In Other News – Putin Is Still Looking for Victory After Setbacks, Chinese State Media Is Challenged by a Growing Social Media Movement, & More – 4/7/2022

April 7, 2022

Despite Kyiv setbacks, Putin’s still looking for victory. This week, disturbing images of civilians killed in Bucha reinforced that Putin’s brutality is intrinsic to his modus operandi, and that Chechnya and Syria were harbingers of what was, and is still, to come. At this point, Putin isn’t looking for negotiations he’s looking for a way to win on the battlefield. The extreme violence and loss of human life is justified in Putin’s mind by his misconceived threat of Western aggression against Russia. It’s a narrative Putin’s sown for years, and based on the latest internal polling, his citizens appear to be buying into his disinformation and rallying behind him. Now, as Russia retreats to Belarus to refit, resupply, and redeploy, intelligence suggests that Russia plans to double down in Eastern Ukraine. This will be a hard-fought battle for the Ukrainians, and likely to have a devastating impact.

It’s not just a matter of Russia taking the Donbas. Moscow seemingly has plans to establish a land bridge between the Donbas and Crimea and secure control of coasts on both the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. To do this, Putin will need to redeploy from the south and the east and there is speculation on whether Russia’s forces will be able to muster the necessary resilience. The overt brutality of Russian troops in this next stage could further weaken the neutrality of countries like India and Israel and heighten international resolve to increase support for Ukraine. Some military analysts also suggest there are tactical opportunities for Ukraine to develop as Russia retrenches and it gives NATO and others time to also replenish Ukrainian supplies and supply lines for everything including possibly more tanks and even MiGs.

The stakes of the conflict are rising not just for Ukraine but for worldwide supporters of the liberal democratic order and rule of law. And while Russia has suffered deep setbacks in Ukraine, it continues to make gains in its efforts to undermine democratic electoral politics in the West. Indeed, the information war being waged between Russia and its allies, and the West and its allies, is another critical aspect of this conflict. It will be increasingly important to maintain pressure on Putin as food and energy prices soar, supply chains remain disrupted, and Covid continues, along with other knock-on effects, and the framing of the war will impact the extent to which Russia remains isolated, and NATO and the West remain united.

Chinese state media, which continues to amplify Putin’s messaging, is challenged by a growing social media movement that translates Beijing’s propaganda into multiple world languages. While Putin has actively cut off Russian independent media and aims to control the Russian narrative at all costs, Chinese state media has echoed Putin’s messaging and continues to frame the United States as the instigator of the Ukraine invasion and subsequent war. For every egregious human rights violation and war crime Putin’s army commits in Ukraine, President Xi’s media arm makes excuses, often spreading myriad conspiracy theories to explain the horrors. This week, Chinese media representatives offered multiple and contradictory explanations on the Bucha atrocities: the killings were staged by Ukraine, committed by Ukrainians, and committed by Russians against illegal combatants. Indeed, the Chinese campaign is rampant and confusing enough to make the validity of any reporting suspect, which is a key tactic of disinformation.

To expose the blatant propaganda and shame China’s hypocrisy, an international group of Chinese dissidents have organized a growing online campaign to translate state media messaging into languages like English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and others. The effort, dubbed The Great Translation Movement, has grown rapidly and now has over 100,000 Twitter followers. It’s a decentralized effort, and the authors don’t necessarily even know each other, but it has served to expose the Chinese state line to readers far beyond Chinese borders. While the Chinese state media is a powerful propaganda machine, and its message is amplified by the void of competing narratives permitted throughout the nation, Beijing has already demonstrated frustration with The Great Translation Movement‒ indicating that an objective, diffuse social movement can present a threat to Chinese propagandists at the highest level.