Tune in on Tuesday, April 5 at 9:00 a.m. EDT/3:00 p.m. CEST as Director Laura Thornton moderates a Global Democracy Coalition discussion on the written commitments countries have made since the Summit for Democracy. Learn more here. 

We’re recruiting for our summer 2022 internships! Research interns will assist our fellows with research on autocratic actors’ attempts to undermine democracies, and the communications intern will work with the external affairs team to publicize ASD’s groundbreaking research. Apply today!

Our Take

ICYMI, we hosted an event on information manipulation in France’s presidential election with ASD’s Kristine Berzina, ISD’s Iris Boyer, IFRI’s Julien Nocetti, and ASD’s Bret Schafer. Watch the recording here. 

Democratic states have taken remarkable steps to isolate Russia, but democracies should build out the capacity of transnational organizations to combat kleptocracy; declare Nord Stream 2 truly and permanently dead; and bring the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism into force, Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg writes in an ASD blog post. 

Despite the EU’s ban on Russian state media, RT France continues to generate significant interaction on Facebook, Research Analyst Etienne Soula explains in an analysis of French Election Dashboard data.

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 the war in Ukraine: 

  • Biden: Kremlin-linked accounts claimed U.S. President Joe Biden was mentally unfit and intent on regime change in Russia after he said Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”
  • Biolabs: Russian officials claimed that Hunter Biden, George Soros, the Pentagon, and several other U.S. agencies were involved in biological weapons programs in Ukraine, while suggesting that a former Pentagon contractor released covid-19 from a lab in Wuhan, China.
  • NATO: As NATO leaders met to discuss the war in Ukraine, Russian messengers framed the alliance as a serial aggressor that is responsible for the ongoing war, a pending food crisis, and instability throughout the world. 

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

  • NATO: Chinese propagandists heavily criticized NATO’s alleged aggression and actual expansion, making “NATO” the third most used phrase and fourth most used hashtag by monitored Chinese accounts on Twitter.
  • Ukraine: Beijing-linked accounts amplified a range of pro-Russian talking points around the war in Ukraine, including by pushing the bioweapon conspiracy, claiming the United States is seeking to profit from the war, and pointing to past U.S. interventions.  
  • United States: Chinese diplomats tried to discredit U.S. democracy and global standing by sharing videos that claim Washington “is in no position” to act as a “guardian of democracy” and highlighting those countries that have defended Russia’s actions in the war. 

Read the full report here.

French Election Dashboard Analysis

  • Russia: On RT France, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen was the most talked about candidate, with four tweets about her last week detailing her popular/populist measures and relaying her criticism of NATO and the EU. However, Russian state media coverage of the French presidential election was extremely limited and dwarfed by content focusing on the war in Ukraine.
  • China: There was virtually no coverage of the presidential race from monitored Chinese accounts other than a short CGTN Français storythat received almost no interactionon a Jean-Luc Mélenchon rally. But China continues to adopt Russian talking points on Ukraine, including the use of the sanitized term “military operation” instead of war.
  • Qatar: Last week, AJ+ Français posted a YouTube video asking whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s mastery of modern communication had already won him the war. Comments were negative, accusing the host of repeating Western propaganda. He accordingly adjusted his messaging this week with a video titled “How Putin trapped Europe.” The video is already AJ+ Français’ second most viewed for all of 2022, and comments are much more positive. It was also AJ+ Français’ top performing Facebook post last week.      

Try out the French Election Dashboard here.

News and Commentary

U.S. and EU move to reduce dependence on Russian energy: The United States will increase natural gas exports to the EU to help the bloc reduce its dependence on Russian energy, and Germany will wean itself off Russian oil and gas by 2024. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina said,The U.S. commitment to add 15 billion cubic meters of LNG to its expected contribution to European markets this year is a good and necessary step to ensuring Europe’s decoupling from Russia’s natural gas. But Europe will have to make many gains in efficiency, electrification, and accelerate its green transition for the shift to take hold and not be rolled back in the near or medium term. Now is the time for creative policy making. Looking at the situation in Ukraine, Europe should seriously consider moving away from Russian energy in the fastest way possible. Citizens and industry will adapt.”

Biden administration’s proposed budget includes election funding: The Biden administration’s fiscal 2023 budget proposed $10 billion in election security grants over the next decade to bolster critical state and local elections infrastructure and $5 billion to expand the U.S. Postal Service’s capacity to support vote-by-mail efforts. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “The Biden administration’s proposed budget for election funding, if enacted, would provide a shot in the arm for a core function of U.S. democracy that badly needs it.”

DOJ indicts four Russian nationals for cyberattacks targeting global energy: On March 24, the U.S. Department of Justice charged four Russian government employees with participating in two hacking campaigns that targeted the global energy sector in 135 countries between 2012 and 2018. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar told the Dispatch, “These indictments aren’t meant to bring Russian hackers to justicethey’ll likely never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. The charges are meant to reinforce calls for U.S. critical infrastructure entities to up their cyber defenses since they’re now on the frontlines of a pending cyber conflict. The allegations are also meant to show the world that Russian hackers are a persistent threat. And finally, the charges name and shame specific Russian operatives, whose job is to remain anonymous.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • The EU reached a deal on the Digital Markets Act, which would require big tech companies to tightly regulate content and information shared on their platforms if passed. 
  • A powerful cyberattack targeted the IT infrastructure of Ukraine’s state-owned internet service provider Ukrtelecom, which the Ukrainian military also uses. 
  • The FBI warned state and local election officials to be cautious of invoice-themed phishing emails intended to steal login credentials after similar attacks were reported in at least nine states. 
  • A recent GMF report recommends that the United States push back against China’s coercive efforts to prevent Taiwan’s participation in UN agencies and other international organizations.
  • The United States and EU reached an “agreement in principle” to securely transfer personal data across the Atlantic and ensure user data privacy and security. 
  • Chinese state-run oil refiner Sinopec Group suspended discussions for a half billion dollar investment and gas marketing venture in Russia over potential sanctions violations. 

ASD in the News

How Russia and Right-Wing Americans Converged on War in Ukraine. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The New York Times

Bloomberg Markets: Triple Take (03/23/2022). Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Bloomberg Markets

Russian Shelling of Ukraine Continues. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on BBC World Business Report 

Russia’s War in Ukraine: How Does it End? Co-Director Zack Cooper hosts War on the Rocks’ Net Assessment

Are French companies that maintain operations in Russia ‘out of step’ with Western sanctions? Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on France 24

US, NATO Allies Watching China Carefully. ASD findings cited in Voice of America

Australia is under military threat from ‘full-fledged offensive bases’ on Chinese artificial islands, US admiral warns. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in The Daily Mail 

Quote of the Week

It’s not enough to speak with rhetorical flourish, of ennobling words of democracy, of freedom, equality, and liberty. All of us, including here in Poland, must do the hard work of democracy each and every day. My country as well.”  

  • U.S. President Joe Biden said during a speech in Poland on March 26, 2022.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.