Last week we launched the French Elections Dashboard, an interactive, open-source tool that will provide summary analysis of narratives promoted by influential foreign and domestic actors during this year’s presidential election in France. Try out the dashboard here, learn more about our work on the 2022 French elections here, and read our top five early takeaways here.

Our Take

Foreign state-sponsored efforts to influence the French information space are playing a role in shaping voter perceptions of current events and politicians, Senior Fellows Kristine Berzina and Bret Schafer and Research Analyst Etienne Soula write in the inaugural takeaways from the French Election Dashboard.

Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine has brought NATO back to its basic principles and provided lessons on how to handle future crises, Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina and Deputy Director of GMF’s Paris office Martin Quencez argue.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media last week focused on the following narratives around Ukraine:

  • Provocations: Russian state media falsely claimed Ukraine had “amassed a huge offensive force,” which went on to set fire to towns, shell villages, target a kindergarten, and fail to carry out multiple sabotage attempts.
  • Evacuation: Kremlin-linked coverage of people evacuating Donetsk and Luhansk showcased children in orphanages and schools fleeing, people lined up at ATMs and stuck in traffic, and Russian officials offering to help.
  • Genocide: Russian President Vladimir Putin reasserted his unfounded argument that “what is happening in Donbass is genocide,” and the Kremlin’s propaganda apparatus blamed the West of “cynically denying” human rights abuses.

Chinese diplomats and state media last week focused on three main topics:

  • Ukraine: Chinese diplomats attempted to legitimize Russia’s grievances toward the West and Ukraine, while also insisting that the “territorial integrity of all countries should be respected.”
  • Afghanistan: Chinese officials and state media denounced the U.S. move to split $7 billion in frozen funds from Afghanistan’s central bank between humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and support for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • Olympics: With the Winter Olympics closing ceremony taking place last Sunday, Beijing2022 remained the most used phrase and hashtag in tweets from Chinese diplomatic and state media accounts last week.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

West retaliates against Russian invasion of Ukraine: After Russia recognized and ordered Russian troops into two separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine, transatlantic democracies issued a flurry of retaliatory economic measures, including Germany’s decision to halt the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the U.S. move to impose sanctions targeting Russian financial institutions, sovereign debt, and elites and their family members. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina broke down the implications to the Dispatch: “The U.S. and European allies are moving quickly to impose costs on Russia for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty. Germany’s decision to halt the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline shows that even in a country where having good economic ties to Russia is a cornerstone of foreign policy, President Putin’s moves are beyond the boundary of acceptability. Germany is acting as a leader in Europe and across the Atlantic community even if it means that the country may need to make tougher energy choices in the future. ”

Meta introduces tools to fight disinformation ahead of French elections: On February 16, Facebook’s parent company Meta launched a series of initiatives aimed at combatting disinformation on its platforms ahead of this year’s French presidential election, including a new function to report fake news, a media literacy program, and a “virtual elections operations centre.” Senior Fellow Bret Schafer said, “It’s not that these steps aren’t helpful, but we, collectively, continue to focus outsized attention and resources on policing harmful content in a finite period before national elections. The reality is that influence is often a long game, and the gestation period for most disinformation campaigns extends well before and beyond a single election. We therefore need to treat the threat as ever-present, and not something that is exclusively pegged to election cycles.”

In Case You Missed It

  • U.S. and UK officials said Russia’s military intelligence agency, known as the GRU, was behind cyberattacks that targeted the websites of Ukrainian government agencies and banks last week.
  • The EU will deploy the Cyber Rapid Response Team, a group of ten cybersecurity officials from six countries, to help Ukraine defend against Russian cyberattacks.
  • China has been using bots, fake social media accounts, influencers, and other tools to promote positive narratives of the Winter Olympics and cover up controversies, the New York Times and ProPublica found.
  • Election officials and voting experts are advocating for more funding to securely administer the upcoming U.S. midterm elections amid increasing supply-chain disruptions and security threats.
  • The Justice Department is set to announce changes to the Trump-era China Initiative that was designed to combat Chinese national security threats, but has been criticized for contributing to anti-Asian sentiment.
  • GOP state lawmakers proposed the use of high-tech “fraud proof” ballots despite the limited number of companies able to sell these ballots and a lack of evidence of voter fraud.

ASD in the News

Germany puts Nord Stream 2 pipeline on hold after Russia sends troops into eastern Ukraine. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on WBUR’s Here & Now

Ukraine: US and Russia battle for narrative supremacy. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer interviewed on Al Jazeera

ASD’s David Salvo talks to Newsy about Putin’s playbook in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Deputy Director David Salvo interviewed on Newsy

Russia-Ukraine crisis: For Putin, energy is ‘a major focus of the conversation. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on France 24

Playbook Paris: Bay sans flamme — Croisement de courbes — Mali, dîner au sommet. ASD’s French Elections Project featured in Politico Playbook Paris

Election officials want more funds to combat midterm election cyber threats. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in The Washington Post

OSCE member states must deliver on election observation mission for Hungary. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and GMF Visiting Fellow Daniel Hegedüs wrote in The Hill

Hungary monitors not enough to stop first ‘rigged’ election in EU. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and GMF Visiting Fellow Daniel Hegedüs wrote in EU Observer

The battle over information happening in Russia. ASD quoted in The UCSD Guardian

Social media and the future of democracy. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Words Versus Deeds in Biden’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. Co-Director Zack Cooper wrote on War on the Rocks

Quote of the Week

“When one nation tries to impose their will on another, every would-be autocrat watches to see whether the international community still has the mettle to respond.”

  • Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) wrote on Twitter on February 22, 2022.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.