Sinophilia in recent Russian media
“RT has regularly been described as a major propaganda outlet for the Russian government and its foreign policy. Academics, fact-checkers, and news reporters (including some current and former RT reporters) have identified RT as a purveyor of disinformation and conspiracy theories.”
Here’s a question: can we discern that foreign policy reading what RT produces? I did that a while ago; I try again here by looking through their tweets from roughly the past two months. In my view they present a foreign policy slightly other than what one might have expected. I’ll also present those tweets best received by RT’s 3 million strong audience and compare its English language Twitter with its Russian language version (with around 800k followers), noting differences, with the thought being that a story emphasised in English but not in Russian might tell us something about the aims and audience of Russian foreign policy, at least as filtered through RT. As before, I used this tool, which seems great, to download 3200 tweets from each feed.
(NB: The time period for the Russian and the English feeds is different — as the latter posts considerably more often, the former extends two months longer. I don’t think that changes anything I say here.) (P.S. nothing negative is meant by ‘sinophilia’, 我很喜欢中国文化!)
Let’s just start with the most popular twenty five posts, first for English:
Easier to read, and with my emphases:
Hey @elonmusk seeing as you brought back Donald Trump and Kanye West, maybe now is a great time to drop the unfair restrictions on @RT_com?
Former CIA and NSA agent Edward Snowden has been granted a Russian passport, completing his path to full Russian citizenship, according to his lawyer. Snowden had been granted citizenship by decree of Russian President Vladimir Putin in September.
Donald Trump’s Twitter account reinstated
Oil and coal will now be traded in rubles and yuan, expanding on a previous deal for China to purchase Russian gas in rubles.
World shifting from West to East — BRICS forum president to RT
Poverty Down In Russia — Putin. Putin said that poverty went down 10.5% in Russia in the latest quarter, adding that the people’s prosperity should be the main goal of the state. The president added that Russians’ income nominally increased by 12.8% in the last 9 months.
Russia rebukes Canada over ‘alien’ gender beliefs
‘We’re protecting our national interests, the interests of our citizens, our people. We simply have no other choice but to protect our citizens’ — Vladimir Putin
Russia and India ditch dollar in trade
Recent census data from England and Wales has shown that the proportion of people identifying as Christian has fallen below 50% for the first time in English and Welsh history.
China calls US a ‘direct threat’ to the world. Washington is making up excuses to preserve its ‘hegemony,’ Beijing said
Convicted rapist released after marrying his victim — media. A Pakistani court has reportedly dropped its life prison sentence against a man because he agreed to wed the woman he assaulted
Within hours of being reinstated on Twitter, Donald Trump’s account had already garnered more than 25 million followers (four hours ago, it was less than a million)
Russia responds to EU ‘sponsor of terrorism’ resolution
Egypt’s government has announced that the country has officially joined the New Development Bank (NDB) of the BRICS group.
‘We are born not to be enemies’ — Viktor Bout view on America
Bye-bye! Russia shifts away from dollar and euro
Half of the country’s external transactions are now being made in other currencies, the Central Bank says
FIFA rejects Zelensky’s World Cup plea — CNN
The Ukrainian leader reportedly requested to share a video message before Sunday’s showpiece
‘Moscow will not accept price cap on Russian oil’ — Kremlin
China wants to drop dollar in oil trade — Reuters. President Xi Jinping says his country will work to pay for fuel in yuan
Erdogan claims Western nations have not made any tangible diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in Ukraine
Good news! Ukraine, a country that definitely wasn’t corrupt at all, is now completely free of corruption.
Russia and India will ditch dollar and euro in trade — Russian foreign ministry
Putin visits Crimean Bridge, drives across it. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Crimean Bridge and spoke with workers. The structure was recently targeted by Ukraine’s security services in a truck bombing, but has since been repaired.
Ukraine has policy of executing POWs while Western nations outright ignore the ‘widespread practice’ among Kiev’s troops — Moscow
Let’s take a quick look at the Russian language stories overly roughly the same time period:
Lavrov: Ukrainian people will be freed from neo-Nazi rulers
“The Tale of the Hamster, or Merry “Russophobic” Christmas.
See for yourself and share with friends in Europe😉
Medvedev: Russia alone is fighting NATO and the West
Volodin demanded compensation from Germany and France for the damage to the residents of Donbass
Siluanov: Russia will fundamentally not sell oil at prices set by the West
“Pilots don’t die, they fly away”: how the Russian military, at the cost of their lives, stopped the offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
The Cuban President declared the unacceptability of NATO expansion to Russian borders
Putin and Raisi discussed building up cooperation between Russia and Iran in economics and politics
“Full version of Putin’s longest New Year’s speech Watch:
Bout said he supports Russia’s special operation in Ukraine
Putin: Russia’s goal is to unite the Russian people
The Russian military repelled seven attempts to break through the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Kupyansk direction
Benes Ayo was born in Latvia to a Ugandan father and a Russian mother. For communist views, he was persecuted in his homeland and received the nickname Black Lenin. In 2014 I went to Donbass.
Now he is fighting in the NVO zone, call sign Dzerzhinsky. Recently became a citizen of the Russian Federation
“Site for experiments”: how the West used Ukraine for biological research and the creation of dangerous drugs
Putin said that Russia, without any doubt, will achieve its goals
Putin signed a law banning LGBT propaganda
“Where you are most expected”: Prigozhin explained why he met the new year on the front lines
Putin awarded the title “Mother Heroine” to seven Russian women
The Swiss branch of the “Night Wolves” cleared the desecrated monument to Alexander Suvorov in the village of Andermatt https://t.co/2rDEO6Qk9X https://t.co/1NYkAsmJFq
“Journalist Yulia Vityazeva published a photo of Russian servicemen released from captivity during an exchange with the Ukrainian side:Thank you guys for making it through! Thank you! You are all heroes! And we have been waiting for you. Home”
Two shots — two tanks: “Msta-S” hits the equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
Putin entrusted the FSB with the authority to protect the transport crossing through the Kerch Strait
Volodin: at first the West took away the property of Russian businessmen, and now it is arresting them
“Two New Years”: NWO participants congratulated the 99-year-old WWII veteran
Volodin announced the need to cancel preferences for those who left Russia
It, as far as I can see, is mostly standard fare — boo NATO, boo Ukraine, boo gays, yay the army, yay pan-east-Slavic unity. More interesting, in my view, is the English version. The data suggests a couple of themes:
- Apparently, Donald Trump is popular with the RT audience. That encourages the thought that Trump is or was an instrument of Russia; as we’ll see, looking a bit more closely casts doubt on that.
- Very important seems to be the theme of — to use their wording —the ‘world shifting West to East’, especially in terms of the dedollarization of world trade (stories 5, maybe 6, 10, 18, 21, 24; other stories in the top 100 most popular talk of ‘ailing petrodollar’, the ‘shift further away from the dollar’ and so on.)
- Noting 8 and 11, and also that there are two stories about Russia’s anti-’LGBTQ propaganda’ bill one might think that culture war posturing is a part of the story too.
In truth, this seems to me a prima facie odd portrait of an audience. Trumpers very concerned with (on the con side) Western hegemony, pro-dedollarization, and just somewhat concerned with traditional values? That doesn’t seem overly coherent a demographic. Things help and are interesting if we look further into the stories.
China the almighty
The biggest thing to take from the stories is the role of China. That is suggested by the stories mentioned above; its very real world reflection is how China has at least to some extent taken the place of the EU as a buyer of Russian fossil fuels.
But it’s not just economics. China gets remarkably good press in RT. There are fully 173 stories (of 3200 collected), and none, that I can see, negative. We see things like
“Xi Jinping is not bringing back ‘Red China’ — it never went away The Chinese leader’s centralization of power is not an anomaly, but the logical reaction of a nation true to itself
— Timur Fomenko
“The ‘coming collapse of China’ is still a hope, not a certainty. This hasn’t been a glorious year for the US or Europe, who will still attain less growth than China not only this year, but next year, too”
More factually, we see positive stories like this:
“China’s growth outlook improves”. The economy is now expected to expand by 5.4% in 2023, according to Morgan Stanley”
But the negative — the disastrous retreat from zero-covid, protests, semiconductors — is either downplayed or presented from the Chinese pov:
“Can China break through the semiconductor blockade the US is building? Story:”
“‘It’s regrettable to see China, the last zero-Covid holdout in a world rattled by a once-in-a-century pandemic, capitulate to pressure to abandon its successful policies’"
“Beijing lashes out at ‘two-faced’ Western media’s double standards over the portrayal of the COVID situation in China.”
Other stories seem more like infomercials or the sort of puff pieces used to pad out papers:
“China to roll out first national ‘digital asset’ marketplace — media
The state-backed NFT platform will reportedly be built on a blockchain”
“China unveils a surprising new weapon in its information war against the West Read the full analysis by Ivan Zuenko.”
“An enthusiast from China’s Henan province has built a model of a high-speed train and rails in the family’s vegetable fields. Zhang Yadong says it took him three to four months to complete the project.”
Just stop a minute and consider this last. An international news channel talking about a model train? Built by someone in an entirely different country? I’m sure it’s a lovely train but I’d have to imagine even Henan Daily Model Train Digest might think twice before running that. That surely calls for explanation!
It does not seem too much to suggest that this fluffy and slanted coverage is owing, to use RT’s use of China’s words, to the ‘rock-solid’ relations with Russia, that are — again quoting — “immune to changes in the international environment”.
Before moving on, let’s note that this perspective — the perspective we reach by reading RT — is quite useful. One thing to note is that now, as Russian gas exports to Europe reach post-Soviet lows, Russia’s geopolitics and economics line up much more nicely. No need any longer to be tied by fossil fuels to ‘Gayrope’, they can now pledge druzhba to a country much less likely to get in their way in and around Europe. One could, maybe a bit fancifully, imagine the stories we noted above as a sort of new love: “friendship ended with EU, now China’s my best friend, look at it’s cool model trains”. Maybe the propaganda is suggestive of a greater geopolitical comfort than we might have previously have thought and indeed that wasn’t present when Russian and Europe were wedded by fuel.
Before going on, a curiosity. In the Russian RT, we only get the following results if we search for China:
I won’t translate because there’s not much. One mention of the increased China-Russian trade and some assorted China-world economic and military news. No friendly op-eds, no puffpieces. I’m not sure why.
Okay, so that’s the first and I think most interesting thing: there’s a clear eastward slant focused on dedollarization and positive stories of China. What about aspect two, the oversized appearance of Trump in the most popular stories?
I think it’s just a bit of fluke. A bit. In fact, talk of Trump is considerably more equivocal than one might have imagined from such a trollish outlook:
While these aren’t overly negative, they aren’t afraid to present the damaging stories about Trump:
“Republican says FBI seized cell phone. The seizure is reportedly part of a probe into former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election”
“Ex-Trump Organization CFO Pleads Guilty To Tax Violations, Will Testify Against Company. Allen Weisselberg, the former CFO of the Trump Organization, pleaded guilty Thursday to his role in a 15-year-long tax fraud scheme.”
I shouldn’t overemphasise this — there are definitely some clearly taking Trump’s side:
“Biden said that he didn’t have any advanced notice about the FBI searching ex-president Trump’s estate. Alrighty then. Roses are red, by the way, Joe.”
The Russian language RT is even more equivocal: one story reports about a special investigator for Trump’s case; one about how the 6th January riot shows citizens’ lack of confidence in the US electoral system. None editorializes pro-Trump.
More tentatively, then, I don’t think if we’re summing up current day RT foreign policy that we should view it as making an awkward cross-global triad from Washington to Beijing via Moscow; rather, at least it seems to me, support for Trump is much more equivocal.
One thing I think worth noting is the comparative downplaying of anti-LGBT sentiment. Recently and notoriously Putin banned ‘LGBT propaganda’, which criminalizes many public displays of ‘non-traditional’ values; in a speech a few months ago he was mocked for going over Fox talking points about transgender people. And the Telegram channels of his propagandists are often full of such things — a standard move there is to present a story from say Fox or the Daily Mail about some ‘gender freedom’ and offer thanks that such things hasn’t reached Russia.
I thus somewhat expected many of these stories, as the topic is of course a big one among US conservatives at the moment. But discussion was muted in both the English and the Russian channels. For the latter, literally every story was simply reporting about the propaganda bill, with none of the snarky editorializing Telegram readers will be familiar with.
The interesting thing, to repeat myself, is China. Nothing else here, as far as I can see, is particularly noteworthy, but the very friendly China stories, combined with the very real changes in flows of money and oil to and from the countries, are something to be aware of, and the former show how realpolitik (or -economik, in this case) can be caught sight of by trawling through propaganda.