Monitored Russian accounts tweeted 17,602 times from October 19 to October 25, receiving 209,202 retweets and 619,552 likes.
“Dirty bomb” was the most used key phrase in tweets by Russian diplomats and state media for three days after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu alleged that Ukraine planned to detonate some type of low-power nuclear weapon. On October 24, Russia’s Ministry of Defense released a briefing that asserted two organizations in Ukraine were in the final stages of building a dirty bomb, that the United Kingdom had helped Kyiv develop the weapon, and that Ukraine planned to use the nuclear device to frame Russia, intimidate its population, and increase refugee flows. Diplomatic accounts showcased Russian officials calling their Western counterparts about the dirty bomb accusation and raising the issue at the United Nations. After Western officials rejected Russia’s allegations, the Kremlin stated that “the threat is present… it’s up to them whether they want to believe it or not.” State media also claimed the West supported a dirty bomb attack. RIA Novosti ran a piece with the headline, “The West has blessed Kiev with a nuclear provocation.” The Russian intelligence-linked site Oriental Review asserted that US Democrats wanted to detonate the bomb to avoid a Ukrainian defeat that would lead to “Republicans returning to the White House in a landslide.” That same article suggested that “Big Pharma” was lobbying for a nuclear explosion, too, since it would profit from radiation treatments.
“Kherson” was the eighth most mentioned key term by kremlin-backed accounts last week as they relayed orders for people to evacuate the area and alleged that Ukraine was targeting civilians attempting to flee. Even as Russian forces were being pushed out of the region, Moscow-directed media amplified claims that Ukraine’s offensive was suffering heavy loses and being undermined by multiple strategic failures. Russian propagandists also argued that Ukraine was using US-supplied weapons to deliberately target civilians and critical infrastructure, including medical facilities. Moscow-affiliated accounts pushed back on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s claim that Russia was planning to blow up a major dam in Kherson, with one diplomatic account calling Zelensky’s warning “utter nonsense.” Meanwhile, state media showcased President Vladimir Putin visiting mobilized forces and insisted that one of the war aims was the “desatanization” of Ukraine.
Russia-funded outlets also highlighted signs that the US Congress was not unified behind President Joe Biden’s strategy to support Ukraine. Multiple state media accounts highlighted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) statement that Republicans weren’t going to “write a blank check to Ukraine” if the party regained control of the House after the midterms. Kremlin-direct outlets similarly amplified a letter from progressive Democratic lawmakers that called for direct talks between the United States and Russia. RT host Afshin Rattansi tweeted, “Even members of the US Democratic Party are upset by the thousands killed in #ukraine?” After those Democrats walked back the letter, Sputnik correspondent Wyatt Reed said that “Democrats have officially embraced their new role as the party of war.”
Russian propagandists also criticized Liz Truss, who stepped down as the United Kingdom’s prime minister, and Rishi Sunak, who moved into the role. Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev congratulated a head of lettuce with a blond wig that outlasted Truss’s final days, and he joked that Truss should be given the “Nobel Prize in economics for the fastest-ever ruining of national finances.” Russia’s Embassy in Ethiopia praised Truss for “breaking the record for the shortest tour of duty as UK prime minister.” Sputnik radio hosts called Truss a “warmonger” and sarcastically asked if her chaotic tenure meant she was a “dastardly Putin sleeper-agent.” After Sunak took over as prime minister, Russian propagandists painted him as rich and unpopular. The Kremlin said it saw “no hope” for improved UK-Russia relations under Sunak, and the left-leaning account Redfish stated, “Here’s hoping he doesn’t outlast a cabbage.” RIA Novosti also said US President Joe Biden had “disgraced himself” when he mispronounced Sunak’s name.
Kremlin-backed accounts put a much more positive spin on Chinese leader Xi Jinping securing a historic third term. Diplomatic accounts elevated Putin’s congratulatory note to Xi, which said the Chinese leader had confirmed his “high political authority” and called for more cooperation between the two states. State media was even more enthusiastic. Life.ru ran an article about how Xi’s concentration of power would lead to Chinese military support for Russia and “the resolution of the Taiwan issue in the near future.” The FSB-linked site SouthFront published a piece claiming Xi’s move would lead to a “US-free world order.” Another Russian intelligence-directed site wrote a thought piece titled “On the benefits of the cult of personality.”
Monitored Chinese accounts tweeted 17,721 times from October 19 to October 25, receiving 110,432 retweets and 389,531 likes.
As was the case during the previous week, the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was by far the main topic in Chinese diplomats and state media’s messaging last week. All ten of the most frequent key phrases, as well as eight of the top ten hashtags, in tweets from Chinese accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0 were related to the grand gathering. As a result, Chinese messaging was even more China-centric than in previous weeks. Whereas monitored accounts mentioned China a little more three times as often as the United States in the second week of September and around six times more than the United States in the third week of September, the ratio was almost ten to one in favor of China last week.
Despite its prominence in international news coverage, the abrupt removal of former Chinese leader Hu Jintao from the Congress was barely mentioned in Chinese messaging. State agency Xinhua’s official explanation that the removal was a result of Hu’s health status was widely liked and retweeted by the network, making it the seventh most retweeted tweet of the week. The Chinese consul general in Santa Cruz, Bolivia also accused Western media of “distorting reality” over the removal. Apart from those two tweets, Chinese diplomats and state media were silent on the event.
By contrast, several accounts promoted content glorifying the CCP. For instance, accounts including Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Zhao Lijian, China’s ambassador to ASEAN, the Embassy in Algeria, the Embassy in Tanzania, and the Consulate in Melbourne all shared the same propaganda video promoting the CCP’s ability to empower China to overcome its painful history.
Other accounts chose to focus on China’s role as a source of inspiration for others. The Embassy in Mexico shared a report titled “China: an example for the world,” and a Pakistan-based cultural counselor, Zhang Heqing, promoted a CGTN segment in which various foreigners professed their admiration for the CCP’s policies. CGTN published a piece calling China “a major force in global governance,” and the MFA boasted about the Chinese state’s positive contribution to global governance on Wednesday, to global economic stability on Thursday, to human rights on Friday, to the UN system on Monday, and to world peace on Tuesday.
When they weren’t praising the CCP, Chinese diplomats and state media were lashing out at the United States and its democratic allies. Heqing, the cultural counselor in Pakistan, wrote that “in some countries, lives do matter” above an image comparing the United States’ homicide rate to China’s much lower rate. The consul general in Belfast juxtaposed the number of schools China plans to build in Iraq with the number of civilians killed by the United States in the country. And Zhao Lijian amplified CGTN’s attack on the supposedly US-centric “rules-based international order.”
Chinese diplomats like the consul general in Belfast and state media personalities like the head of China Daily in Europe also lambasted Europeans for their alignment with the United States. CGTN Europe quoted the Kremlin’s sarcastic comments on the United Kingdom’s lack of “political wisdom.” And Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying amplified a left-wing member of the European Parliament’s criticism of Europe’s colonial past.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.