How can Ukraine win the disinformation war against Russia? Join ASD and GMF on Wednesday, March 9 for a discussion with Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko, Head of the East Stratcom Task Force Martyna Bildziukiewicz, Ukraine’s Institute for Cognitive Modeling board member Viktor Berezenko, ASD Senior Fellow Bret Schafer, and  GMF Senior Fellow Bruno Lété at 10 am EST/ 4 pm CET. Register here.

Our Take

Russia’s war in Ukraine has pushed Europe into action in ways that seemed impossible a week ago, but will it have the same impact on the far corners of the U.S. political establishment? Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina examines the possibility in Dallas Morning News. 

The EU’s decision to ban Russian state media was necessary, but it should refine the ban’s framing to ensure it doesn’t create a precedent for aspiring autocrats within the union, Research Analyst Etienne Soula writes on ASD’s Interference Matters blog

The West must stop flirting with autocracy and reinvigorate our societies in a more democratic and cohesive manner to build resilience to Russian and other autocrats’ influence, Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina said on the Takeaway.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media last week focused on three main narratives around the war in Ukraine: 

  • Fake Ukrainian WMDs: Kremlin-backed messengers pushed false claims that Ukraine was pursuing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs—with the help of the United States—and has plans to frame Russia for attacking a nuclear plant.
  • State media restrictions: Russian propagandists criticized Western restrictions on Moscow-linked media, arguing the regulations were an attack on free speech, “fascist measure[s],” and being “used as missiles of war.”
  • Sanctions: While President Putin called sanctions “akin to a declaration of war,” the bulk of Russian propaganda about sanctions focused on the impact they will have on Western economies. 

Chinese diplomats and state media last week focused on the following three narratives:

  • Western blame in Ukraine: Chinese messaging consistently pointed to NATO and the West as the main culprits behind the war in Ukraine.
  • Western racism: Chinese propagandists claimed the West was racist by pointing to instances when commentators used insensitive language to sympathize with Ukrianians.
  • U.S. treatment of Native Americans: With Secretary Blinken addressing the UN Human Rights Council about Chinese human rights abuse in Xinjiang, Chinese diplomats countered by highlighting century-old killings of Native Americans.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

West targets Russian energy imports: On March 8, the United States and United Kingdom banned imports of Russian oil, and the European Union introduced a plan to reduce Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the end of the year and become independent from Russian fossil fuels before 2030. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina broke down the implications to The Dispatch: “With these announcements, the U.S. and Europe are making explicit that they will not allow Russia to fund its invasion of Ukraine through sales of oil and gas to the West. The U.S. as a major oil and gas producer can cut ties with Russian energy more quickly, while Europe will need more time to free itself from its long-lasting dependence. Europe’s announcement is welcome, but it remains to be seen whether, given events in Ukraine, Europe may be forced to give up Russian energy faster than it has already promised.”  

Russia cracks down on free speech: After accusing Western governments and social media platforms of waging an information war against Russia, the Kremlin blocked access to major social media sites, forced independent news outlets to shut down, and enacted a law that could impose 15-year prison terms on Russians who spread “false information” about the war in Ukraine. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told the Dispatch, “The Kremlin’s crackdown on independent media and free expression coincided with a relentless campaign by Russian state media outlets to cast the recent bans of RT and Sputnik in several Western countries as a ‘blatant attack’ on free speech and a ‘fascist measure.’ This is evidence, yet again, of the absurdity of Kremlin-backed media, which rallies behind an anti-censorship and anti-war mantra, while representing a government that routinely engages in both.”

China amplified Kremlin narratives on Ukraine war: Beijing-linked outlets are spreading Russian talking points about the war in Ukraine and have been directed to avoid publishing pro-Western commentary on the crisis, according to leaked documents. Co-Director Zack Cooper said,“Beijing has made a decision to align itself with Moscow on Ukraine. In my view, this is a major strategic error that will damage China’s interests in the long term by making it easier for the United States to build coalitions with allies and partners in Europe and Asia to push back against both Russia and China.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • Ukraine will join the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence as a “contributing participant” to collaborate on research, exercises, and training in the cyber domain. 
  • The Department of Justice is launching the Task Force KleptoCapture, a team of sanctions, money laundering, tax enforcement, and anti-corruption experts to enforce sanctions against Russian oligarchs.  
  • Ukrainian officials said hackers have broken into local government websites to spread false reports that Ukraine surrendered and signed a peace treaty with Russia.  
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty ended operations in Russia after local tax authorities began bankruptcy proceedings against its Russian service and amid concerns over the country’s new press freedom law.
  • Shell and BP will stop business and trade dealings, and new purchases of crude oil in Russia ahead of the Biden administration’s ban on Russian oil imports to the U.S. 
  • Cybersecurity firm Mandiant linked Chinese state-sponsored hackers to cyberattacks that targeted at least six U.S. state government networks to steal data. 

ASD in the News

How the West Could Safely ‘Off-Ramp’ Russia’s Ukraine Invasion. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on The Choice MSNBC

TikTok becomes information battleground in Ukraine. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The Financial Times

Could Europe turn off Russian gas? Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on BBC 

The West doesn’t want to push Putin toward using nuclear weapons. It might not matter. Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts published in The Washington Post 

War in Ukraine: What if the Russians are against it? Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on France 24 

Kremlin-Backed Media Outlets Face Growing Global Crackdown. Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts quoted in Wall Street Journal 

NATO Faces Reality of Emboldened Russia on Its Doorstep. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in Bloomberg

How badly will Russia’s war torpedo hopes for global climate cooperation? Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in The Los Angeles Times

Biden bans Russian oil imports in a bid to thwart Putin’s war. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald

Tech companies seek to choke out Russian state media. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The Hill

Putin’s Taunt: What are you going to do about it? Co-Director Zack Cooper hosts War on the Rocks’ Net Assessment

Supporters of Tina Peters are going after other Colorado clerks. Here’s what they want. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in The Denver Post

Reaction to Tina Peters, Jena Griswold running for Colorado Secretary of State. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine interviewed on KKCO 

Russia’s Vaunted Influence Operations Bogged Down with Ukraine. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Voice of America

Russian Outlets Seize on Accounts of Racism. ASD analysis cited in Voice of America

Biden envía mensaje directo a Putin. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on VOA Spanish

Analistas celebran el carácter “unificador” de Joe Biden en su discurso sobre el Estado de la Nación. Senior Fellow Kristine quoted in VOA Spanish

Intersection discussion. The war in Ukraine – the ability of world powers to influence what is happening. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Latvian Public Media

Quote of the Week

We [Ukraine] were not a threat to Russia unless being a peaceful democracy and just peacefully living in your own country is a threat. And if it’s so, then it’s not only about Ukraine, then Europe and the whole world is not safe.”

  • Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said on Face the Nation on March 6, 2022.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.