Last week, Kremlin-affiliated messengers pushed combative messaging around the conflict in Ukraine. Russian officials and state media continued to blame the “’collective West’ under the leadership of the USA” for tensions along the Ukrainian border, where there has been a buildup of Russian troops. Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, said the United States had launched a “malicious propaganda” operation meant to push Ukraine into a military conflict with Russia. An SVR statement claimed that “officials in Washington have been actively intimidating the world community by alleging Russia is preparing for ‘aggression’ against Ukraine.” Referring to Western support for Ukraine, the SVR statement, as reported by RT’s Russian-language website, said Russia “observed a similar situation in Georgia on the eve of the events of 2008,” a nod to Russia’s invasion of Georgia. RT joined the aggressive messaging, running an article titled, “‘Russian troops dismember the armed forces of Ukraine’: how a war between Moscow & Kiev could play out & why it won’t happen.” Other pieces portrayed Ukraine “on its knees” and belonging to Moscow. Meanwhile, Russian officials rejected Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s claim that the Kremlin was helping to orchestrate a coup against him.
The Belarusian-orchestrated migrant crisis continued to get a significant amount of coverage, with Moscow-backed outlets advancing familiar narratives. State media highlighted the poor conditions migrants face and protesters standing in solidarity with asylum seekers trapped at the Polish-Belarusian border. RT published an op-ed that said the West was using migrants as “a media weapon in the geopolitical war” against Russia and Belarus. State-funded media also circulated President Putin’s argument that sanctions against Belarus would be counterproductive. Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova explained that the crisis offers the EU an “opportunity to demonstrate in practice its commitment to high ideals of humanism and international law.” Tass amplified Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s call for the EU to pay for migrants to go back to their country of origin.
Russian officials and state media also began to campaign against the Summit for Democracy, which is scheduled for December 9-10 and will include delegations from over 100 countries but excludes Russia and China. On November 25, Zakharova decried the summit as something Washington organized to fuel confrontation between the West and Russia and China. Zakharova said the U.S. effort to determine which countries count as democracies was “cynical and pathetic” given the democracy and human rights challenges within the United States. She claimed the summit was meant to undermine the United Nations, and she argued this type of U.S. coalition building was reminiscent of the anti-Iraq coalition in the early 2000s. On November 26, the Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the United States wrote a joint op-ed, which rehashed these arguments. Russian state media amplified the piece and elevated other Chinese state-backed critiques of the summit.
Throughout the week, Chinese officials denigrated the Summit for Democracy hosted by the United States, culminating in the aforementioned op-ed. In a somewhat surprising twist, “democracy” was the sixth most frequent key phrase used by Chinese officials and diplomats last week. The Chinese MFA’s daily press conferences demonstrated a remarkable degree of narrative convergence, or even coordination, between Chinese and Russian messaging on this issue. On Monday, the People’s Daily gave the Chinese MFA a chance to praise a “Webinar on Democracy & Human Rights: Common Goals with Diversified Approaches” co-hosted by the permanent missions of Russia and China in Geneva. On Thursday, the Chinese MFA used statements from a meeting of the China-Russia Committee for Parliamentary Cooperation to accuse the United States of “window-dressing” and of using democracy as “a tool for advancing its global strategies and geopolitical interests.” Finally, Chinese spokesperson Zhao Lijian declared on Friday that “[Kremlin Press Secretary] Peskov is right” when accusing Washington of “trying to privatize ‘democracy.’”
Chinese diplomats spent much of last week attacking the United States’ democratic record. Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying and the Chinese ambassador to Lebanon were among those voices attacking the United States’ destructive interventionism. Hua and the Chinese ambassador to ASEAN also attacked the U.S. justice system. Finally, a counsellor in the MFA’s Department of Information portrayed U.S. democracy as chaotic and unsafe. All this led MFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian to claim that U.S. democracy is, in fact, deeply undemocratic.
Lithuania was the other major topic for the Chinese network monitored by Hamilton last week. Again, the MFA mentioned the country in all of its daily press conferences last week. On Monday, spokesperson Zhao warned the EU that it needed to “honor its word instead of breaking faith” over Vilnius’ decision to open a representative office from Taiwan. On Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, the MFA criticized Lithuania over its treatment of migrants at the border with Belarus, calling out the country for building “refugee camps in the style of concentration camps.” On Wednesday, the MFA brought up a German scholar’s work attacking Lithuania’s decision to let CIA “black sites” operate on its territory. And on Thursday, the MFA indicated that there was “ a puppeteer master running the entire show,” clearly referring to the United States. Similar allegations were repeated and amplified by Chinese diplomats in France, Pakistan, and South Africa, among others. State media followed suit. China Daily published an article titled “GT investigates: From running secret prison for US to torturing refugees, Lithuania has untold dark history.” China Daily questioned whether the United States was drawing “Lithuania into [a] risky Taiwan game.”
Chinese state media also reported last week on International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach’s video call with Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. CGTN covered the call in English, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic. However, nationalist tabloid Global Times and its editor-in-chief remained the most vocal advocates for the Chinese authorities’ version of events related to the tennis star’s sudden disappearance following sexual harassment accusations she levelled against a high-ranking CCP official. In particular, Global Times’ editor-in-chief warned against using the athlete’s disappearance to legitimize a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Finally, Chinese diplomats and state media largely dismissed the threat of the new Omicron variant within China, while simultaneously blaming the West’s vaccine nationalism for the variant’s appearance.
Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian set an optimistic tone concerning the Vienna talks over the JCPOA, stating that “despite the violation of the nuclear deal, the JCPOA, by the US and the European troika, Iran will attend the Vienna talks in good faith and seeks a good and verifiable agreement.” Iranian press and diplomatic accounts followed his lead, arguing that Iran goes into these negotiations with optimism, but also “equipped with the experience it has gained from the failure of previous US administrations to live up to their commitments.” They also emphasized Iran’s coordination with Russia and China going into the latest round of negotiations. Fars News also highlighted comments from the Chinese delegation, which questioned why Iran is restricted to 3.7 percent enriched uranium, while Australia will be allowed to possess highly enriched uranium, a nod to the AUKUS deal under which Australia plans to buy nuclear submarines built by the United States and United Kingdom. They also highlighted Russian accusations that the United States is unnecessarily escalating tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. Where possible, Iranian diplomats and media accounts also tried to link Israel to the negotiations (Israel is not a party to the talks), accusing them of threats and provocations.
Finally, Africa Today, an Iranian state-affiliated outlet, and Press TV jointly pushed a narrative that foreign powers (the United States and EU specifically) are encouraging chaos in Ethiopia by providing support to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Both Press TV and Fars also amplified the Ethiopian government’s claim that the United States was spreading “fake news” about terrorist attacks in the country.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.