Our Take

Democratic backsliding is contagious. Democracies must support one another, share lessons learned, and operate in an alliance to fight against the rise of authoritarianism and build more resilient societies, Director Laura Thornton told Georgia’s Caucasian Journal

Emerging technologies and the Internet infrastructure that enables them sit at the heart of the competition between democracies and authoritarians. In order to compete effectively, democracies need to advance affirmative strategies and a positive, democratic vision for emerging technologies and the Internet of the future, Lindsay Gorman and Research Assistant Amber Frankland write in a series of blog posts. Read part one on democratic values and the Internet; part two on authoritarian models for the Internet; and part three on democratic responses to authoritarian technology threats.   

Election audits should help build trust in the electoral system, not legitimize baseless conspiracies, as the Arizona “audit” is currently doing, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and Steve Daitch write in Electionline.

Congress should require companies to report to the federal government when they’ve been hacked, Research Assistant Amber Frankland and Lindsay Gorman write in Just Security.

China’s diplomats and state-backed media used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to criticize the United States’ global leadership and to present China as an alternative, more impartial global leader, China Analyst Bryce Barros and Research Assistant Etienne Soula find in the latest Hamilton analysis blog post.

Follow us on Twitter for more quick takes @SecureDemocracy.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media continued to highlight incidents of police brutality during the protests in Colombia and related human rights concerns, though the volume of such content continued to taper off from its peak in the first week of May. However, the Russian embassy in Columbia generated an unusually large amount of engagement on Twitter, and its followers increased by 75 percent last week. In its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Russian state media criticized Israel, highlighted the civilian toll, and covered instances of violence at global demonstrations related to the conflict. Finally, Russian state media and diplomats highlighted positive developments related to the Sputnik V vaccine, including shipments, international enthusiasm, and positive impacts.

Chinese diplomats and state media last week continued to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to present Beijing as an alternative world leader to the United States, claiming that the United States is not an impartial actor in the conflict and that Washington is hypocritical for promoting human rights in Xinjiang while remaining mute on human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories. Chinese diplomatic officials also promoted their proposal to deescalate the conflict, offered to host diplomatic talks, and highlighted the distribution of Chinese humanitarian aid and Covid-19 vaccines for Palestinians. As part of its months-long effort to discredit the BBC’s coverage of abuses in Xinjiang, Chinese diplomats and state media elevated revelations of misconduct regarding the BBC’s 1996 interview with Princess Diana. In coronavirus coverage, Chinese diplomats used President Xi Jinping’s attendance at the Global Health Summit as an opportunity to promote China’s desire to cooperate on future anti-pandemic efforts.

Like their counterparts in Moscow and Beijing, Tehran-affiliated diplomats and state media focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last week. Many tweets celebrated the Palestinians’ “victory” over the “Zionist regime,” and PressTV reported on a statement from Hamas thanking Iran for providing money and military support. State media also suggested that Israel and the West fear Palestinian elections because of Hamas’ popularity, while the supreme leader described Israeli responses to “the Palestinian uprising” as “shameful,” “idiotic,” and having “provoked the public opinion of the world against itself.”

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Belarus forces European airliner to land in Minsk, arrests opposition journalist onboard: On May 23, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a warplane to intercept a Ryanair flight traveling through Belarusian airspace, forced the commercial flight to land in the country’s capital, Minsk, and arrested a Belarusian dissident that was onboard. Roman Protasevich, the detained opposition figure, co-founded the NEXTA Telegram channel, one of the most prominent Belarusian opposition outlets. The plane was flying between EU countries Greece and Lithuania and was carrying over 100 passengers when it was diverted. Belarusian authorities appear to have engineered a false bomb threat against the plane to justify its forced landing. On May 24, Belarusian authorities released a video of Protasevich acknowledging his role in organizing mass protests in 2020. Protasevich appears to be under duress in the recording. Meanwhile, the European Union moved to sanction Belarus and ban its state airline from flying in Europe. ASD Director Laura Thornton argued that the gravity of the Ryanair plane hijacking cannot be overstated and questioned if planes will need to avoid the airspace of authoritarian countries in the future. 

EU parliament freezes massive trade deal with China: On May 20, the European Parliament (EP) overwhelmingly approved a resolution to freeze any consideration of a massive investment deal with China, following recent tit-for-tat sanctions between the European Union and China over Beijing’s human rights abuses. The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which negotiators agreed to in December 2020 after seven years of talks but requires the EP’s approval, aimed to improve the EU’s access to the Chinese market and strengthen economic ties between the bloc and Beijing. Tensions escalated between the two sides in March, when the EU imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials involved in Beijing’s genocide of ethnic Uyghurs and China retaliated with sanctions on multiple members of the EP, members of national parliaments, EU committees, and China-focused European researchers. The EP’s resolution criticized China’s “crimes against humanity” and called Beijing’s counter-sanctions “baseless and arbitrary.” ASD China Analyst Bryce Barros argued that China’s decision to sanction critics could leave Beijing isolated and unable to advance its geopolitical goals. 

Biden administration waives sanctions on Nord Stream 2 pipeline: On May 19, the Biden administration decided to waive sanctions against the company overseeing the construction of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany and its chief executive, despite bipartisan pushback from Congress. A State Department report delivered to Congress concluded that the company, Nord Stream 2 AG, and its CEO, Matthias Warnig, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had engaged in sanctionable activity, but sanctions would negatively impact relations with Germany and other European partners at a time when close cooperation is needed to recover from the pandemic, fight climate change, and counter “malign behavior by Russia and China.” A bipartisan group of lawmakers has called on Biden to reverse the waivers, and nearly a dozen GOP senators introduced legislation to reinstate sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers. ASD Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina and Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph joined the Power Vertical podcast to discuss whether the waivers will help improve transatlantic relations or encourage more economic coercion from Russia. 

In Case You Missed It

  • Arizona’s secretary of state advised Maricopa County to replace all of the voting machines that were provided to the private contractor carrying out a controversial audit of the 2020 election, citing potential compromises to the machines’ security. 
  • Florida passed a law that would penalize social media companies that permanently ban political candidates for statewide officea move that will likely face legal challenges. 
  • At least 100 U.S. municipalities have bought Chinese-made surveillance technology that the U.S. government has linked to human rights abuses, according to TechCrunch.  
  • President Biden’s infrastructure proposal now includes $20 billion for localities to modernize their energy systems and $2 billion for grid resilience that will be contingent on meeting cybersecurity targets.
  • The Postal Service is reportedly using a range of digital surveillance tools to monitor Americans’ social media posts and sharing that information with other federal agencies. 
  • The EU extended the legal framework that enables member states to invoke EU-wide sanctions against actors that carry out cyberattacks against their countries or the EU. 
  • A branch of the Indian police charged with investigating terrorism and organized crime entered Twitter’s New Delhi office to “serve a notice” to the platform, which recently labeled posts by India’s ruling party as “manipulated media.”
  • The Justice Department under President Trump secretly obtained the email and phone records of a CNN reporter during a two-month period in 2017. 

ASD in the News

Pipeline Geopolitics, The Power Vertical. Interview with Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina and Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Russia’s Surveillance State Struggles to Wean Itself Off the West, Foreign Policy. Comments from Lindsay Gorman

The Cybersecurity 202: Cybersecurity pros are split on banning ransomware payments, The Washington Post. Comments from Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner

Wenn China stört und Russland stichelt (When China bothers and Russia taunts), Frankfurter Rundschau. Comments from Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Gegen China wehrt Brüssel sich nur verhalten (Brussels is only resisting China with restraint), NTV. Comments from Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková

Bret Schafer: ‘Over the past two years, Beijing has begun to reflect more on Russian methods than before,’ The Ukrainian Week. Interview with Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Quote of the Week

“There must be real consequences for kidnapping a journalist for telling the truth about an authoritarian government. The United States must work with its allies to hold accountable those responsible for this indefensible behavior.”

  • Sen. Rony Wyden (D-OR) wrote on Twitter on May 25.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.