Our Take

For months, Russian propagandists have been preparing for a potential war by framing Ukraine and the West as aggressors. We compiled Hamilton 2.0 data to shine a light on how Russian officials and state media have messaged around the crisis since November 2021. Read the report here. 

Moscow has used diplomacy, disinformation, and cyber operations to set the stage for a Kremlin-directed provocation that could be denied or framed as legitimate, Research Assistant Joseph Bodnar writes in Inkstick.

It is in Russia’s economic interest to keep delivering gas to Europe, but it’s hard to predict whether the country’s financial interest will be the deciding factor in a war-time scenario, Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina said on WBUR’s Here and Now.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media last week focused on three main narratives: 

  • Western provocation: Kremlin-linked accounts made new claims that the West is attempting to provoke a war in Ukraine, including an accusation that the United States was arming Ukrainian neo-Nazis to instigate a conflict.
  • Sanctions: Russian officials warned that Western sanctions would be “politically destructive” and threatened to withhold sending oil, gas, and metals to Europe if Russian banks are cut from the Swift global payment system.
  • Amplifying criticism: State media highlighted comments from a range of former and current Western officials that aligned with Russia’s view on Ukraine. 

Chinese diplomats and state media last week highlighted two main topics: 

  • Olympics: Chinese propagandists criticized the U.S.-led diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, highlighted heads of state that would be attending, and noted Beijing and Moscow’s effort to depoliticize sports.
  • Ukraine: Chinese diplomats took multiple approaches to discussing Ukraine, with some calling for more diplomacy and others denigrating NATO and the United States.  

Read the full report here. 

News and Commentary

U.K.-U.S. threaten to sanction Putin’s inner circle: The United Kingdom and United States warned that they will impose sanctions on Russian government officials and businessmen with close ties to President Vladimir Putin if Russia further invades Ukraine. Deputy Director David Salvo said, “While it’s unlikely to deter Russian aggression in Ukraine, expanding the sanctions regime against Russian assets will raise the cost on Russia’s actions and hopefully change the strategic calculus in Moscow over the long-term. The alternativenot imposing costs against Russiawill only embolden the Kremlin.”

EU sues China over economic coercion against Lithuania: On January 27, the EU launched a case against China at the World Trade Organization for undermining the EU single market by imposing a trade embargo against Lithuania allegedly in response to the country establishing closer ties with Taiwan. Research Analyst Etienne Soula told the Dispatch, “The EU’s move is a welcome show of unity that pushes back against Chinese messaging that Lithuania faces coercion from the world’s second largest economy alone. EU member states are often criticized for placing trade above all other considerations so it’s important to acknowledge when they pull together to defend themselves against authoritarian interference.”

State lawmakers weigh measures to protect election workers: Lawmakers in New Mexico, Washington, Maine, and Vermont are considering measures that would increase penalties for intimidating election workers or make it easier to prosecute suspects to combat the wave of threats against state and local election officials, poll workers, and their families since the 2020 election. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Election workers were critical to securing the 2020 presidential election and continue to play an indispensable role in protecting American elections from new and evolving threats. It is imperative that those who treat them in an unlawful manner be held accountable. Otherwise, we invite similar efforts in the futureboth on them and our democracy at-large.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • Multinational companies sponsoring the upcoming Winter Olympics have remained quiet on China’s human rights violations to avoid losing access to the Chinese market despite pressure from activists to condemn the abuses.
  • Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger will discuss the threat of Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine with EU and NATO counterparts this week.
  • Former president Donald Trump was closely involved in drafting multiple versions of an executive order to seize voting machines in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
  • The FBI bought and tested spyware from NSO Group with the intention to deploy it domestically, but the agency ultimately decided not to use it last year.
  • A year after Myanmar’s military seized power, the junta is set to pass a cybersecurity law that would ban VPNs, suppress access to social media, and require internet companies to turn over user data to the military.
  • The United States and Japan will collaborate on creating 6G international standards for unmanned technology, including cell phones and cars, to compete with Chinese companies. 

ASD in the News

Conflict in Ukraine: Pentagon warns attack may be “imminent.” Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Newsy

Russia Steps Up Propaganda War Amid Tensions With Ukraine. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The New York Times

US tries to name and shame Russian disinformation on Ukraine. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in the Associated Press

As Ukraine conflict heats up, so too does disinformation. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Politico

Russia’s energy dominance in Europe gives country leverage over prices. Kristine Berzina interviewed on FOX Business

Digital Bridge: Russian disinformation — Me, myself and my data — Digital tax difficulties. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Politico

US Senate Contemplates ‘Mother of All Sanctions’ if Russia Invades Ukraine. Kristine Berzina quoted in VOA

Biden warns of possible Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Al Jazeera English

Russian roar on Ukraine rings hollow to Latin America allies. ASD data cited in the Associated Press

Energy Contingency Plan in Motion Amid Russia-Ukraine Crisis. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in VOA

Germany sees a gas pipeline under the Baltic as a commercial project. Russia may see it as a leverage. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in Marketplace

The rise of China’s secondary sanctions. China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros quoted in Axios

How the Big Lie lives on in Virginia politics. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Virginia Mercury

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Lord Agnew. Josh Rudolph’s piece The Development Response to Kleptocracy and Strategic Corruption quoted in Coda Story

At the crossroads interview: Kristine Berzina. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Latvian Radio

Quote of the Week

“Democracies must stand and work together against the PRC’s economic coercion. Failing to act and stand together would only encourage the PRC to engage in further coercion against democracies in the future. 

  • Member of the European Parliament Miriam M. Lexmann wrote on Twitter on January 31, 2022.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.