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Our Take

Chinese state media and diplomats are doubling down on Russian messaging and disinformation on Ukraine, despite the damage this is causing to China’s reputation abroad, Co-Director Zack Cooper, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer, and Research Analyst Etienne Soula find in their analysis of data from our War in Ukraine Dashboard.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is about democracy. Putin is afraid that democracy at his doorstep poses an existential threat to his rule at home, Director Laura Thornton testified before the European Parliament. 

Nonpartisan election observation is critical to helping ensure the integrity of future U.S. elections, beginning with the 2022 midterms, ASD’s David Levine and the Carter Center’s Avery Davis-Roberts write in a new report. The report was covered in The Fulcrum.

View all our work on Russia’s war in Ukraine here.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Bioweapons: Russian diplomats and state media tweeted the word “biological” 600 times as they advanced their conspiracy about U.S.-funded bioweapon labs in Ukraine that were creating pathogens capable of targeting certain ethnic groups and being delivered via bird.
  • Sanctions: Kremlin-backed accounts insisted that the West would be hurt by the sanctions imposed on Russia, with Moscow-linked accounts warning of “rolling blackouts” in American cities and double digit inflation in Germany.  
  • Fake news: Russian diplomatic accounts tweeted the word “fake” 200 times, and FakeNews was the seventh most used hashtag by Russian officials, as they tried to discredit accurate reporting about Ukraine.

Chinese diplomats and state media’s messaging followed three trends last week:

  • Bioweapons: Chinese propagandists converged around the supposed presence of 26 U.S. bio-labs in Ukraine, tying them to a broader network of 336 U.S. labs around the globe and in particular to Fort Detrick, which Chinese conspiracy theorists claim is the source of COVID-19.
  • Russian quotes: Chinese diplomats and state media consistently quoted Russian officials and state media, especially when tweeting about Ukraine.
  • Russian talking points: Beijing-linked accounts defended Russia against war crime accusations, focusing instead on NATO expansionism as a reason for war and on Western media’s supposed indifference to non-white war victims.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Sullivan and Yang meet amid rising tensions over Ukraine: On March 14, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan raised concerns with senior Chinese foreign policy advisor Yang Jiechi over China’s alignment with Russia, and warned of the economic consequences if Beijing provides military and economic assistance to Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. Co-Director Zack Cooper said, “Whether China is willing to actively support Russia’s war in Ukraine is increasingly seen as a litmus test for Beijing’s relationship not only with Moscow, but with Washington as well. If Xi Jinping supports Putin through sanctions evasion or military support, I suspect the United States and some in Europe will adopt a far more confrontational approach than they have to date.”

Russian TikTok influencers paid to spread Kremlin propaganda: An anonymous Telegram channel paid Russian TikTok influencers and directed them to spread pro-Kremlin narratives on the war in Ukraine, according to an investigation by VICE. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told the Dispatch, “As the Kremlin adapts to a wartime information environment that has degraded its ability to message through overt channels, we should expect to see more of these kinds of efforts to launder Kremlin propaganda through gray and covert channels and influencers. It is also a reminder that Russian information operations need not and are not run through accounts and outlets that can be definitively attributed to the Russian state.”

New survey predicts future election official shortage: A Brennan Center for Justice survey showed that one in five local election officials are “very” or “somewhat unlikely” to continue serving in their positions through 2024, with officials citing increased harassment, attacks on the electoral system, and an overall lack of federal support. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Threats and political pressure fueled by baseless allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election are continuing to contribute to an exodus of election officials. If more isn’t done to protect election officials from this unrelenting targeting, the conduct of future elections is likely to rely more on inexperienced officials and/or individuals seeking to cast doubt on the integrity of U.S. elections.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • YouTube blocked world-wide access to channels associated with Russian-state media, including RT and Sputnik, for violating its policy on content that spreads false narratives on current events.  
  • The new U.S. government funding bill will increase funding for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and require critical infrastructure operators to report cyber incidents within 72 hours and ransomware payments within 24 hours. 
  • Experts are calling on the U.S. government to publicize intelligence on potential Russian cyber and disinformation campaigns ahead of upcoming elections.  
  • The EU passed new sanctions that will ban the export of EU luxury goods to Russia, the import of certain iron and steel goods, and European investments across Russia’s energy sector.
  • Ukraine began using Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology to allow defense officials to identify Russian assailants, combat misinformation, and identify victims.
  • More than 10,000 ballots were not included in the final vote count in Harris County, Texas after an election worker failed to include the ballots in the unofficial count. 

ASD in the News

U.S. Fights Bioweapons Disinformation Pushed by Russia and China. Bret Schafer quoted in The New York Times

Biden Says Putin Has ‘Failed’ in Ukraine. Deputy Director David Salvo interviewed on Fox News 

Kristine Berzina on Ban on Russian Oil and World Energy Markets. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on CSPAN’s Washington Journal

How to Win the Disinformation War in Ukraine? Senior Fellow Bret Schafer participated in an ASD-GMF event

How Far Will Xi Jinping Go in Supporting His Fellow Dictator Putin? Co-Director Zack Cooper interviewed on Background Briefing with Ian Masters

Alliance for Securing Democracy Berzina on Oil Imports Ban, Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Bloomberg Markets Asia 

ASD’s David Salvo Discusses Ongoing Russia-Ukraine Talks on Newsy. Deputy Director David Salvo interviewed on Newsy 

Ukraine Under Attack. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Newsy

Surface Pressure: Oil Ban, Cyberattacks, Tech CEO TV Shows. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on The Skimm’s Skimm This

Misinformation colors how Russians are seeing the Ukrainian war. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The Hill

How the Russian Invasion of Ukraine Upended Germany. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in The New Yorker

Here’s who stands to win from high gas prices. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in The Hill

QAnon, Ukraine and ‘biolabs’: Russian propaganda efforts boosted by U.S. far right. Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts quoted in NBC News

Washington Today. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on C-SPAN

How will Putin’s war end? Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on CTV News

Biden Warns Putin Will Pay ‘Severe Price’ for Using Chemical Weapons. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in New York Magazine

US Bans Imports of Russian Oil Amid Ukraine Invasion. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in Voice of America 

US Banning Russian Energy Imports. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Voice of America

Elections Expert: Idahoans Should ‘Vote for Democracy’ in 2022. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Public News Service  

What led up to Clerk Tina Peters, Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley indictments. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine cited in KKCO News

Russia Ukraine war: Fears grow over China’s bizarre Ukraine conspiracy theory as invasion escalates. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in NZ Herald 

Ruski napori da opravdaju invaziju na Ukrajinu nailaze na zastoj. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer

Quote of the Week

“Russia’s invasion threatens not just Ukraine’s democracy, it threatens democracy and security across Europe. And by extension, when democracy is threatened anywhere, it threatens us all.”

  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said on March 12, 2022.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.