Our Take

As Finland and Sweden apply for NATO membership, Russia is likely to retaliate with cyber operations and disinformation to try to destabilize government institutions and societal cohesion, Deputy Director David Salvo writes on ASD’s Interference Matters blog. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina also warned of these hybrid attacks on BBC News, noting that a Russian military incursion into Finland or Sweden is unlikely

China’s calls for “investigations” into the Bucha massacre are a barely-concealed attempt to stall international efforts to hold Russia accountable for its war crimes, Research Analyst Etienne Soula and Sophia McGrath write in an analysis of Hamilton 2.0 data.

Now is not the time to confiscate Russia’s central bank reserves, Non-Resident Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum and Nicolas Véron argue for Bruegel. 

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Finland and Sweden: Before President Putin said Russia had “no problems” with Finland and Sweden joining NATO, Kremlin-linked accounts spent the week aiming threats, accusations, and divisive rhetoric at the two countries. 
  • Bioweapons: Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed that the Democratic Party funded political campaigns with profits from bioweapons labs in Ukraine, and it said that George Soros, Pfizer, Poland, and Germany were also involved in the program. 
  • Western aid: Kremlin-backed accounts highlighted opposition to new U.S. aid for Ukraine, claimed U.S. officials aimed to personally profit from that assistance, and said the funding would prolong the war, leading to the deaths of more Ukrainian citizens. 

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

  • U.S. criticism: Beijing-linked accounts shared a cartoon of the United States pillaging the Global South, quoted a U.S. senator who said Washington spreads disinformation, and accused the National Endowment for Democracy of being a “second CIA.” 
  • Finland and Sweden: State media warned that NATO enlargement “could trigger WWIII” and said that Nordic expansion could “be the most dangerous geopolitical decision the West has made in decades.” 
  • Xinjiang: With UN officials set to visit China in the coming weeks, Beijing-affiliated accounts denounced accusations of genocide in Xinjiang and highlighted the economic prosperity and happiness of people in the region. 

Read the full report here. 

News and Commentary

Meta cancels request for guidance on Russia’s war content: Last Wednesday, Meta withdrew a request to its Oversight Board seeking recommendations on how the company should handle content moderation policies related to Russia’s war in Ukraine, citing concerns that the Russian government would retaliate against its employees in the country. Head of ASD’s Information Manipulation Team Bret Schafer said, “This decision again highlights the difficult position tech companies are in when authoritarian governments use their local staff as leverage in disputes. Last year, for example, concerns about the safety of local employees led Silicon Valley companies to remove Alexei Navalny’s Smart Voting app from their platforms before the Russian presidential election, essentially aiding the Kremlin in its efforts to suppress the vote. Although these decisions are justifiable, they are deeply problematic, as they are likely to embolden other autocrats to use company employees—who in some cases are mandated by law to be in-country—as bargaining chips to influence content moderation decisions.” 

Colorado passes bill to protect elections from insider threats: Last week, Colorado lawmakers passed the Election Security Act to prevent insider threats in election administration in response to the indictment of Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, who tampered with election equipment in an effort to prove false claims about the 2020 election. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine told the Dispatch,Colorado has long been a national leader on election security, and last week’s passage of the Election Security Act further cements this status. Three things are critical for conducting secure elections: paper ballots, robust post-election audits, and a strong chain of custody for those ballots, particularly in light of the growing threat posed by election officials who are sympathetic to false claims of vote-rigging following the 2020 presidential election. Adopting the Election Security Act will not help only strengthen the latter, but mitigate a perceived risk that could have further undermined confidence in the election process.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • Top U.S. and EU officials will develop a joint blueprint on AI and data privacy standards along with an alert mechanism to track supply chain trends and flag emerging issues.
  • Ransomware gang Conti threatened to overthrow the Costa Rican government after the group hacked government computer systems and demanded $20 million in ransom.
  • The EU released updated guidance on how EU companies and countries can legally continue purchasing Russian gas in compliance with the bloc’s sanctions.  
  • State election officials and legislators have been implementing new security measures to protect election workers from threats ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
  • A group of human rights lawyers and investigators urged the International Criminal Court to charge the Russian GRU-affiliated Sandworm hacking group with “cyber war crimes” for cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure in Ukraine.
  • The Biden administration drafted an executive order that would grant the Department of Justice new powers to prevent China from acquiring Americans’ personal data. 

ASD in the News

With trial looming, WNBA star Brittney Griner faces strict Russian drug laws. Deputy Director David Salvo quoted in NBC News

UK’s New Mutual Security Pact with Sweden and Finland. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on BBC News 

U.S. should prepare for drawn-out conflict if China invades Taiwan, war game suggests. China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros participated in a war game on Meet the Press Reports 

US to invest $150mn in south-east Asia in attempt to counter China. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Financial Times 

Conspiracies Swirl in Idaho Primary for Chief Election Official. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Bolts

Democracy vs Autocracy – GPF event. Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas moderated a webinar at the Global Progressives Forum 2022

Quote of the Week

“He [Russian President Vladimir Putin] will not succeed. Not only for the sake of Ukraine, but also to send a message to all authoritarian leaders that historical revisionism and open acts of aggression that violate international law will not be tolerated.”

  • Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during a joint meeting of Congress on May 17, 2022.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.