Monitored Russian accounts last week tweeted 17,668 times, generating 172,959 retweets and 528,354 likes.
Russian propagandists shared the directives, threats, and falsehoods pushed by President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in speeches that announced a partial military mobilization. Kremlin-linked accounts echoed Shoigu’s statement that as many as 300,000 Russian reservists would be called into action, and they repeated Putin’s claims that Russia was not only fighting Ukraine but the “entire Western military machine,” which had turned Ukrainians into “cannon fodder” in an attempt to “weaken, divide, and destroy” Russia. State media amplified Putin’s statement that Moscow would “use all military means at our disposal” to defend Russian sovereignty, which seemed to be a reference to Russia’s nuclear capabilities. RIA Novosti shared Shoigu’s claim that only 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed during the war. In July, the United States estimated that 15,000 Russian soldiers had died and 45,000 had been wounded. Russian diplomatic accounts assured their audiences that the partial mobilization “did not change the status of the special military operation” into a war. However, some prominent state media personalities wanted more information. RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan posted a tweet thread with 12 questions about the partial mobilization. State media also showcased Western reactions, including the US claim that the mobilization was a sign of weakness and a German statement that it was a “misguided step.” RT also highlighted China’s call for diplomacy. Meanwhile, RIA Novosti reported that Russia’s stock market had plummeted and that flights out of Russia were selling out.
Kremlin-affiliated accounts also played up plans for occupied Ukrainian regions to hold referendums about officially joining the Russian Federation. State media pushed quotes from individuals claiming to want to join Russia as soon as possible, and they shared polls showing that over 90 percent of residents in two occupied regions supported the move. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that calls for referenda confirmed that people in occupied regions “want to be masters of their destiny.” RIA Novosti attempted to legitimize the referendums by saying “foreign observers and media” will be able to monitor the processes. State-backed outlets also argued that Nazi’s were attempting to deprive “residents of voting rights” and stated that Kyiv had plans to attack the regions seeking to join Russia. Simonyan, though, warned that after occupied regions join Russia, any strikes on their territory would “become a full-fledged war of Ukraine and NATO with Russia, unleashing Russia’s hands in all respects.”
Moscow’s propagandists barely mentioned mass graves uncovered in Izium following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the city. State media and diplomats sent only 74 tweets mentioning variations of Izium’s spelling. By comparison, in the week after Russian war crimes were discovered in Bucha, propagandists posted more than 1,100 tweets mentioning “Bucha” within a week. The limited messaging around Izium argued that Kyiv and the West were attempting to stage “Bucha in a new way” to mobilize support for Ukraine ahead of a UN General Assembly meeting. The Russian Embassy in New Zealand attacked “mainstream media” for joining the “coordinated Bucha-like provocation.” Other diplomatic accounts asserted that the graves in Izium included dates that came before Russian forces entered the city, proving that the Russian military wasn’t responsible for the deaths. There were also attempts to deflect focus onto supposed Ukrainian Nazi’s and their attacks on civilians.
Meanwhile, Kremlin-linked accounts sought to showcase Russia’s global partnerships and the importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as the group met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. After a meeting on the sidelines of the event, Putin acknowledged that China’s President Xi Jinping had “questions and concerns” about the war in Ukraine but thanked Xi for Beijing’s “balanced position” on the conflict. RT played up Xi’s comment that China and Russia would work together as “great powers.” Diplomatic accounts highlighted Putin’s meetings with other world leaders, too, including Narendra Modi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Moscow-affiliated accounts praised the SCO summit as a success and highlighted the list of countries seeking to integrate or cooperate more with the organization. They also sought to contrast the SCO and NATO. They claimed that “unlike NATO, SCO is not aggressive and threatens nobody.” In a similar line at the summit, Putin attacked the US-led “unipolar world[‘s] … disgusting form.”
While Russian diplomats sought to underscore Russia’s role in forging and maintaining a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, state media contributors criticized the Azeri side and the US role in the conflict. Sputnik host George Galloway retweeted a post that alleged Azeri soldiers had raped and nearly beheaded an Armenian woman. Sputnik correspondent Wyatt Reed retweeted a post that asserted Azerbaijan’s crimes were “unspeakable” but would not draw Western sanctions. Other tweets argued that the West had “zero interest” in the conflict other than using it to “extend Russia.” State media also attacked US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for visiting Armenia, claiming her rhetoric wouldn’t help resolve the conflict.
Kremlin-affiliated accounts were more neutral on clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan last week. Diplomatic accounts called for both side to “take all necessary measures” to avoid more bloodshed and showcased Putin’s efforts to prevent escalation. State media highlighted calls by the Collective Security Treaty Organization for a peaceful settlement, and those outlets eventually reported on the peace deal established between the two sides.
Monitored Chinese accounts last week tweeted 18,663 times, generating 105,212 retweets and 371,764 likes.
Last week, Chinese diplomats and state media actively promoted the Shanghai Security Organization (SCO) Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. As many as nine of the ten most used key phrases as well as the three most used hashtags in tweets from Chinese accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0 last week were connected to the SCO gathering.
SCO summit host Uzbekistan (632 tweets) and Chinese President Xi Jinping state visit host Kazakhstan (533 tweets) were mentioned almost as frequently as Russia (742 tweets), and more frequently than Taiwan (421 tweets) or Ukraine (313 tweets). Interest in Central Asia was even more pronounced when looking only at Chinese diplomats. Mentions of Russia ranked behind China, the United States, Japan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Taiwan, while Ukraine was not among the ten most mentioned countries by Chinese diplomats.
Despite heightened interest in Central Asia, state media mentions of Russia ranked only behind mentions of China and the United States. Commentary about the Xi-Putin meeting was positive but far from effusive. Deputy Foreign Minister Hua Chunying simply pointed to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) formulaic account of the two leaders’ meeting. Several Chinese diplomats, including the Ambassador to ASEAN, the Consul General in Zurich, and the Ambassador to Barbados, as well as state media outlets like Xinhua and CGTN Europe, relayed Xi and Putin’s commitment to “ support each other” on their “respective core interests.” While the Consul General in Belfast and the People’s Daily highlighted Xi’s “appreciation” of Putin’s commitment to the one-China policy, there was no explicit statement of Chinese support for Russia’s flailing invasion of Ukraine. A Chinese account relayed an upbeat assessment of the meeting and cited a Russian think-tanker who called the meeting a “solid foundation for a long-term mutually beneficial cooperation.”
Chinese diplomats and state media continued to push back against criticism of the Chinese state’s policies in Xinjiang. In defense of those policies, the Chinese Mission to the UN explained the social security system in the region, while many accounts like Xinhua advertised a soon-to-be-built highway in the region. Hua Chunying quoted American Max Blumenthal, while Pakistan-based Cultural Counselor Zhang Heqing chose the Syrian Ambassador to China to attack alleged Western “lies,” and the Xinjiang China account shared a China Daily video claiming that the United States “spent 1.5 billion [dollars] on disinformation about China.”
Although not as prominent as in previous weeks, Taiwan was still the seventh most mentioned country in Chinese diplomats and state media’s tweets last week. US President Biden’s comments that his country would be willing to send troops to defend the island if China decided to invade were met with a surprisingly subdued response. The Consul General in Belfast and CGTN relayed official protestations. However, nationalist commentator Hu Xijin and the usually belligerent Global Times seemed to minimize Biden’s statement. At the same time, Chinese messaging laid the groundwork for a strong attack on the Taiwan Policy Act currently making its way through the US legislative process, with several diplomats and state media warning that “China firmly opposes the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022” before it is even passed.
Last week, Chinese messaging also focused on two contradictory anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan relations and the 91st anniversary of the “September 18 incident,” which started World War II in Asia. While the Chinese Embassy in Japan celebrated the friendship between both countries’ ice skaters at the Winter Olympics, the Consul General in Osaka chose a more confrontational approach by tweeting about Unit 731 and Japanese war crimes. World War II allusions were not simply about historical memory, as the Chinese MFA complained about Japan’s unwillingness to clean up chemical weapons abandoned by its military during the war. The MFA also criticized Tokyo for dumping radioactive waters in the Pacific.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.