Our Take

Opting out of debates is a trait of autocracies, not healthy, advanced democracies that promote a contest of ideas, Director Laura Thornton argues in The Hill.

The rubber stamp election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive-designate John Lee highlights Hong Kong’s trajectory towards illiberalism, China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros writes.

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media highlighted the following narratives last week:

  • Victory Day: Russian state-linked accounts marked Victory Day with a large propaganda push, sending more than 1,800 tweets about the holiday that sought to justify Russia’s ongoing war and glorify its World War II legacy.
  • Mariupol: Kremlinfunded outlets claimed Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol were both committing war crimes and attempting to flee in women’s clothing. They also showed Russian forces rescuing citizens from the besieged Azovstal steel plant.
  • Conspiracies: Russian officials and state media amplified a range of conspiracies, from Polish plans to invade Ukraine to Ukrainian soldiers practicing dark magic. 

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main narratives last week: 

  • NATO: Beijinglinked accounts denounced NATO on the 22nd anniversary of the alliance bombing China’s embassy in Belgrade, while diplomats continued to promote the idea that NATO violated a commitment to not expand eastward.
  • Japan: China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Japan of hyping up “the so-called China threat,” and both the Consul General in Osaka and head of China Daily in Europe highlighted Japan’s World War II history.
  • Covid-19: “Covid” and “Shanghai” were the first and second most used phrases and hashtags in tweets by Chinese diplomats and state media as they sought to portray the outbreak in Shanghai as under control. 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

G7 targets Russian oil imports: On May 8, leaders of the Group of 7 nations committed to ban or phase out imports of Russian oil and the United States introduced new sanctions against Gazprombank executives to increase pressure on Russia during its ongoing war in Ukraine. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina said, “Getting big economies to commit to phasing out Russian oil matters. It sends a sign to Moscow that its war in Ukraine is bringing its past cozy energy ties with major global economies to an end. The shifts that countries make this year to take into account what they support when they buy fuel is crucial to solving not only the Russia challenge but that of many autocracies for years to come.”

NSA, Cyber Command to bring back election security team: The National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command reestablished an election security team to secure the 2022 midterm elections from foreign interference; the team will liaise with the FBI, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, state and local level National Guard units, and others. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Between the high levels of distrust in its own elections, rampant disinformation from domestic political actors, and significant information silos among its populace, the United States remains quite vulnerable to foreign interference. Reassembling the election security team to safeguard the 2022 midterms can’t come a moment too soon.”

VPN downloads surge in Russia amid war censorship: Daily downloads of VPNs spiked in Russia following its invasion of Ukrainejumping from below 15,000 a day before the war to as many as 475,000 in Marchas citizens try to bypass false Kremlin war narratives and censorship. Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman told the Dispatch, Anti-censorship technologies like VPNs provide critical access to accurate information behind the curtain of authoritarianism. They are part of a broader suite of ‘democracy-affirming technologies’ that the United States has championed to level the playing field on emerging technologies. When crises hit, as with Russia’s war in Ukraine, we see their usage surge, and it’s critical that democratic actors continue to develop and deploy these tools.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • Whistleblowers alleged that Facebook intentionally took down content from Australian health and emergency services when it blocked news pages in an effort to pre-empt legislation that would require the platform to pay publishers for content in 2021. 
  • Chinese tech firms have been quietly withdrawing from business dealings in Russia amid pressure from U.S. sanctions and suppliers, despite warnings from Beijing not to comply with foreign coercion. 
  • An antiwar message appeared on Russian TV screens and online platforms, including Yandex and Rutube, as Russia celebrated Victory Day. 
  • ProRussian hackers conducted cyberattacks targeting German government websites and politicians believed to be in retaliation for recent German arms deliveries to Ukraine.  
  • An Italian parliamentary committee launched an investigation into the spread of Russian disinformation amid suspicions that some Russian commentators on television networks may be on the Kremlin’s payroll.
  • The Biden administration is preparing to impose sanctions on Chinese video surveillance firm Hikvision for enabling human rights abuses against Uyghurs. 

ASD in the News

Creating A More Representative Democracy. Director Laura Thornton interviewed on Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson

The DHS IG Reports On Trump’s 2020 Russia Coverup as Pro-Putin Republicans Try to Shut Down the DHS Disinformation Board. Director Laura Thornton interviewed on Background Briefing with Ian Masters

Russia’s Sberbank will ‘finally’ be cut off from SWIFT, says von der Leyen. Non-Resident Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum cited in Politico EU

Another week of war in Ukraine, a threat to Moldova and Russian gas blackmail. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Latvijas Radio 

Owning the Conversation: Study unveils extensive Russia-China disinformation operations. ASD research cited in Turan 

Biden urged to strike better balance between Asia and Europe to counter threats. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in The Washington Examiner

Elon Musk starts debate on Japan’s declining birth rate after warning the country could ‘cease to exist’. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Business Insider

Quote of the Week

“We know, that you and the people of Ukraine who are fighting for your homeland, for the future of your children, for your freedoms, but you are also fighting for our common European principles, values and democracy and democratic rights.”

  • European Council President Charles Michel said during a visit to Ukraine on May 9, 2022.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.