Our Take

Russia has lost the information war in Ukraine, but the Kremlin will likely continue to carry out information manipulation campaigns to try to break the West’s unified response, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer said on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Deep Dish podcast. 

Even if China were to break with Russia over Ukraine, it’s unlikely that it would lead President Putin to change course, Deputy Director David Salvo said on Bloomberg’s Balance of Power.

Taiwan should learn from Ukraine’s experiences in public diplomacy, strategic communications, and cyber defense, China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros writes on ASD’s Interference Matters blog. 

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: Kremlin-linked accounts promoted new evidence to support their conspiracy around U.S.-funded bioweapon labs in Ukraine, though the number of tweets from Russian propagandists with the term “biological” dropped by 58 percent compared to the previous week.
  • China: Russian propagandists mentioned “China” or “Chinese” in more than 400 tweets as they insisted that Moscow and Beijing’s partnership was growing and amplified Chinese state messengers who criticized NATO and the United States.
  • Fake debunks: Russian diplomats kept up their attack on accurate reporting on Ukraine, with more than a dozen diplomats tweeting or retweeting #DebunkingFakes to discredit reports that Russian forces bombed a theater in Mariupol.  

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

  • Bioweapons: Chinese officials continued to push the bioweapons conspiracy, but references to the biolabs faded throughout the week. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ press briefings on Thursday and Friday didn’t mention the topic.
  • NATO enlargement: Chinese propagandists claimed that NATO enlargement was the root cause of the war in Ukraine, making NATO one of the top ten most tweeted phrases by monitored Chinese accounts.
  • Sanctions: Chinese diplomats and state media were defiant about U.S. warnings that Chinese assistance to Russia could be met with sanctions, with one official waning that “intimidation has never worked on China.” 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Biden to visit Europe: This week, U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with NATO and EU partners in Europe to present a united front against Russia and discuss economic and financial consequences for Russia, support for Ukraine’s defense, and ongoing humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina said, “Maintaining the trend of transatlantic unity is the first goal, but this alone is not enough. The U.S. and its NATO allies must ask the hard question of why Russia felt that it could win in Ukraine, and whether the troops and equipment that NATO has in place along NATO’s eastern flank is sufficient for Russia not to make the same mistake again. Moscow feels that weakness is a green light, and it is itching to test NATO’s resolve. Biden and his peers will need to make decisions about additional troop and equipment placement to make sure it doesn’t come to defending every inch.”

Putin and Zelensky deepfakes circulate online: Last week, Meta and YouTube removed a deepfake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky surrendering to Russia, while experts debunked a deepfake video of Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring peace shortly after, revealing an increasingly sophisticated weapon in the information war around Ukraine. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer said, “The use of fabricated audio and video is a clear threat in a crisis situation. As we’ve seen, however, more rudimentary tactics—like the use of deceptive editing and the repurposing of old, out-of-context videos—have proven equally devastating in their ability to mislead audiences about the war in Ukraine.”

DOJ accuses China of spying on dissidents in U.S.: The Department of Justice last week charged five individuals with acting on behalf of the Chinese secret police to spy on and harass U.S. residents critical of Beijing, including a congressional candidate. China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros told the Dispatch, The best way to confront China’s political interference in the U.S. and elsewhere is by first and foremost hearing out the dissident communities that bear the brunt of these activities. The U.S. Justice Department’s actions can build more robust ties between the U.S. government and Asian-American communities targeted by China’s nefarious activities. And protecting diaspora communities demonstrates that the U.S. government and allies are serious about defending their democratic processes for all their citizens.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • The White House urged private companies to strengthen cyber defenses against potential Russian cyberattacks targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, citing intelligence that suggests Russia is considering “options for potential cyberattacks.” 
  • New laws will enable the Australian Communications and Media Authority to force internet companies to share data on how they address misinformation and disinformation.
  • A Russian court banned Facebook and Instagram from Russia for “extremist” activities, but the ruling did not impact Meta’s WhatsApp messaging platform. 
  • The Internal Revenue Service asked Congress to invest more resources in the agency to oversee efforts to prevent Russian oligarchs from evading U.S. sanctions.
  • State and local election officials have raised concerns over paper shortages, which may pose a challenge for officials to secure enough paper to prepare election materials.
  • The Michigan Bureau of Elections will allocate $8 million in federal grant funds toward election security and integrity improvements, including website and election equipment upgrades, before the 2022 midterm elections.

ASD in the News

Truth is another front in Putin’s war. Director Laura Thornton quoted in The New York Times

West hits Vladimir Putin’s fake news factories with wave of sanctions. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The Guardian

Putin’s frustration growing as war efforts stall. Deputy Director David Salvo interviewed on NewsNation 

The search for oligarchs’ wealth in U.S. hindered by investment loopholes. Non-Resident Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum quoted in The Washington Post 

What happens if diplomatic ties between the US and Russia break? Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on NewsNation 

Can the US deliver for Ukraine? Zelensky’s call for help from Congress. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on France 24 

New signs Putin is aggravated by opposition within his country. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in The National Desk 

China’s attempt to play both sides of the Ukraine crisis is starting to crack. ASD analysis cited in The Washington Post 

China Insists It Won’t Help Sustain Russia’s War Against Ukraine. China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros quoted in Newsweek 

US Sees No Letup in Russian Influence Operations. ASD work cited in Voice of America 

Could This Simple Fix Restore Faith in Our Elections? Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine interviewed on Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson  

Quote of the Week

“Democracy that is standing up against autocracy. And therefore here we stand as one.”  

  • President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen told France 24 on March 18, 2022. 
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.