Monitored Russian accounts tweeted 11,856 times from October 5 to October 11, generating 200,189 retweets and 626,538 likes.
Russian state media and diplomats last week provided extensive coverage of the Crimean bridge explosion on October 8, with “Crimean bridge” and “explosion” ranking, respectively, as the second and fifth most used key phrases during the studied period. Seven of the ten most retweeted tweets about the bridge referred to the explosion as an act of terrorism, with several Russian diplomatic accounts referring to Ukraine as a “terrorist state.” Former president and current deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, warned that Russia’s response to the bombing would be the “total elimination of the terrorists.”
Escalatory rhetoric was common in the aftermath of the bridge bombing, with RT Deutsch describing the attack as a “Russian Pearl Harbor.” (The article subsequently appears to have been removed.) Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor in chief, tweeted that the bridge bombing crossed a “red line”—a phrase that appeared repeatedly in state media coverage. Simonyan later blamed Ukrainians—whom she referred to as “creatures”—for starting the war, alleging that the conflict was born out of eight years of Ukraine “bombing their own population,” including “children on a children’s beach.” The Russian intelligence-linked site Strategic Culture suggested that “Moscow may need to make the Western military infrastructure and its authoring centers for the Kiev regime take a direct hit too in order to reinforce its red lines.” And Russian state media defended and celebrated Russia’s retaliatory strikes across Ukraine. RT en Español, for example, ran an article with the headline “Crimean chief: ‘They no longer laugh’ in Ukraine as they did during the bombing in Donbass.”
Russian state media also pedaled several unsubstantiated and conspiratorial claims about the bridge bombing. RT published an article on October 11, sourced from the American “anti-imperialist” website The Grayzone, claiming that British intelligence plotted to destroy the Crimean bridge six months before the explosion. The report was subsequently picked up by other Russian propaganda outlets, including RT France and RT en Español. RT Arabic quoted a former German politician and member of the far-right Alternative for Deutschland, who claimed that the attack was a “provocation planned from the outside” to derail peace talks. Sputnik China published similar claims made by a former Russian politician. The Sputnik article alleged that Ukraine’s “sabotage teams take orders from Washington,” and Southfront, another Russian intelligence-linked site, claimed that “NATO appears involved.”
As has become common in previous weeks, RT continued to draw attention to unrest—both real and exaggerated—in Europe over the rising cost of living. On its Rumble channel (now tracked on ASD’s Midterm Monitor), RT posted videos of protests in Poland, Moldova, Italy, and Germany, with Kremlin-backed websites highlighting additional protests in Czechia and France. RT was also one of many state-affiliated sites to highlight comments from France’s finance minister alleging that the United States is “taking advantage” of Europe’s energy crisis.
Elon Musk drew considerable attention from monitored Russian accounts and channels last week for his much-derided “peace proposals” for Ukraine and Taiwan, his malfunctioning Starlink communication systems in Ukraine, and his decision to reengage in negotiations to buy Twitter. In total, Musk was the subject of more than 100 tweets and 70 articles from monitored Russian Twitter accounts and websites. Although Musk’s plans for a Russian-Ukrainian peace plan were not universally lauded, his claims that residents of eastern Ukraine prefer Russia were, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Pskov describing his statements as a “determination of reality.” But the mercurial Tesla CEO was often mentioned by individual Russian state media hosts and pundits over perceived injustices they face on Twitter. Sputnik host George Galloway, for example, tagged Musk in a tweet where he alleged that “[Twitter] is rigged” due to his belief that his followers are being capped because of his Russian state media affiliation. Galloway also tagged Musk in a post claiming that his posts are being shadow banned by the “deeply corrupt and dishonest” platform. Other Russian state media figures also complained about Twitter’s content moderation, with RT en Español correspondent Wyatt Reed tweeting that “Twitter really wants me dead” after the platform allegedly did not take action against a threatening post directed towards him.
With the US midterms less than a month away, Russian commentary about the elections remains relatively sparse, with only 5 articles explicitly mentioning the midterms appearing in Russian state-backed websites. Sputnik, however, highlighted an Axios report that Democrats have deployed a network of faux local news sites to push party content. And in somewhat of a departure from Russia’s reflexive denials about interference in US affairs, RT ran a segment promoting the successes of Russian hacktivist group Killnet in taking down several US government websites.
Monitored Chinese accounts tweeted 14,992 times from October 5 to October 11, generating 84,378 retweets and 299,488 likes.
Last week, Xinjiang was the most mentioned issue in tweets from Chinese diplomats and state media. As a hashtag, “Xinjiang” was mentioned 205 times, compared to 73 mentions for the “COVID19” hashtag and 71 mentions for the “20thPartyCongress” hashtag. This activity was couched around the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) vote on October 6 against holding a debate on the body’s own report about human rights abuses against the Uyghur ethnic minority in Xinjiang, with 19 countries opposed, 17 in favor, and 11 countries abstaining.
Many diplomatic accounts, including Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Hua Chunying and the consul general in Osaka, celebrated the result of the UNHRC vote. Some, like the Embassy in Somalia and the mission to the UN in Geneva, portrayed the result as a victory of “developing countries” against the machinations of “western countries.” The MFA also put out a statement the day the vote, claiming China’s policies were directed at “countering violent terrorism, radicalization and separatism.” The Embassy in Cuba and the ambassador to Qatar were among the accounts that amplified the argument that Chinese policies in Xinjiang are proportionate responses to terrorism and separatism in the region. The Embassy in Sri Lanka also relayed the MFA statement and focused on the institution’s call for the UNHRC to focus on “serious human rights violations concerning the US, the UK and some Western forces.”
The key phrase “elonmusk” was mentioned 45 times in tweets by Chinese accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0. Many of those tweets focused on Musk’s suggestion to the Financial Times on October 7 that Taiwan should be made into a special administrative zone to avoid war with the People’s Republic of China. The MFA commented on the suggestion in its press conference of October 8 and in its press conference on October 9. China’s ambassador to the United States echoed the MFA’s endorsement, thanking the US businessman for “his call for peace.” On the state media side, the Global Times’ former editor in chief and a Xinhua reporter praised Musk for his political courage and “Bismarckian statesmanship.” The Global Times also praised Musk’s commitment to free speech earlier in the week after he proposed a clearly pro-Russian peace plan for Ukraine. While Chinese state media closely followed the billionaire’s planned Twitter purchase, at least one Pakistan-based diplomat was unimpressed with what he saw as a mere publicity stunt.
A significant portion of the most highly engaged-with tweets from Chinese diplomats and state media last week attacked the United States and its allies. The most retweeted tweet last week was a picture denouncing US killing of Muslims shared by China’s ambassador to ASEAN. Another of the most retweeted tweets accused NATO of having killed 500,000 civilians in Libya. Regarding NATO, a Pakistan-based cultural counselor amplified a French far-right politician’s video to falsely claim that “tens of thousands of people in Paris” called for France to leave the alliance. In fact, the demonstration he alluded to was primarily aimed at sanitary measures and only gathered about 5,000 people. Another of the most retweeted tweets mocked Europeans for allegedly being manipulated by the United States on energy sanctions. Finally, China Daily relayed Russian state media reports that the United States had encouraged Hungary to invade Serbia in 1999. The newly formed RT India in turn thanked China Daily for “spreading the word.”
China’s messaging about the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine continued to have a slight pro-Kremlin bent last week. On the one hand, the MFA tried to maintain an apparent neutrality by responding just as dryly to a Russian state media question about the explosion on the Crimean Bridge in its October 9 press conference as it did to repeated questions by Western media outlets about the Russian reprisals against Ukrainian civilian targets in the October 10 and October 11 press conferences. Chinese state media and diplomats, however, covered the Crimean bridge incident, notably relaying angry Russian accusations of “terrorism,” while they remained silent on the Russian reprisals.
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