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We’re recruiting for our fall 2022 paid internships! The research intern will assist our fellows with research on autocratic actors’ endeavors to undermine democracy, and the communications intern will work with our external affairs team to promote ASD’s groundbreaking research and analysis. Apply now!

Our Take

Since 2020, we have seen an organic movement call into question one of the pillars of democratic life: electoral procedure, Deputy Director David Salvo said on C-SPAN. Americans should be worried about the state of US democracy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was likely directly involved in American basketball player Brittney Griner’s sentencing, and Russia will try to use her prison sentence as leverage in prisoner exchange negotiations with the United States, Deputy Director David Salvo said on CNN. 

China’s propaganda push to showcase itself as the champion of the Global South stands in stark contrast to the collapse of Sri Lanka—a country whose prosperity was widely perceived to rely on China, Research Analyst Etienne Soula writes in China Observer.

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Pelosi in Taiwan: “Pelosi” was the most used key word by Russian propagandists as they attacked the US House speaker’s trip to Taiwan as a “clear provocation,” questioned her mental and physical health, relayed China’s warnings that the United States must “pay a price” for her visit, and stressed the importance of Moscow and Beijing’s partnership.
  • Nuclear plants and bioweapons: Russian officials accused Kyiv of “nuclear terrorism” after a series of blasts hit a Russian-occupied nuclear plant in Ukraine, and Russia’s Ministry of Defense said it uncovered evidence suggesting the US government was responsible for the coronavirus pandemic and proof that the United States used bioweapons to assassinate former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
  • Western commentary: Moscow-linked accounts posted 100 tweets about an Amnesty Internal report that said Ukraine had endangered civilians, and they highlighted Western media outlets and politicians that made comments in line with the Kremlin’s wartime propaganda. 

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan: 

  • High-volume messaging offensive: Beijing-linked accounts mentioned Pelosi in 1,716 tweets, and their mentions of Taiwan increased week-over-week by 557 percent as they criticized the House speaker’s visit to Taipei.   
  • US warmongering: China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the United States of being “the biggest destroyer of peace” and of “gross meddling in other countries’ internal affairs,” while other diplomats said the United States was “deliberately” causing trouble and warned that the trip damaged “US national credibility.”
  • China’s strength and restraint: Diplomatic accounts shared updates on China’s measures against the United States, and several state media voices presented China’s response as a sign of wisdom and restraint.

Read the full report here. 

News and Commentary

China retaliates against US after Pelosi visits Taiwan: Last week, China sanctioned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her immediate family members, and ended talks with the United States on climate change, military, cross-border crime, and drug trafficking, in retaliation for Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan. Co-Director Zack Cooper broke down the implications to the Dispatch: “Nancy Pelosi’s trip has ended, but China’s heightened pressure on Taiwan will remain. Over the next few months, Beijing will likely use a variety of military, economic, diplomatic, and information tools to isolate Taipei. Leaders in China and the United States appear to be on a collision course.”

US, Ukraine preempt Russian fabrication of strike on Ukrainian POWs: US and Ukrainian officials released information exposing Russian plans to fabricate evidence to frame Ukraine for a July 29 attack on a Russian-controlled prison in eastern Ukraine that killed and injured dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war. Deputy Director David Salvo said, “It is unsurprising Russia would plan to cover up its crimes by launching a disinformation campaign accusing Ukraine of killing its own imprisoned soldiers with US-supplied weapons. This type of disinformation plays well in Russia, where the Kremlin wants to continue to shore up domestic support for its barbarism in Ukraine. The Kremlin probably understands this disinformation could also resonate with certain parts of the American public and political elite that might want to stop funding Ukraine’s war effort. The Biden administration should be commended for declassifying intelligence for public consumption to pre-bunk Russian information operations of this sort.”

US unveils Africa strategy to bolster democracy, counter authoritarian influence: The United States unveiled a strategy on Monday to renew US engagement in sub-Saharan Africa in an effort to boost democracy in the region and counter China and Russia’s influence. Research Analyst Etienne Soula said, “This new initiative is very timely as Beijing and Moscow are intensifying their efforts to win hearts and minds in the Global South. The White House’s document shows that the United States understands the growing importance of sub-Saharan Africa for several of the world’s most pressing challenges, from democratic backsliding to climate change. Combined with economic programs like Build Back Better World, this new strategy could put a serious dent in China and Russia’s influence on the continent, especially with—as of now hypothetical—buy-in from partners in the EU and beyond.”

In Case You Missed It   

  • Michigan’s attorney general requested a special prosecutor to investigate Republican attorney general nominee, Matthew DePerno, who led a team that allegedly breached voting equipment last year. 
  • Russia’s state-backed media arm is funding four news-style TV shows as part of a propaganda campaign aimed at undermining US interests in China, India, and countries in Africa and South America.  
  • Twitter confirmed that a bad actor exploited a vulnerability that allowed anyone to match private information with anonymous accounts, potentially putting dissidents at risk of reprisal from autocratic countries. 
  • European Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová rejected calls for a ban on personally targeted online ads amid increasing EU interest in regulating political advertising to curb disinformation. 
  • Apple instructed suppliers to ensure that Taiwanese-made parts and components are labeled using language that indicates that the island is a part of China to comply with Chinese customs regulations. 
  • More than 51,000 Chinese internet users have been using the microblogging network Mastodon to circumvent China’s newly tightened censorship and surveillance rules on Chinese social media platforms.  

ASD in the News

Russian Court Sentences Brittney Griner to 9 Years in Jail. Deputy Director David Salvo interviewed on CNN

Election skeptics rise in GOP races to run state elections. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in AP

Congress Is Giving Billions to the Chip Industry. Strings Are Attached. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in The New York Times

Pelosi in Taiwan. Co-Director Zack Cooper interviewed on the Lawfare Podcast

How Russian Propaganda Is Reaching Beyond English Speakers. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The New York Times 

China’s Taiwan Saber-Rattling Is the New Normal. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Foreign Policy 

As China, Taiwan Tensions Flare, US Faces Shrinking Window to Deter Conflict. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Defense One 

Blinken: US ships will sail through Taiwan Strait in defiance of China. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in the Washington Examiner 

Can Ukraine’s China Outreach Actually Work? Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar quoted in RFE/RL 

A pesar de las advertencias: ¿Cuáles son las razones tras la polémica visita de Nancy Pelosi a Taiwán? (Despite the warnings: What are the reasons behind Nancy Pelosi’s controversial trip to Taiwan?). Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in La Tercera

Quote of the Week

“We are in a global contest for a democratic future in which we can all use technology to reach our full potential and against an authoritarian future in which technology is harnessed to repress free expression and destabilize open democratic societies.”

  • Nominee for State Department Ambassador-at-Large for Cybersecurity and Digital Policy Nate Fick said during his Senate confirmation hearing on July 3, 2022.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.