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Join GMF and the U.S. Mission to NATO on Thursday, April 7, 2022 for a discussion on the ways China’s disinformation fuels the war in Ukraine, featuring ASD Senior Fellow Bret Schafer. Register here.

Our Take

Russia’s war in Ukraine should be a five-alarm call to take the task of global democracy defense seriously, Director Laura Thornton writes in Lawfare. 

Russia and China’s relationship is as strong as ever, Co-Director Zack Cooper said on FOX Business.

Hungarian pro-government media portrayed being too supportive of Kyiv, not Moscow, as a political liability ahead of the country’s elections last weekend. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer and Zsuzsanna Vegh highlight the key narratives that impacted Hungary’s elections 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 the war in Ukraine:

  • Bucha: Kremlin-linked accounts flooded Twitter with disinformation about Russia’s apparent war crimes Bucha, claiming dead bodies were actors hired by Ukraine to generate media coverage and provoke a Western reaction.
  • Mariupol: Russian propagandists renewed disinformation campaigns meant to discredit reporting on Russia’s bombing of a maternity hospital and a theater in Mariupol, while making new claims that Ukraine attacked a separate maternity ward.  
  • Bioweapons: Russia’s Defense Ministry made new false claims about Hunter Biden’s role in U.S. funded bioweapon labs in Ukraine, and they linked the Democratic Party, George Soros, a host of U.S. agencies, and Turkish-made drones to the conspiracy. 

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main topics:

  • Isolated West: Chinese propagandists depicted the West as isolated from and aggressive toward the rest of the world, highlighting some NATO countries’ colonial past and emphasizing that 140 counties have not sanctioned Russia.  
  • EU-China Summit: #EU was the most frequently used hashtag by Chinese diplomats last week, with the most popular commentary offering an upbeat take on EU-China trade ties. At the same time, Chinese diplomats around the world called on the EU to “adopt an independent China policy.”
  • Russia promotion: Chinese state-backed accounts continued to amplify Moscow’s claims that the United States was funding bioweapons labs in Ukraine and intent on regime change in Russia.

Read the full report here.

French Election Dashboard Analysis

  • Russia blames others for war in Ukraine: The Russian Embassy in France’s Twitter account again filled the messaging void created by the EU’s ban on Russian state media, highlighting the alleged isolation of the West in its response to Russian aggression and repeating habitual talking points about neo-Nazis, supposedly nefarious U.S. biolabs, and Ukraine and NATO’s culpability for the war.
  • China props up Russian messaging: The Chinese Embassy in France retweeted its Russian counterpart on two occasions: once to promote Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Beijing and another time to share an anti-NATO message deploring the allegedly ignored killings of Russian speakers in Donbass since 2014. Although outside the studied period, on April 5, the Chinese Embassy in Paris also retweeted a message from the Russian Embassy in Paris that highlighted an RT France interview with an analyst who questioned Western media’s account of alleged Russian war crimes in Bucha.
  • Overall limited coverage: None of the top ten posts on Twitter or Facebook from monitored state-affiliated accounts or pages mentioned the French election or specific candidates, and only one of the top ten key phrases was related to the election (presidentielle 2022). 

Try out the French Election Dashboard here.

News and Commentary

EU unveils sanctions targeting Russian coal: The EU proposed a new set of sanctions that would ban coal imports from Russia and prevent Russian shipping and road transport operators from accessing EU ports in response to reports of Russian atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians outside of Kyiv. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina said, “This is the first EU-wide measure that would target the EU’s Russian energy imports. As such, it marks a new era in European sanctions. Given the scale of atrocities in Ukraine, more sanctions, targeting oil imports, could be next.” 

Electoral conditions favored Hungary’s ruling party, observers say: International election observers raised concerns over the lack of balanced media coverage, absence of debates between major candidates, and insufficient oversight on campaign finance rules influencing the outcome of Hungary’s general election. Director Laura Thornton broke down the implications to the Dispatch, “Unfortunately, the trend of rising authoritarianism continues in Europe with Orbán’s victory. While the Orbán administration effectively stacked the playing field in their favor, Fidesz also garnered strong support in rural areas for its nationalist, ‘traditional values’ agenda. The ramifications go beyond Hungary, as Orbán has carved out his place as the illiberal strongman whisperer for aspiring autocrats elsewhere, including among the far-right in the U.S., earning him a Trump endorsement.”

China rejects EU’s call for Russia sanctions: At the EU-China Summit last Friday, EU leaders failed to get assurances from Beijing that it would not help Moscow circumvent sanctions in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and China renewed its criticism of Western sanctions. Co-Director Zack Cooper told the Dispatch, Beijing has been quite clear with both Washington and Brussels that it is going to stay aligned with Moscow, even if this does lasting damage to China’s relationships with the United States and Europe. This should send a deeply concerning signal about how China views its long-term interests and the nature of the competition with the United States and Europe.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • The State Department launched the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, which will address cybersecurity, emerging technology, and digital freedom issues in diplomacy.
  • The Treasury Department began blocking Russia’s access to dollars for debt payments to drain its foreign currency reserves and potentially push the country toward a debt default.
  • A Facebook bug failed to downgrade Russian state propaganda and other problematic content, instead increasing views of this content on News Feeds by 30 percent.
  • Proposals to require the hand counting of ballots have gained traction among state officials and Trump allies despite experts arguing that the practice would damage public trust in the process.
  • Google observed that government-backed hackers from Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are using “Ukraine-themed lures” in phishing and malware campaigns targeting U.S. organizations, NATO, and Eastern European countries.
  • More than a dozen Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed laws that ban local election officials from accepting private sector funding for election administration.

ASD in the News

Biden Accuses Putin of War Crimes Over Bucha. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on DW News

EU-China summit may be ‘incredibly difficult,’ with neither breakdowns nor breakthroughs: Think tank. Co-Director Zack Cooper interviewed on CNBC

Nord Stream 2 cost $11 billion to build. Now, the Russia-Europe gas pipeline is unused and abandoned. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in CNBC

The Wisdom of Crowds: Insights from the Defense Futures Simulator. Co-Director Zack Cooper wrote in War on the Rocks

 What Is the State of Play on Election Cybersecurity? Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine cited in StateTech 

Foreign interference is“serious threat”to Australia universities. China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros quoted in The Pie News 

Keeping the Right Secrets Secret. Co-Director Zack Cooper co-hosted War on the Rocks’ Net Assessment

Six Takeaways From Fidesz And Orban’s Big Hungarian Election Win. ASD work quoted in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 

 China’s Balancing Act On The Ukraine War. ASD research cited in EU vs Disinfo

Quote of the Week

“[Russia] is a totalitarian country, and they do not tolerate the truth in any way.”

  • Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation Alex Bornyakov said during a Washington Post event on April 5, 2022.

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