Last week, Russian officials and state media focused heavily on the UN General Assembly (UNGA), making it the most frequently used phrase on the Moscow-linked Twitter dashboard. Much of the coverage attempted to highlight Russia’s diplomatic importance. Kremlin-backed accounts shared updates and images from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s UNGA meetings with the secretary generals of the UN and NATO, the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Russian state-funded outlets also used the UNGA to critique U.S. President Joe Biden, calling his speech “shameful,” highlighting instances where he misspoke, and sharing videos of the U.S. president sitting in front of a crowd of shouting reporters without taking questions. Moreover, Russian state media highlighted countries that were not mentioned in Biden’s speech, namely China and Ukraine. Russian officials and state media on Twitter noted that former U.S. President Donald Trump thought Biden avoided mentioning China because “he is strongly associated with it” and argued that Biden did not discuss Ukraine because Kyiv had become a “toxic asset” to the United States.
Russian accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0 also paid a considerable amount of attention to last weekend’s election in Germany. Ahead of the election, Russian outlets offered favorable coverage to outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel. One article referred to Merkel as “one of the world’s most powerful women,” who Germans “fell in love with.” Other articles highlighted commemorative Merkel teddy bears and gold coins with the chancellor’s face on them. Russian state-funded media also pushed back on German and European Union calls for Russian hackers to stop attempting to disrupt the German election, with RT claiming that German and EU politicians had “reverted to the familiar Russia blaming narrative.” Russian coverage of the election was otherwise largely factual and included videos of leading candidates voting and reporting on results.
For the second consecutive week, Russian officials and state media highlighted critical comments from French officials about Australia’s decision to break a nuclear submarine contract with France and instead work with the United States and the United Kingdom. State-funded media also circulated statements critiquing the U.S., U.K, and Australian decisions from the president of the European Commission, EU foreign ministers, and former European diplomats. Coverage largely aimed to amplify discord within NATO, including several RT articles about a possible French exit from the security alliance. Outside of sowing transatlantic divisions, Russian diplomats used the broken submarine agreement to exercise a bit of schadenfreude by arguing, “what goes around, comes around,” highlighting France’s refusal to follow through with a 2014 deal with Moscow relating assault ships.
Finally, Russian diplomats and state-funded media continued to advance standard narratives around the coronavirus, showcasing anti-lockdown protests and promoting the safety and efficacy of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. A demonstration against coronavirus restrictions in Melbourne received a disproportionate amount of attention last week, being referenced in nearly 50 tweets. Sputnik V’s Twitter account highlighted that tens of millions of people across 70 countries are eligible for the Russian-made vaccine, and it emphasized new vaccine shipments to a range of countries, from Venezuela to Turkmenistan. In a deviation from the norm, there was almost no negative coverage of Western-made vaccines last week.
The top topic for Chinese diplomats and state media last week was the release of Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou after she reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. government. Meng was given a hero’s welcome upon her return to China, with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying enthusiastically tweeting that “justice prevails.” Chinese ambassadors in Brazil, Cuba, and Serbia were among the many diplomats who joined Hua in welcoming Meng home. Meng’s release was presented as a win for the Chinese Communist Party and proof that the party’s leadership would ensure that China and Chinese people are respected around the world. State media and diplomats also promoted the idea that Meng’s release was due to “a rising China.” The “China-as-a-protector” narrative was also the subject of a vivid illustration (from the cartoonist behind a notorious photomontage portraying an Australian soldier slitting an Afghan child’s throat) in which he depicted Meng being airlifted by the Chinese military from the jaws of ghastly underwater beast (presumably representing the United States). Meng herself played into the propaganda with a speech at the airport thanking “the motherland” for being “a beacon of conviction.” The little coverage that was devoted to the two Canadian researchers who were released hours after Meng reminded readers of the researchers’ supposed “national security” crimes.
As was the case in the previous week, Chinese officials and state media focused first and foremost on the fact that the sale of nuclear submarines to Australia went against non-proliferation principles. In his Wednesday press conference last week, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused the United States and the United Kingdom of using “nuclear cooperation as a tool of geopolitical game.” But Chinese messengers also used the incident to curry favor with France. Some content extolled the long and fruitful friendship between France and China, while other content focused on acts of bullying and espionage committed by the United States against the French. Chinese state media also highlighted the divisions between the EU and the United States, with the Global Times openly advocating for the EU to strike out on its own.
Continuing its condemnation of the United States, Zhao shared the images of mounted U.S. border officials pushing back Haitian migrants trying to cross into the United States. State media followed suit by publishing cartoons comparing this episode to slavery. Chinese diplomats in Zimbabwe and India also highlighted racism in the West in connection with events surrounding last week’s UN General Assembly. Related to this criticism of U.S. democracy, the Chinese ambassador to the United States used Lincoln’s famous definition of democracy to argue that China had the best system of government thanks to its “whole-process democracy” that is all about “solving problems for a country’s own people.”
Iranian press and diplomatic accounts continued to blast the AUKUS agreement for permitting a new nation to possess highly enriched uranium, which Iran views as hypocritical with respect to the international communities’ opposition to its own nuclear development. Iranian media generally cast the deal as aggression on the part of the United States and its allies, and as aimed at Russia and China.
They also tried to play up the severity of the split among allies, with one story proposing that this could be the start of a new Franco-Russian alliance. Iranian President Raisi harshly criticized U.S. foreign policy in his address to the general assembly, calling sanctions “the US way of war” and cited the January 6th insurrection and the withdrawal from Afghanistan as evidence that the “U.S.’ hegemonic system has no credibility, whether inside or outside the country.” Iranian media and diplomatic accounts boasted about a wide range of bilateral meetings between Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian and other foreign ministers, in which he called for “international action against unilateralism.”
Press TV ran numerous stories on the plight of Haitian immigrants at the U.S. border and their treatment at the hands of Customs and Border Protection and other immigration officials. This included coverage of the allegation that the White House considered sending some Haitian migrants to the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which the White House has denied. Press TV also amplified criticism that the White House faced from progressive politicians and advocacy groups, including an entire story on a critical statement from Beto O’Rourke. Press TV also ran stories criticizing Biden on Afghanistan and blaming his handling of the withdrawal for a declining approval rating. They also published several stories on racism in the criminal justice system in the United States, including one on the breakdown in Senate negotiations over the police reform bill. Finally, Press TV was caught amplifying manipulated information when they tweeted out a video appearing to show an Australian policeman choking a female suspect as he arrests her for allegedly violating a mask mandate. In fact, the video is over a year old, and Melbourne police cleared the officer of wrongdoing.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.