Our Take

The struggle between democracy and autocracy is based not on geographic delineations but on values and ideas held by people everywhere, Director Laura Thornton writes in The Atlantic.

Even after the EU banned Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik, the Kremlin’s talking points are still making their way into French online spaces. ASD’s Bret Schafer and Etienne Soula explain how in a new collaboration with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. 

Chinese state media outlets have been pushing pro-Kremlin narratives on Ukraine, in part by giving a platform to former RT and Sputnik contributors, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer said at a GMF event. ASD’s research on China’s narrative support for Russia was also covered in The Washington Post and The New York Times

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Bucha: Kremlin-linked accounts pushed their most aggressive disinformation campaign of the war to distort information on atrocities in Bucha, tweeting “Bucha” more than 1,000 times in posts that claimed the war crimes were either staged or carried out by Ukraine.
  • Kramatorsk: Russian officials and outlets said that only Ukraine owned the type of missile that killed dozens of civilians at a Kramatorsk train station and that Kyiv was seeking to prevent people from leaving because the Ukrainian military sought to use them as human shields.  
  • UN Human Rights Council: Before being voted off the UN Human Rights Council, Russian state-affiliated accounts said such a move would undermine the council’s legitimacy and amount to “a declaration of war.” After the vote, Russian officials said they had already decided to quit the council. 

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main topics:

  • Bucha: Chinese diplomats and state media offered limited commentary on the killings uncovered in Bucha, but some diplomatic accounts did retweet Russian conspiracies and call for an independent investigation into the crimes.
  • Covid-19: The three most used key phrases and the top two most used hashtags by Chinese diplomats and state media on Twitter were related to the covid-19 outbreak in China, particularly Shanghai, with posts highlighting the competence of China’s pandemic management and critiquing the United States’ handling of the virus.  
  • Western democracy: Seven of the ten most retweeted posts from monitored Chinese accounts accused Western democracies of having biased media, bullying, having double standards, and inciting “color revolutions.”

Read the full report here.

French Election Dashboard Analysis

  • Russia: Russia’s Embassy in France claimed MI6 staged the Bucha massacre, and posted a picture of a “film set” in Bucha, which was taken down after French authorities summoned the Russian ambassador. 
  • China: China’s Embassy in France amplified Russian conspiracies around Bucha and shared a tweet that protested Russia’s inability to defend itself at the United Nations. 
  • Qatar and Turkey: AJ+ Français and Turkish state media were the only foreign outlets that devoted significant coverage to the French election. The Qatari outlet followed its usual anti-far-right line, while Turkish coverage was factual and largely unbiased.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Kremlin may target U.S. midterm elections over Ukraine: U.S. intelligence officials warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin may order a new campaign to interfere in U.S. elections over the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine. Deputy Director David Salvo told the Dispatch, “The U.S. intelligence community has acknowledged that Russia will likely try to interfere again in U.S. elections, and yet still does not have a Foreign Malign Influence Center to coordinate the tracking of these threats, despite bipartisan consensus in Congress to establish this center. It’s pretty astounding, given all we know about Russian intentions to undermine democracy and the disparate tools and tactics they use to achieve that end, that there’s no central engine in the U.S. government working to push back against this activity in a coordinated, holistic manner.”

Ukraine and FBI disrupt Russian cyber campaigns: On April 12, Ukrainian officials said they had disrupted an attempted cyberattack that the Russian GRU-affiliated Sandworm hacking group had launched against a Ukrainian energy provider. The announcement comes days after the FBI took down a global botnet connected to Sandworm. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar said, “These takedowns show that Russia’s most notorious and threatening hacking groups are active and that Ukraine and the West are doing well at exposing and countering their operations. The cyber contest is nowhere near finished, though. The longer the Ukrainian military resists, the more likely Russia is to ramp up its digital offensives.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ new report, Pandora Papers Russia, exposes how some members of Putin’s inner circle have shielded their wealth from global sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  
  • The Justice Department found that Chinese officials paid a network of TikTok and Instagram influencers as part of a discreet campaign to promote the Beijing Winter Olympics. 
  • A denial-of-service attack that targeted the websites of Finland’s defense and foreign ministries coincided with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the Finnish parliament and ongoing debates in Finland over whether to join NATO. 
  • The House and Senate approved bills that will revoke normal trade relations with Russia and ban oil imports from the country after weeks of negotiations.
  • Independent fact-checkers in Ukraine have helped to strengthen Facebook’s algorithms to slow the spread of misinformation on the war in Ukraine.
  • The Center for Technology and Civic Life launched the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, an $80 million, five-year effort to enable a network of local election officials to apply for aid to improve their jurisdictions’ technology and processes. 

ASD in the News

Interference in the 2022 French Presidential Elections: Where Things Stand Ahead of the First Round. Research Analyst Etienne Soula writes for ASD

French Voters Should Consider Election Integrity Issues as They Vote in 2022. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and GMF’s Gesine Weber write for ASD

China is Russia’s most powerful weapon for information warfare. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The Washington Post 

China’s Echoes of Russia’s Alternate Reality Intensify Around the World. Bret Schafer quoted in The New York Times

Russian media campaign falsely claims Bucha deaths are fakes. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in AP 

Poll: Far-Right Candidate Closing in on Pres. Macron in Upcoming French Election. Research Analyst Etienne Soula interviewed on Newsy 

Intel: Putin may cite Ukraine war to meddle in US politics. Deputy Director David Salvo quoted in AP 

Russia turns its diplomats into disinformation warriors. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Politico EU 

US right wing figures in step with Kremlin over Ukraine disinformation, experts say. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The Guardian 

Facebook cracks down on covert influence networks targeting Ukraine. ASD research cited in The Washington Post 

US plans trade meetings with Asean leaders as it retools Indo-Pacific strategy. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in The South China Morning Post

Post-Summit Reflections – Analysis of Written County Commitments. Director Laura Thornton moderated a panel with the Global Democracy Coalition 

Buča – a word written in the history of blood. “Guarantor of Stability” Orban. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Latvijas Radio 1 

Countering Chinese propaganda, Twitter adds warning label to Chinese state media. Research Analyst Etienne Soula quoted in VOA Chinese

Quote of the Week

“What’s happening today in Ukraine is a reminder that democracy is fragile, that democracy must be defended, and that each one of us in a position to do so has an obligation to do so.”

  • Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) said on CNN’s State of the Union on April 10, 2022.

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