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Russian diplomats and state media last week posted more than 800 tweets that referenced “Mariupol” or “Azovstal,” which is the name of a steel plant in the city that has become a holdout for Ukrainian soldiers. Kremlin-linked accounts celebrated Mariupol’s “liberation” and claimed that most of the Ukrainian fighters in the Azovstal plant wanted to surrender but were prevented from doing so by commanding officers. They also said Ukrainian forces had killed a pregnant woman, let dogs eat a civilian they shot, and bombed hospitals. State-backed outlets posted videos of people from Mariupol blaming the bloodshed on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Russia was shown giving out humanitarian aid and removing landmines left by Ukrainian nationalists. Over the weekend, Kremlin-linked outlets tried to discredit images of a mass grave near Mariupol. An RT reporter claiming to be at the grave site said it held separate and marked graves, and he interviewed a cemetery worker who said the mass grave accusations were “nonsense and fakes.” RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan pointed to similar claims from Eva Bartlett, a Canadian writer who is known for spreading conspiracies around war crimes in Syria.
Russian diplomatic accounts, which were largely silent about the mass grave images, aggressively pushed disinformation about the United States and NATO “preparing provocations” to accuse Russia of using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. Russia’s Defense Ministry made that accusation on Saturday, and diplomats amplified the message in 200 tweets on Saturday and Sunday. The Defense Ministry said there were three scenarios in which the United States and NATO would use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine. The first and “most probable” scenario, Russian officials said, is a false flag attack on radioactive, biological, or nuclear sites. The second, which was listed as “probable,” would involve the United States or NATO using tactical nuclear or chemical weapons. The third scenario, which was deemed the least likely, would be the open use of weapons of mass destruction. Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the “US is going to use WMD,” adding, “this is a game that crosses the red line.”
Kremlin-linked accounts also reupped their standard wartime narratives. Diplomats complained about Western states who “actively ‘stuff’ Ukraine with heavy armament” and pushed back on various reports about Russia’s disinformation and human rights abuses. State media claimed sanctions against Russia were illegal and emphasized how Western states have been negatively impacted by the economic measures. U.S. President Joe Biden was depicted as mentally unfit. Russian state-backed outlets provided very limited coverage of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s visit to Kyiv.
Russia’s coverage of the French presidential election was also limited. France was only the sixth most mentioned country by Russian accounts tracked on Hamilton 2.0. Kremlin-backed accounts largely provided factual coverage of President Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen. However, Le Pen’s pre-election comments about the need for reproachment with Russia and her suggestion that Washington compensate France for economic losses incurred through sanctions on Russia took up four of the five most retweeted posts about France last week. Moscow-backed media also highlighted protests against Macron.
Outside of the election, Russian state media made a small push to frame French forces for filling a mass grave in Mali. On April 22, the French military said it had videos of Russian mercenaries burying bodies in Mali and evidence that those mercenaries had set up fake Twitter accounts to blame the atrocities on France.
As in previous weeks, Chinese diplomats and state media, including the Consul General in Perth, the cultural counsellor at the Embassy in Pakistan, CGTN Arabic, and the Global Times, all accused the United States of fanning the flames of war in Ukraine. On Friday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Zhao Lijian implied that the United States sought to benefit from the weakening of its European allies brought on by the conflict. Chinese diplomats and state media also rejected U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s accusation that China is amplifying Russian disinformation about Ukraine. Deputy Foreign Minister Hua Chunying, Zhao Lijian, and the Consul General in Beirut also attacked U.S. sanctions, with the latter two officials accusing Washington of stealing other countries’ property.
In addition to criticism over foreign policy, Chinese diplomats and state media also attacked the United States’ record at home, with the MFA using the shooting of a Black man, Patrick Lyoya, to deliver a tirade about “systemic issues” in the country. The third most retweeted Chinese tweet from last week was Zhao Lijian’s cartoon portraying the entire U.S. system as oppressive, corrupt, and irredeemable. The Consul General in Belfast shared a cartoon showing a country weighed down by its own failings. Gun violence was also a recurring theme in Xinhua, People’s Daily, and CGTN’s coverage of the United States last week. Hua Chunying tweeted that the country “has the worst gun violence in the world.” News of Julian Assange’s impending extradition to the United States also prompted the MFA, the Consul General in Belfast, and the head of China Daily in Europe to all accuse democracies of hypocrisy.
The most mentioned topic of last week, however, was the Boao Forum for Asia, an event that has been organized by a Beijing-based non-profit since 2001. The forum accounted for the most mentioned key phrase and second most mentioned hashtag in Chinese diplomatic and state media tweets last week. Chairman Xi Jinping’s keynote address about a “global security initiative” echoed the pro-Kremlin line promoted by Chinese diplomats for the past several months about “legitimate security concerns” and opposition to “the wanton use of unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction.”
Shanghai and covid-related coverage was still very prominent in Chinese messaging last week. The key narratives continued to be a focus on the government’s “efficient” organization of city-wide testing and lockdown efforts. Other coverage highlighted that the city remains open for business.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the MFA’s daily press conferences contained combative exchanges between international press and Chinese spokespeople on the security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands. Despite the MFA’s attempts to downplay the significance of the agreement, some diplomats were far more confrontational.