Last week, Russian diplomats and state-funded media provided updates on the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Rome. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the meeting but delivered a video address that criticized unnamed G20 members for allegedly obstructing global vaccination efforts through “dishonest competition” and “protectionism.” Diplomats amplified Putin’s speech, which included calls for responsible behavior from energy consumers and producers in an apparent effort to deflect blame from Russia’s role in Europe’s gas crisis. Kremlin-linked media closely followed U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to the G20 summit, criticizing Biden’s mask-wearing practices and highlighting his statement that the United States was “clumsy” in handling a submarine deal that angered France. State-backed outlets also covered climate-related protests at the G20. RT noted that the final G20 statement contained climate pledges, but it gave “few concrete steps to a cooler planet.”
Russian state-controlled media took a similarly critical stance on the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference, known as COP26. RT ran an op-ed calling the meeting “little more than a photo op for the elite,” while left-leaning RT Underground interviewed a climate activist who said the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century was “honestly just ridiculous.” Moscow-linked media questioned the eco-friendliness of the conference itself, criticizing the number of cars used by U.S. officials and emphasizing the environmental impact of flights for world leaders to attend. Kremlin-backed outlets also noted that vaccine passport rules, which apply to the public, were not applied to leaders attending the event. RT even took a shot at the conference’s mascot, “Bonnie the Seal,” using a headline that called it a “’giant rat’ dressed up in pricey taxpayer funded outfit.”
Meanwhile, Moscow-linked outlets covered Putin’s directive for Russian energy giant Gazprom to increase its gas supply to Europe over the next month to stem the continent’s energy crisis. RT highlighted Putin’s comment that Gazprom was having to make up for a lack of U.S. gas in Europe, while Tass circulated comments from Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Council, that blamed Europe’s energy challenges on its turn toward wind and solar power. Moldova and Gazprom’s agreement last week to extend their gas contract gained a considerable amount of attention. The European Union had previously accused Russia of using gas to bully Moldova into political concessions. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pushed back saying, “Russia does not use gas for blackmail, but for mutually beneficial cooperation.”
Facebook also made Russian state media headlines throughout last week. Early in the week, revelations from thousands of leaked internal Facebook documents provided fodder for Kremlin-linked outlets to criticize the social media platform. RT asked if Facebook is “evil,” provided reasons for its readers to delete the platform, and ran articles on how Facebook’s algorithm amplified hate speech and helped incite violence. Facebook’s decision to change its name to Meta prompted a second wave of critical coverage, with state media wondering if the rebranding was an effort to distract from the firms ongoing challenges. RT published an article that highlighted popular memes making fun of the name Meta, and RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan argued the platform “would be better to go directly to meth. More honest.”
Following the 50th anniversary of Resolution 2758 (which restored the rights of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations) on October 25, Chinese media and diplomats focused significant attention on the “restoration” of its “lawful” or “legitimate” seat in the UN and at the Security Council. Diplomats and media outlets celebrated the Chinese Communist Party for embodying the epitome of international humanitarian ideals, and for being a “builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, a defender of the international order, and a provider of public goods.” Government officials and state media also used the occasion to bluntly reject calls for Taiwan to join the UN, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian criticizing U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks urging all UN member states to support Taiwan’s “robust” participation in the UN system. Zhao claimed that the United States is choosing to play the “Taiwan card,” a key phrase that has been picked up by a number of other government officials and media outlets, including the Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun.
October 26 marked the 100-day countdown to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, prompting Chinese government officials and media to begin to hype the Games, while dismissing calls to boycott the Olympics due to China’s human rights violations. (A bipartisan group of U.S. senators led by Mitt Romney proposed an amendment to an annual defense policy bill that would impose a diplomatic boycott of the games.) Beijing also announced far stricter Covid regulations for the Olympics than were implemented for the Tokyo Games, requiring that all athletes be vaccinated or quarantine for three weeks upon arrival. Perhaps in response to the ongoing COP26 summit, China also announced that the Winter Games will be “zero carbon,” making it the “greenest Olympics” in history. Finally, Chinese diplomats and state media responded to the U.S. intelligence report on the origins of the coronavirus by once again pushing baseless conspiracy theories about the role of Fort Detrick in the outbreak.
Press TV generated substantial engagement last week by expressing their criticism of the Biden administration’s new sanctions on drone technology via a Batman meme. The meme, which features Aaron Eckhart as Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, casts the Biden administration as hypocritical for imposing new sanctions while also seeking to return to the JCPOA. Press TV returned this week to using out-of-context clips and still images to mock President Biden, and to cast him as too old and out-of-touch for the job. Some tweets also mocked U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson as buffoonish.
The JCPOA was a frequent topic again in Iranian state-backed media last week, after several weeks of reduced coverage. Press TV interviewed Cal State Santa Barbara professor and frequent Press TV political commentator David Yaghoubian, who said the United States lacked “goodwill” with respect to the negotiations. They also interviewed frequent contributor and U.K.-based political analyst Marcus Papadopoulos, who also cast the U.S. effort as in bad faith.
For several days last week, gas stations across Iran were crippled by a cyberattack. The attackers also hacked digital billboards in Tehran to read “Khamenei, where is our gas?” The secretary of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace described the attack on October 26 as having been carried out by a “foreign country,” but said it was too early to know which one. The following day, Fars News blamed the attack on a “Zionist network” of “professional hackers” and explained that “it is unlikely that a country will be behind this.” On October 31, Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali blamed the United States and Israel jointly for the attack, while General Ali Shamkhani put a positive spin on the situation, claiming that though the frontline cyber defenses had failed, the back line “thwarted the enemy’s goal of rioting in Iran.”
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