asked about U.S. criticism of Russia’s role in the migrant crisis, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova deflected by pointing to immigration challenges at the U.S. southern border.
Russian officials and state media last week downplayed Western concerns about the potential for a new Russian invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s speech to the Foreign Ministry Collegium accused the West of “exacerbating” the Ukrainian conflict by providing arms to Kyiv. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argued that Moscow would not ignore the “gross provocations” from NATO. State media echoed that point, with one outlet claiming the United Kingdom’s arms sale to Ukraine was “abject idiocy.” Zakharova accused NATO of spreading “propaganda” to convince people that “Russia and its ‘aggressive’ behavior are the source of instability on the continent.” Lavrov wondered if NATO was elevating tension “just to distract public attention from other problems.” Lavrov also leaked communications with top French and German diplomats about Ukraine in an attempt to show that Moscow was cooperative. When asked about the leak, Lavrov explained, “We are all human. You could say they got to me.”
Russian state media also provided heavy coverage of a U.S. jury’s acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges related to him killing two people at a racial justice demonstration in 2020. RT provided live updates on the court proceedings and highlighted protests against Rittenhouse’s acquittal around the United States. The left-leaning state-funded outlet Redfish compared Rittenhouse’s trial to police shootings of unarmed black men. RT show Redacted Tonight’s account tweeted, “If Kyle Rittenhouse had been an armed black man standing up to violent racists he wouldn’t have seen a trial because the cops would’ve executed him on site.” RT asked, “What does it [the acquittal] say about America right now?” Another Moscow-linked outlet questioned if social media had made a fair trial “a thing of the past” in the United States. RT also used the trial to criticize U.S. media outlets’ coverage of the case.
Unsurprisingly, Chinese twitter accounts monitored on the dashboard focused on the Xi-Biden virtual summit last week, with most accounts grading the meeting favorably. Several accounts emphasized Biden’s commitment to the One China policy and asserted that the United States does not support Taiwan’s independence. Last Thursday, the Foreign Ministry denounced a Bloomberg article that claimed that China is accelerating plans to replace U.S. and foreign technology, calling it “pure disinformation.” In a similar vein, a number of Chinese twitter accounts retweeted a video featuring Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis claiming that the United States started a new Cold War against China as an imperialist means to take over its big tech. China Daily’s EU bureau chief also claimed that U.S. tech giants collaborated with the NSA to spy on the world.
Following international coverage of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s disappearance after she accused a top Chinese party official of sexual assault, Chinese state-media rallied to provide evidence of her alleged well-being. CGTN posted an email Shuai allegedly sent to Women’s Tennis Association chairman Steve Simon claiming to be “safe” and that her previous allegations were “not true.” (Simon challenged the authenticity of the email.) Over the weekend, state media mouthpieces posted multiple photos and videos of Shuai in public and supposedly enjoying a “happy weekend.” During the week, she was mentioned in more than 80 tweets—nearly half of which came from diplomats and government officials, despite Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian claiming that the situation was not a “diplomatic question.”
The escalating conflict in Ethiopia was also covered extensively, with three of the five most retweeted tweets from monitored Chinese accounts last week covering the situation. In one tweet, CGTN reporter Shen Shiwei claimed that the BBC “changed its tone” on reporting the U.S. military’s role in the Tigray crisis in response to criticism. The proportionally high level of engagement on tweets mentioning Ethiopia was unusual for the Chinese network, especially considering that Ethiopia was not a messaging priority last week (as measured by total country mentions).
Like last week, Chinese state media also covered the Belarusian migrant crisis with a distinctly anti-NATO/EU slant. China Daily’s EU bureau chief, for example, retweeted a post about the tragic death of a 14-year-old child on the border, claiming that the EU’s border policy “kills thousands of migrants and refugees yearly.”
Finally, Lithuania was the eighth most mentioned country last week after its decision to establish a Taiwan Representative Office. The decision was roundly criticized by Beijing, with the Chinese embassy in Vilnius stating that Lithuania “shall reap what it sows.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian tweeted only once last week, criticizing the United Kingdom for its decision to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization. The solitary tweet—which was posted in English with a Farsi translation in the comments—generated moderate engagement, with over 1,000 likes. Iranian media devoted substantial coverage to the denunciation in both English and Farsi. Press TV also reported heavily on the decision, reminding readers of the United Kingdom’s own history in the Levant with references to the Balfour Declaration and other “forms of occupation and historical injustice.” (This closely mirrors Hamas’ own talking points on the subject.) Other Iranian-backed groups went even further, with Yemeni politician Mohammed Ali al-Houthi declaring, “We condemn the classification of ‘Hamas’ as terrorism, although it is not surprising from Britain, the founder of the occupation.” Robert Carter, a contributing reporter for Press TV based in the United Kingdom, criticized the decision, also linking it to Britain’s imperial history.
Iranian diplomatic and media accounts mostly avoided discussing the charges filed against two Iranian nationals for sending threatening emails to U.S. voters in the 2020 election, though they devoted some coverage to the sanctions imposed on six Iranian individuals and entities by the State Department in response. Coverage of these sanctions framed them as illegitimate and a continuation of Trump’s “maximum pressure policy,” rather than as punishment for election interference.
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