Last week, Russian officials and state media were outraged by YouTube’s decision to take down RT’s German-language channels for violating the platform’s coronavirus misinformation policy. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called YouTube’s move an “act of unprecedented information aggression” that was carried out with Germany’s “tactic consent.” In the same statement, the MFA asked Moscow to retaliate. Embassy accounts from the United States to India to Ghana retweeted the MFA’s statement. One RT article compared YouTube’s action to “a media version of Barbarossa,” the code name for the Nazi’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, and RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said it was “a declaration of media war.” Kremlin-backed accounts claimed YouTube had committed an act of censorship because “no sane person believes in ‘freedom of speech’” in the West, according to Simonyan. RT also asked when MSNBC and CNN would be removed for making claims about coronavirus conditions in Russia.
Russian accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0 also amplified details from the Pandora Papers, millions of leaked files that reveal how dozens of current and former heads of state use offshore structures to hide financial assets from tax authorities and criminal investigators. Russian state media highlighted the United States’ role in sheltering dirty money. RT noted that the Pandora Papers found South Dakota’s opaque financial system to be on par with Caribbean jurisdictions that are notorious for facilitating money laundering. State-backed outlets also drew attention to the report’s inclusion of several Latin American presidents, including the presidents of Ecuador, Chile, and the Dominican Republic. At the same time, Russian state-backed outlets shared claims of innocence by Konstantin Ernst, who helps craft President Putin’s public image and was shown to have used offshore companies to hide his assets.
Kremlin-linked media also seized on reporting that alleged that senior CIA officials during the Trump administration discussed kidnapping or assassinating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Russia state-backed messengers leveraged the Yahoo News investigation into the CIA’s plan to frame the United States as hostile to journalists, with RT amplifying claims that the story shows the lengths to which Washington will go to “attack press freedom.” Russian state-backed outlets also attempted to draw a parallel between the CIA’s talks and Saudi Arabia’s assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. These narratives were accompanied by praise of Assange and attacks on U.S. imperialism.
Finally, Russian state-backed messaging on covid-19 included typical coverage of protests against pandemic restrictions and boasts about the effectiveness of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. RT provided written breakdowns and videos of demonstrations in a range of countries, such as Australia, France, and Slovenia. Meanwhile, Sputnik V’s Twitter account celebrated the Russian vaccine’s progress toward being authorized by the World Health Organization. Moscow-backed accounts also highlighted Sputnik V’s ability to prevent breakthrough cases.
The triumphal return of Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou continued to draw significant coverage from Chinese diplomats and state media last week. On the diplomatic side, Meng’s return was mentioned in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday press conferences. In addition, the Chinese MFA’s official account, the Chinese embassy in Spain, and the Chinese consul generals in Kolkata (India) and Cape Town (South Africa) were among those sharing the joy of “billions of Chinese worldwide” as a result of Meng’s return. State media outlets such as China Daily, CGTN, and Xinhua relayed similar joyful messages. Alongside the rejoicing over Meng’s regained freedom, many Chinese commentators painted the episode as illustrative of China’s rise and the United States’ decline. The Global Times’ editor-in-chief said Meng’s return exposed the United States as “a paper tiger,” while his newspaper protrayed the entire saga as “China’s successful challenge to US hegemonism.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying also shared a CGTN interview with a French CEO who claimed to be on the receiving end of the “unbridled long-arm jurisdiction of the US.” The interview, which was translated into Spanish, Arabic, and French, highlighted the extraordinary lengths taken by China to defend Meng. Meng’s release was also used to highlight bias in Western media—a narrative that was also promoted in the context of a reporter’s resignation from a Spanish news agency over the supposed “embarrassing information war against China.”
China also spent much of last week touting its military development, with five of the ten most viewed Chinese state media videos on YouTube celebrating China’s arsenal of stealth fighters, drones, aircraft carriers, UAVs, and other weapons—ominous programing in light of China’s massive intrusion into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) last weekend. While the alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States somewhat faded from the toplines last week, Chinese diplomats and state media continued to express concern. State Councilor Wang Yi described it as emblematic of a “resurgence of [the] cold war,” Chinese state media highlighted the nuclear proliferation dimensions of the new alliance, and Chinese diplomats insisted on the “Anglo-Saxon clique” mentality behind it. Xinhua even questioned whether the new submarine deal would lead to job losses in the Australian shipbuilding industry. Finally, China continued to promote the narrative that its government model, not the West’s, represents true democracy, a concept Xinhua termed “whole-process people’s democracy.” This was juxtaposed with messaging critical of U.S. democracy, with Hua accusing the United State of using democracy to “suppress other countries” and CGTN affiliate T-House denouncing “the dysfunction endemic to American-style ‘#democracy.’”
Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian blasted a visit by his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid to Bahrain, calling it an unprecedented betrayal of the Palestinian people, and warning that “Tel Aviv” (a common Iranian metonymy for “Israel,” a name revolutionary orthodoxy rejects) will bring to Bahrain and the region “only insecurity.” “Zionist regime,” Iran’s other preferred euphemism for Israel, was the third most used term among Iranian media and diplomatic accounts last week, after “IRIMFA” (Islamic Republic of Iran Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and “Khamenei.” Iranian diplomats and government-linked press accounts reacted with concern and outrage to reports (denied by Azerbaijani authorities) that Israel has troops stationed in Azerbaijan, including stern warnings to Azerbaijan from Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Where possible, Tehran-backed press tried to link Israeli activities to U.S. foreign policy. Press TV also criticized the firing of University of Bristol professor David Miller over charges of antisemitism, blaming “the Israeli regime and its powerful US and UK-backed worldwide lobby.” Press TV charged that this revealed the hypocrisy of the United States and the United Kingdom’s commitment to free speech. State media also continued their disapproving coverage of the Biden White House, amplifying criticisms from both the American political Right and Left related to the administration’s handling of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the environment, and the stalled infrastructure bill. Finally, the Iranian press charged that a “secretive UK base” had been involved in the U.S. strike that killed General Soleimani, while also alleging Israeli involvement in the killing. Amir-Abdollahian declared that Iran remains committed to pursuing justice for Soleimani and would continue to “follow the path” of the deceased general.
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