Our Take

Finland and Sweden joining NATO will make the Baltic Sea region and all of Europe safer with new capabilities, closer coordination, and faster decision-making, Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina writes for GMF.

While presidential elections are easier to influence, Russia, China, and Iran have the potential to create further turbulence within U.S. democracy during the 2022 midterms, Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts writes on ASD’s Interference Matters blog.

State-backed efforts to influence French voters during the 2022 presidential election were relatively benign compared to Russia’s hack-and-leak effort in 2017, Research Analyst Etienne Soula writes in the final analysis of data from our French Election Dashboard

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media focused on the following three topics last week:

  • Finland and Sweden: “NATO” was the most frequently used keyword by Kremlin-linked accounts as they described Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the alliance as a “grave mistake,” promised a “surprise” military response, and highlighted divisions within NATO.
  • Global food shortage: Russian propagandists said a pending global food crisis was the result of Western sanctions and Ukrainian efforts to mine ports, with one Russian diplomat claiming that the “West is literally holding the whole developing world hostage.”
  • $40 billion aid package: Moscow-funded media argued that a new U.S. assistance package for Ukraine would drive up U.S. inflation, put weapons in the hands of Nazis, and funnel money to organizations connected to U.S. politicians. 

Chinese diplomats and state media highlighted three narratives last week:

  • NATO: Beijing-affiliated accounts argued that Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids were dictated by the United States, rooted in Russophobia, harmful for global security, and accentuating divisions within NATO.
  • U.S. criticism: Chinese propagandists accused the United States of manipulating countries in southeast Asia while highlighting U.S. struggles with covid-19 and gun violence.   
  • Covid-19: Covid-19 remained the most frequently used key phrase by Chinese diplomats and state media as they pushed claims that Shanghai had almost beaten an outbreak of the virus and that China’s zero-covid approach worked.

Read the full report here

News and Commentary

Georgia voters turn out in record numbers for primary election: Voters in Georgia cast a record number of ballots ahead of Georgia’s May 24 primary election, signaling a motivated electorate despite the state’s controversial new voting law that restricts mail voting and limits the use of drop boxes. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Georgia’s record early voting turnout bodes well for its primary. Despite ongoing efforts to baselessly question the legitimacy of the state’s electoral system, Georgians are continuing to vote in high numbersa strong indicator of confidence in the security and integrity of their state’s elections. Additionally, the high early voting turnout has stretched out the opportunity for Georgia election officials and their partners to identify and address any voting-related issues, so that they are less likely to pile up on Election Day. Taken together, these developments increase the likelihood for a smooth Election Day and a successfully administered election.”

U.S. unveils economic plan to counter China in Asia: On Monday, the United States and 12 partners—including Japan, Australia, and South Korea—launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity to expand U.S. economic leadership in the Indo-Pacific region and reduce reliance on China. Co-Director Zack Cooper told the Dispatch, The strengths and flaws of the administration’s Asia strategy are all on display this month. The language on China has been tough, but the pressure has yet to accomplish much of note. The rhetoric on ASEAN has been substantial, but the deliverables have been limited. While the region presses ahead with economic integration, Washington is still searching for ways to engage. Only with a handful of key U.S. allies and partners (Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India) has the administration been able to make sustained progress.”

Russia cuts Finland’s natural gas amid NATO bid: On Saturday, Russia cut off its natural gas supply to Finland, citing Helsinki’s refusal to pay for gas in rubles, shortly after Finland and Sweden decided to apply to NATO. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina said, “Because Finland only has used natural gas for 5 percent of its energy consumption, this is a largely symbolic move by Russia, as though Russia is slamming the door behind Finland as the country turns its back. The practical consequences are interesting. Finland will be more closely tied to the Baltic states for energy, and the full Baltic Sea region will be turning to global natural gas markets rather than Russian ones. Decoupling is moving forward country by country until Europe’s energy transformation will be complete.” 

In Case You Missed It 

  • Meta will share data on how politicians, campaign operatives, and political strategists use ads to target users on Facebook and Instagram with researchers and journalists ahead of the midterm elections. 
  • Trust in democracies is rising, including in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and France, in response to the war in Ukraine, according to a new Edelman Trust Barometer
  • Twitter announced that it will stop automatically recommending or amplifying misleading information during crises and will add warning labels to misleading content related to the war in Ukraine.
  • The Department of Homeland Security paused its Disinformation Governance Board amid backlash from conservatives over the purpose of the board. 
  • Canada banned Huawei and ZTE services and products from the country’s 5G networks due to national security concerns.
  • Bing’s autosuggestion system censors search results on dissidents and sensitive political topics in China for users in the United States, Canada, and China, a new Citizen Lab study found

ASD in the News

How does a country become part of NATO?. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina quoted in The Hill

How Will Russia Respond if Finland and Sweden Join NATO?. Deputy Director David Salvo interviewed on Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson

Record early voting ends, setting up Georgia’s high-stakes 2022 Election Day. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in The Georgia Recorder

Trust in Democracy is on the Rise. Director Laura Thornton interviewed on Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson 

Four things to watch for during Biden’s first Asia trip. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Washington Examiner 

Biden’s Asia Trip is ‘Proof’ That US Can Focus On Two Fronts At Once, Official Argue. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Defense One

Sweden and Finland on NATO path. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Georgia’s Politics with Bloomberg

The Quad Goes to Sea. Co-Director Zack Cooper wrote in War on the Rocks

Three Tensions Facing the Yoon Administration. Co-Director Zack Cooper wrote in Korea on Point 

The US Should Ban China’s State Media From Social Platforms. ASD research cited in The Diplomat

Russia Leads the Way in Disinformation Campaigns, Study Finds. ASD research cited in Diálogo-Americas

Quote of the Week

“We are fighting, first of all, for values and to be part of the democratic world. And right now everyone has to be proactive because we pay for that—the biggest prize, human lives every day.”

  • Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said during a panel at the World Economic Forum on May 23, 2022.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.