Monitored Russian accounts last week tweeted 19,668 times, generating 224,448 retweets and 687,480 likes.
On Tuesday, Kremlin-orchestrated referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine laid a pretext for Russia to announce the annexation of large swaths of territory. Russian state media and diplomats last week mentioned terms related to the referendums in more than 1,650 tweets. “Referendum” alone was used more than 1,100 times. Russia-affiliated accounts sought to legitimize the voting process by highlighting polls and quotes from people who wanted to join Russia. They showed students voting for the first time and elderly individuals braving harsh weather to cast ballots. State-backed outlets insisted that the referendums met international election standards and highlighted approving commentary from a questionable collection of “international observers,” including those from Western countries like Czechia, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. At the same time, Kremlin-backed accounts claimed that Ukraine had launch a terrorist campaign to prevent people from voting. They asserted that Ukrainian forces had bombed cars, buses, and grocery stores. They argued that Kyiv pushed disinformation about places being mined to deter voters from going to polling places. The Russian intelligence-run site SouthFront said that Ukraine was “targeting civilians and sending death squads to assassinate anyone” connected to the referendums. Kremlin-backed accounts also threatened the West. President Vladimir Putin and former president Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia would use all available means to secure its territory, which many analysts understood as references to Moscow’s nuclear capabilities.
Putin’s decision to order a partial military mobilization prompted far less coverage than the referendums. Last week, Kremlin-linked accounts mentioned “mobilization” 680 times, which is nearly 40 percent less than the number of times “referendum” was used. Much of the mobilization-related content was dedicated to explaining the specifics of the process. RIA Novosti amplified the Kremlin’s denial of reports that Russia planned to mobilize 1 million people instead of 300,000. The Russian Embassy in Canada tweeted a video claiming to “dispel myths about mobilization.” Tass highlighted the pay and benefits that would be given to those called to service. Other outlets also put a positive spin on the situation, showing mobilized men being “escorted to applause,” and state-directed outlets stressed that the increased number of soldiers was needed to secure Russia and defeat Ukraine and NATO. At the same time, monitored accounts nodded to issues with the mobilization, covering some of the protests, appeals for exemptions, and instances where rights were violated. They also showed people fleeing Russia; though, RIA Novosti highlighted draft dodgers being detained and called cowards. Finally, the Russian embassy in Spain argued that things were worse in Ukraine, where “for many years” there’s been a “full mobilization of the entire adult population.”
Kremlin-affiliated accounts also spread unverified claims about the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines. While Russian officials expressed openness to a joint investigation with European countries, state media quickly assigned blame to the United States. The FSB-linked site SouthFront ran the headline, “US Ship Suspected of Sabotage Attack on Nord Stream Pipelines.” Sputnik host George Galloway called it a “#USTerror attack.” Propagandists seized on a tweet by a Polish member of European Parliament that thanked the United States for the attack. Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman asked if that comment was an “official statement on this being a terrorist attack?” Kremlin-directed outlets also amplified commentary from right-wing US figures who framed the Biden administration as responsible for the sabotage. A few posts suggested that Norway had something to do with the damage, while others sought to convince people that it would make “no strategic sense” for Russia to sabotage the pipelines.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at the UN General Assembly also received a considerable amount of attention. “Lavrov,” “general assembly,” and “UNGA77” were among the top ten most frequently used key phrases by Russian propagandists on Twitter. Kremlin-linked accounts highlighted Lavrov’s statement that the “future world order” was being decided by Russia, and that Russia was pushing for a more “democratic and just world” rather than a world led by “a single hegemon.” Lavrov bashed “Western arrogance” and the US effort to “turn the whole world into its possession” by threatening anyone who “dare[s] to think for themselves.” He also claimed that Russia “had no choice” but to “launch a special military operation to protect Russians and other people in Donbass,” and he attempted to discredit reporting on Russian war crimes. Moscow-affiliated accounts also showcased Russian officials meeting with counterparts from other nations and criticized speeches by Western leaders.
Monitored Russian accounts also weighed in on elections in Italy, where a far-right coalition led by Giorgi Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party won a majority. Several state media accounts called Meloni a fascist and described the incoming government as the “most extreme” since 1945. Others sought to showcase divisions between Italy and the EU. After EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc had “tools” to deal with a disruptive Italian government, Russian diplomats called von der Leyen arrogant, and state media said she was a dictator. Kremlin-linked accounts also highlighted protesters in Italy tearing down an EU flag and replacing it with an Italian one, and they shared posts containing #ItalExit, which is a call for Italy to leave the EU.
Monitored Chinese accounts last week tweeted 20,211 times, generating 141,481 retweets and 487,944 likes.
Chinese diplomats and state media converged around Chinese State Councilor/Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s trip to New York for the United Nations 77th General Assembly last week. Nine out of the ten most frequently used key phrases, as well as the five most frequently used hashtags, in tweets from monitored Chinese accounts were related to Yi’s trip.
While the trip and Yi’s various speeches and meetings were all promoted to various degrees, there was no dominant narrative, with different Chinese accounts choosing to focus on different aspects of the trip. For instance, the Chinese Embassy in Algeria advertised the meeting between Yi and his Algerian counterpart, the Chinese Mission to the UN highlighted a meeting with the Malian foreign minister, and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) account tweeted about meeting with “10+ European leaders.”
Chinese diplomats and state media consistently struck a balanced and consensual tone, stressing China’s willingness to work with everyone. The Chinese Embassy in Venezuela and a Beijing-based diplomat advertised a meeting between Yi and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, highlighting the cooperation between the two countries. Meanwhile, the former Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom and the consul general in Barcelona focused on a meeting between Yi and his Ukrainian counterpart, promoting China’s positive role in the ongoing conflict.
Chinese messaging surrounding Yi’s trip was noticeably more pointed when talking about the United States. Several accounts, including Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying and the Chinese ambassador to the United States, that chose to highlight the meeting between Yi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken blamed the US side for the degradation of bilateral relations.
Chinese accounts were consistent in their promotion of the Global Development Initiative (GDI), a plan announced by Xi Jinping in September 2021 that encompasses China’s approach to international development and covers areas like poverty alleviation, food security, and pandemic responses. “GDI” was the fifth most used hashtag in tweets from Chinese diplomats and state media last week. Among the tweets with the most engagement on the topic were those announcing several GDI projects, stressing the high level of international support for the initiative, and tying GDI to green, sustainable development.
Taiwan was the fifth most mentioned country or special territory last week. Hua, the MFA, and others argued that the real status quo was having the island attached to China, implying that supporters of Taiwan’s autonomy were revisionists. A Pakistan-based cultural counselor relayed Lavrov’s warning that the United States was “playing with fire” over the island. Unrelated to the UN General Assembly, the consul general in Belfast warned Italy’s Giorgia Meloni to “avoid sending wrong signals on Taiwan.”
“Xinjiang” was the one non-UN related term among the ten key phrases most frequently used by Chinese accounts last week. In last Thursday’s MFA press briefing, spokesperson Zhao Lijian restated the Chinese Communist Party’s opposition to the UN Xinjiang report, denouncing it as “a patchwork of disinformation” that was “orchestrated and produced by the US and some Western forces.” On Twitter, Zhao and a Pakistan-based cultural counselor praised Xinjiang’s natural wonders, while the consul general in Belfast and the former consul general in Beirut highlighted the growing Uyghur population and the large number of mosques in the region.
The tweets from monitored Chinese accounts that generated the most engagement last week, however, were those that were critical of the United States. Zhao and the consul general in Belfast attacked US military interventionism in the Middle East, the consul general in Barcelona and the MFA criticized the United States’ supposedly excessive use of economic sanctions, and Zhao and Hua shared a video highlighting how dozens of conglomerate-owned local media outlets in the United States broadcast the exact same message, which Hua equated to “brainwashing.”
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.