Russia Stands Up To American "Interference" In Elections, China Celebrates Space Mission

Russian Federation

#1: Gazprom Completes Nord-Stream II

Pro-Government

On September 10, state energy giant Gazprom announced the completion of Nord-Stream II, an undersea pipeline that will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine to reach European markets. Government aligned media met the announcement with a mix of celebration and gloating over Ukraine. Gazprom owns Russia’s largest media holding, and its outlets, such as NTV, the country’s 3rd most watched TV channel, called the move a “geopolitical victory for Russia” and paraphrased Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as telling Ukraine to “stop begging and show some dignity.Tsargrad TV, a Christian broadcaster owned by Putin ally Konstantin Malofeev, portrayed Europe as desperate for more gas and secretly cheering the completion of the pipeline. 

Opposition

Northern Realities, part of the US-funded USAGM,  framed the completion of the pipeline as a geopolitical device to exert pressure on Ukraine and foster European dependence on Russia. BBC Russian highlighted the threat to Ukrainian energy security in an overview of the project’s history and court battles.

#2: Russian Leadership Stands Up To American Interference in Russian Election

Pro-Government

On September 10, Sergey Lavrov summoned American ambassador John Sullivan to the Foreign Ministry for excoriation over supposed American interference in the upcoming election, as reported by Zvezda, the TV channel of the Ministry of Defense and #9 most watched station, Channel 5 and Izvestia, both part of Putin ally Yuri Kovalchuk’s National Media Group, and state newswire TASS. Moskovsky Komsomolets, owned by Pavel Gusev, the chair of the Public Council of the Ministry of Defense, reported on the supposed discovery that the Smart Voting app, which allowed for organizing among opposition, was American funded. The Foreign Ministry expected the United States to take immediate action to rectify the situation, as reported in Gazeta, owned by the Central Bank, Channel One, Russia’s most popular TV channel and a joint property of the Ministry of Economic Development, National Media Group, and TASS, and TV Center, owned by the city of Moscow.

Opposition

Voice of America, part of the US-funded USAGM, reported on the Lavrov-Sullivan meeting in neutral terms. Radio Liberty shared Navalny’s instructions on how to use Smart Voting despite the official government ban.

#3: Minister of Emergencies Laid To Rest After Death In Accident

Pro-Government

Yevgeny Zinichev, the Minister of Emergencies, former deputy director of the FSB, and General of the Army, died in the line of service on September 8. According to official accounts, Zinichev died trying to save a filmmaker who was producing a documentary on the ministry’s exercises, as reported in Zvezda and Channel One. Moskovsky Komsomolets reported on spontaneous outbursts of memorial for Zinichev in Yakutia, Vladimir, and Chelyabinsk. Putin bestowed the title of “Hero of Russia” posthumously on Zinichev. as reported in Channel One, Channel Five, and Mir-24, part of the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States.  

Opposition

Meduza, an independent paper run by exiles in Lithuania, gave a biography of Zinichev which recounted his role in remilitarizing the Emergencies Ministry and the palace intrigue in which he participated. Caucasus Realities, part of USAGM, discussed the possibility that the funeral was a superspreader event as Putin is now in self-isolation.

People’s Republic of China

#1: Shenzhou Mission Returns Safely To Earth

Pro-Government

Chinese astronauts landed safely in Inner Mongolia on September 17 following three months on the International Space Station as part of Shenzhou 12 Mission. Government broadcasters published 263 pieces on the mission this week, led by CCTV, the national state broadcaster, which offered 3D animations of the missionlivestreamed the landing, and triumphant interviews with the astronauts. Coverage of the mission generated over 15M views for CCTV on Weibo over the past week. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhou Lijian wrote a poem to commemorate the occasion as covered in local government outlets in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Sichuan, and Zhejiang, among others.

Opposition

BBC Chinese also focused most of its attention on the SpaceX flight, offering profiles of the “inspirational” astronauts who were part of the first all civilian spaceflight crew. VOA Chinese also offered breathless coverage of the flight, giving stage by stage updates as the rocket reached orbit before returning three days later.

#2: The World Bank Conspires Against China

Pro-Government

The World Bank canceled its annual “Doing Business” report, which ranks countries based on ease of doing business, following allegations of undue pressure by the Chinese government. In a piece by Global Times, the tabloid of the Central Committee, reprinted in Hanqui, part of the State Council Information Office, emphasized China’s dedication to “optimizing the business environment, and the relevant achievements are obvious to all,” quoting Zhou. Local papers in Shenzhen, Beijing, and Zhejiang reprinted the same story. 

Opposition

VOA Chinese declared that “The World Bank had raised China's business rankings to increase capital” and quoted a US Treasury official who questioned the integrity of the rankings after the discovery. 

#3: CCP Takes Decisive Action Against COVID Outbreak in Fujian

Pro-Government

Litchi News, part of Jiangsu Provincial Committee’s Television and Radio Company, reported on an outbreak of 56 cases of COVID in Fujian Province as part of a single transmission chain. The outbreak comes after a similar outbreak in Henan led to the disciplining of several local party leaders. Beijing News reprinted a CCTV bulletin on the subject. China Radio International, part of China Media Group which also runs CCTV, offered little information. The government-run Shenzhen Hong Kong website declared “the situation is not optimistic.”

Opposition

Opposition media did not report on the new outbreak.

China and Russia Celebrate Arrests and Bans For Pro-Democracy Campaigners

Plus Russian media blasts Pakistan's involvement in Afghanistan while China blasts the EU's involvement in Taiwan

People’s Republic of China

#1: “27 Countries United To Attack China”

Pro-Government

On September 2, the European Parliament released a report calling for enhanced relations with Taiwan including a bilateral investment agreement. People’s Daily, the official paper of the Central Committee of the CCP, quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesperson declaring that the report “seriously violates the one-China principle and undermines China-EU mutual trust.” State newswire China News Service called the report “flagrant interference in China's internal affairs.” Global Times, the tabloid of the Central Committee, called the move an example of “typical evil.” Ningshi International Hotspot, a nationalist blog, decried that “27 countries joined forces to attack China which enraged 1.4 billion people.”

Opposition

VOA Chinese, part of the US-funded US Agency for Global Media, mocked Beijing for such an extreme reaction to a country as small as Lithuania, whose agreement to open an office for a Taiwan representative served as a prelude to the EU report. VOA quoted an American professor who said, “the ‘Lithuania Incident’ has indeed attracted more EU countries' attention to Taiwan.” BBC Chinese also pointed to the “Lithuania model” as a sign of events to come following the EU report.

#2: “Notorious Anti-China Group” Arrested in Hong Kong

Pro-Government

On September 8, officials arrested members of Hong Kong Alliance, a pro-democracy foundation, for violating Hong Kong’s National Security Law. China News Service quoted a government spokesman who stated the arrests reflected “the common will of Hong Kong society to safeguard the rule of law and order” and responded to American criticism by accusing the US of “abus[ing] the name of national security to harm the legitimate rights and interests of other countries.” National state broadcaster CCTV reprinted a article from state newswire Xinhua celebrating the arrest of the “notorious anti-China group.” The Ministry of Public Affairs shared a video of the arrests with the exclamation “Caught!” and referred to the Alliance as “rioters.” South China Daily, part of Guangdong Provincial Committee’s propaganda department, reprinted a Xinhua article claiming the Alliance’s “collapse is the general trend and the people's desire.”

Opposition

VOA Chinese denounced the arrests, quoting the Alliance’s Vice President who said authorities “did not mention any reason or evidence to explain why they accused us of being foreign agents.” BBC Chinese quoted Alliance members who called the arrests “intimidation of civil society.” RFA, also part of USAGM, tweeted an image of police confiscating the Alliance’s statue of democracy. 

#3: Public Health Officials Must Take Action on COVID or Face Consequences

Pro-Government

Nine public officials in Zhengzhou, a city of ten million in central China, faced disciplinary action for “ineffective epidemic prevention and control” according to the Henan News Broadcasting, part of the Henan Provincial Committee’s propaganda department. Party disciplinarians ousted the deputy mayor and director of health while censuring others after an outbreak of COVID on July 30. Southern Metropolis Daily, owned by the Guangdong Provincial Committee, reported on strict measures adopted by Guangzhou after the discovery of an asymptomatic case. The press conference at which officials announced the new measures was aired by Guangdong Radio and Television, Beijing Radio and Television, Guangzhou Daily, China News Service, and Inner Mongolia Radio and Television, among others. The Mainland officially reports having 756 cases, though many suspect the number to be much higher.

Opposition

Opposition media did not report on this story

Russian Federation

#1: Panjshir Falls to the Taliban

Pro-Government

For the fourth straight week, the Taliban subjugation of Afghanistan led all stories in Russia. Russian media focused heavily on fighting in Panjshir, with 422 pieces published on resistance fighters this week. Moskovsky Komsomolets, owned by Pavel Gusev, the chair of the Public Council of the Ministry of Defense, reported on rumors that the Pakistani Air Force supported the Taliban in the capture of the Panjshir Valley, citing Sputnik, part of state-owned TV Novosti. Rosbalt, part of AFK Sistema whose owner heads the oligarchs’ union, Lenta.ru, owned by oligarch Vladimir Potanin’s Interros mining conglomerate, and Nezavisimaya Gazeta, tied to former Minister for Economic Development German Gref, all reported on Pakistan’s official denial of the claim while reminding readers of Pakistan’s extensive support for the Taliban. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban became especially prominent as the recent conquerors of Kabul fired on protestors outside the Pakistani embassy, as reported by RIA Novosti and RT, both part of state-owned TV Novosti.

Opposition

Opposition media differed little from official sources in its lament of the fall of Panjshir and the aftermath. Kommersant, a leading business daily which maintains a liberal stance despite its ownership by Putin-ally Ali Usmanov, reported that the protests outside the Pakistani embassy followed a visit by the head of Inter-Service Intelligence, the Taliban’s main patron. Voice of America, part of the US-funded US Agency for Global Media, contested the claim of the conquest of Panjshir, pointing to multiple previous claims of conquering Panjshir by the Taliban that proved untrue and rebel leader Ahmad Massoud’s call to arms.

#2: United Russia Poised To Lose Vote Share In Upcoming Elections

Pro-Government

On September 19, Russians head to the polls to elect the 450 members of the State Duma. VTsIOM, the leading pollster in Russia, predicts that the incumbent United Russia will receive 42% of the vote, the Communist Party 19%, and ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party 11%, and the socialist SRZP 8%, as reported by NTV, part of state-owned energy conglomerate Gazprom, and state newswire TASS. Channel 5, part of Putin ally Yuri Kovalchuk’s National Media Group, lauded a poll showing that 2/3 of Russians believe the election will be clean and free of fraud. Nezavisimaya Gazeta credited Putin’s generous pensions, increased military spending, and apt handling of COVID for his continued popularity. Smaller local papers lauded the accomplishments of United Russia with headlines like “Experts: United Russia is a party that works” in Transbaikal, “United Russia for a state that is convenient for a person!” in Omsk, “United Russia: Our Priority Is the Health of the Residents of Tver Oblast” in Tver,  “The leaders of United Russia win the sympathy of voters,” in Rostov, and “Reputable Tyumen Associations Support United Russia” in Tyumen. Many local governments, especially in Omsk, reprinted the same story across multiple properties.

Opposition

A guest on Ekho Moskvy, part of Gazprom but editorially independent, highlighted that 42% of the vote would be a near record low for United Russia, and pointed to numerous scandals that have been self-defeating for the party. The independent Novaya Gazeta uncovered a United Russia orchestrated pay-for-votes scandal at St. Petersburg State University, decrying the “rigged election.”

#3: Liberals Fail To Surmount Government Obstacles Ahead of Election

Pro-Government

On September 7, the Roskomnadzor, the telecoms regulator, blocked access to the website of Smart Vote, which aimed to organize opponents of the Kremlin in the election. Activists associated with Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, designated an extremist organization, had promoted the website leading to its ban. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Vladimir Putin, said the decision was the regulator’s and out of the president’s hands, as reported in Lenta.ru and RIA Novosti. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s leading newspaper and part of energy conglomerate ESN Group, Smart Voting’s website is still available by VPN, leading Rospotrebnadzor, the state consumer rights advocate, to warn failure by Google or Apple to remove VPNs from their mobile stores would amount to “election interference.” “Roskomnadzor warned foreign IT companies against interfering in Russian elections,” declared Gazeta, owned by the Central Bank.

Association with Navalny’s organization also led to the ban of multiple candidates in the upcoming election, including Lev Schlosberg, an award-winning journalist and campaigner against corruption. State newswire TASS was one of the few pro-government sources to report on the court’s decision, stating “Russian legislation establishes a temporary ban on being elected to all elective positions for the heads of organizations recognized by the court as extremist or terrorist” with no further explanation.

Opposition

Voice of America lamented the lack of a liberal option in the upcoming elections and accused Putin of being unwilling to let Russians decide for themselves. Ekho Moskvy claimed the ban of Smart Voting would be a lasting embarrassment for United Russia while a separate piece explained Schlossberg’s dismissal resulted from a political rival accusing him of attending an impromptu rally in support of Navalny. The independent Novaya Gazeta blasted the move as  “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.

China and Russia: US Administration Flailing, Attempts To Save Face Bring More Embarrassment

The Fall out from America's Abandonment of Afghanistan Continue to Dominate News in China and Russia

Russian Federation

#1: America Struggles With Afghanistan Fall Out, Taliban Begin Crackdowns

Pro-Government

Afghanistan dominated Russian headlines for the third week. Gloating over the Western humiliation was still prevalent in pieces such as “In the United States, it was declared that Biden lost the support of the American military” in Lenta.ru, owned by oligarch Vladimir Potanin’s Interros mining conglomerate. The title referred to a quote by former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, which also was featured in an article in Vzglyad, owned by the government-aligned Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies.

But the reality of a jihadi-controlled Afghanistan began to sink in, with the Russian embassy evacuating some staff. RIA Novosti, part of state-owned TV Novosti, RBC, part of the partially state-owned energy conglomerate ESN, Gazeta, owned by the Central Bank, and NTV, part of Putin ally Yuri Kovalchuk’s National Media Group, reported on the Taliban’s ban of music among other crackdowns. Russia conducted military exercises in Tajikistan as covered by state newswire TASS, state television and radio company GTRK, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a subsidiary of TV Novosti. Nonetheless, Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Taliban were ensuring the security of Russian diplomats in a story covered by Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s leading newspaper and part of ESN Group, Argumenti i Fakti, owned by Moscow City government, and TV Zvezda, the television channel of the Ministry of Defense.

Opposition

Ekho Kavkaz, part of the US-funded USAGM, reported on the Taliban killing of a popular folk singer, while an op-ed in the same outlet was deeply critical of the American withdrawal, lamenting the “tragic fate” of Afghans, the withdrawal’s “strengthening the ideology of radical Islam” and America’s “serious reputational damage.” Crimea Today, also part of USAGM, lambasted the American failure to evacuate allies.

#2 The Russian School Year Begins With Celebrations and Solemnity

Pro-Government

September 1 marks Knowledge Day, the national holiday where children across Russia begin the school year. Channel One, Russia’s most popular TV channel and a joint property of the Ministry of Economic Development, National Media Group, and TASS, reported on Vladmir Putin’s visit to a children’s center in Vladivostok. Putin stressed the importance of studying history, explaining “Disregard for these seemingly fundamental principles affects the fate of entire states, this is clearly seen in the example of the United States and Afghanistan.”

Since 2004, the week has had somber overtones as the anniversary of the Beslan school siege, when Chechen rebels seized a school in the South Caucasus, leaving over 300 children dead in the ensuing shoot out. September 3rd, when the siege violently ended, is now an official holiday, The Day of Solidarity in the Fight Against Terrorism. NTV, part of state-owned energy giant Gazprom and Russia’s third television channel, reported on the memorial service in Beslan and interviewed parents of victims, as did National Media Group’s REN TV and Channel 5. The City of Moscow’s Argumenti i Fakti reported on activist efforts to remove extremist content online.

Opposition

Despite widespread criticism at the time of Putin’s handling of the siege–including from then-independent Izvestiya ultimately leading to its takeover by Gazprom–opposition outlets were generally deferential to the memorial services and omitted mentions of the botched rescue attempt that led to the shoot out. The independent Novaya Gazeta published a podcast on the events, focusing on Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist deeply critical of the regime who was assassinated three years later. Radio Kavkaz, part of USAGM, reported on demands by mothers of the slain for further investigations.

#3 Roscosmos Announces A New Space Station

Pro-Government

Russian plans for a new space station were widely reported, including in Grozny TV, part of Chechnya’s State Television and Radio Company, the City of Moscow’s Argumenti i Fakti and Moscow 24, TV Novosti’s Rossiyskaya Gazeta, among others. The head of Roscosmos, the state space agency, appeared on Komsomolskaya Pravda, part of ESN, to announce a five to six year timeline, which was in turn reported on by National Media Group’s NTV among others. The move is spurred in part by structural damage to the Russian section of the International Space Station, as reported by the Ministry of Defense’s TV Zvezda and Lenta.ru.

Opposition

Ekho Kavkaz framed the cracks as part of a larger pattern of Russian equipment on the International Space Station failing, highlighting a 2018 hole in the lining of the Soyuz spacecraft, caused by engineers drilling in the wrong place, and followed by further air leaks in 2019 and 2020. Ekho Moskvy, part of Gazprom, reported that the Russian segment of the ISS will only survive until 2025. 

People’s Republic of China

#1 U.S. Ships In Taiwan Straits A Direct Provocation, Won’t Make Up For Afghanistan

Government

Two ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet passed through the Taiwan Straits on August 27th, a “provocation,” according to Yangtze River News, owned by the Hubei Provincial Committee of the CCP, and an attempt to save face following Afghanistan. People’s Daily, the official paper of the Central Committee of the CCP, said the action “fully demonstrates that the U.S. is the biggest destroyer of peace and stability”.  

The Heina Observation Room, a popular nationalist blog, declared “Taiwan independence is scared!” in response to a report by the Taiwanese Defense Ministry on possible pretexts for a Mainland invasion of Taiwan. Taiwan Straits News, part of Fujian Daily of the local party committee, reported on Taiwanese media begging pro-Independence media to reconsider their stance to the mainland after Afghanistan. Minnan Net Nanping, a nationalist website, also reported on Taiwanese media questioning the reliability of the US, declaring “Afghanistan Today, Taiwan Tomorrow.”

Opposition

Voice of America Chinese, part of the US-funded USAGM, responded that the Taiwan Straits are recognized as international waters and highlighted a cooperation agreement between the coast guards of the United States and Taiwan. Radio Free Asia, also part of USAGM, promoted stories showcasing American commitment to Taiwan and denouncing Chinese official media’s attempts to compare Taiwan and Afghanistan. The BBC Chinese framed the action as a response to increased Chinese military exercises in the waterway. 

#2 Remains of People’s Volunteer Army Soldiers Returned

Government

South Korea returned the remains of Chinese soldiers killed in the Korean War, as reported in the State Council Information Office’s Strategic Security and Arms Control. The story was also covered in local government outlets in Henan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Szechuan, Yunan, and Zhejiang among others. The occasion was an opportunity to commemorate the People’s Republic’s only major war featuring pitched battles against American forces, as highlighted in the PLA Daily. CCTV, the main national state broadcaster, released a documentary celebrating the sacrifices of the “heroes” and “martyrs” of the People’s Volunteer Army. A Weibo post on the subject from People’s Daily garnered 14.5 million shares, among the most of any Weibo post ever. 

Opposition

Opposition outlets did not report on this story

#3 China Dominates at 2020 Paralympics

Government

The People’s Republic currently holds more gold medals than any two countries combined and 73 more total medals than #2 Great Britain at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. Several  events have seen Chinese competitors claim multiple medals such as women’s 50M freestyle, as reported by national state broadcaster CCTV, a clean sweep in men’s backstroke, gold and silver in men’s 50m butterfly and women’s 50m backstroke, as reported by CCTV News. Forty regional outlets in addition to national outlets and a dozen national outlets. Paralympic stories accounted for more engagements than any other story in China, after the story on the return of the remains of PVA soldiers. In the United States, by contrast, stories on the Paralympics did not pass the top fifty most engaged with stories.

Opposition

BBC Chinese has offered regular updates on the Paralympics. Chinese USAGM outlets have not covered the events.

“Want China to Wipe America’s Ass?”

China and Russia Revel in American Humiliation

Russian Federation

Last Week Marked the Thirtieth Anniversary of the August Putsch, a Crucial Event in the Fall of the Soviet Union 

#1: Afghanistan Deteriorates

The changing situation in Afghanistan brought up varying messages as the week progressed. RBC, part of the partially state owned energy conglomerate ESN Group, reported that refugees presented a security threat to Russia and Putin’s criticism of the West’s refugee policy. Vzglyad, owned by the government-aligned Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies, ran an op-ed warning about refugees entering Russia from Central Asia. 

RT, part of government-owned TV-Novosti, published a story on Putin promising non-interference in Afghanistan. REGNUM, an independent pro-government newswire, reported on the Taliban’s desire for “good relations” with Russia and China. Gazeta.ru, owned by the Central Bank of Russia, reported on Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov consideration of recognizing the Taliban. Moskovsky Komsomolets, owned by Pavel Gusev, the chair of the Public Council of the Ministry of Defense, and Russia’s second most-read newspaper, broke from the pack and highlighted Taliban atrocities while running an op-ed denouncing the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan for seemingly recognizing the Taliban.

Pro-government outlets took a special interest in the hijacking of a Ukrainian plane, a story appearing in Vzglyad, RBC, RIA Novosti, REN TV, and Ukrainia.ru.

Opposition

BBC Russian published a video on the fate of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule and their fear “they will no longer be able to work and study”. Kommersant, a leading business daily which maintains a liberal stance despite its ownership by Putin-ally Ali Usmanov, highlighted continued resistance to the Taliban. 

#2: Putin and Merkel Meet

Pro-Government

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Russia on August 20 for a set of negotiations with Vladimir Putin. RIA Novosti, part of government-owned TV-Novosti, reported on Putin handing Merkel a bouquet ahead of negotiations. Vzglyad, owned by the government-aligned Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies, mocked Ukrainian responses to the meeting with the headline “Ukraine accuses Merkel of defending Germany’s interest on gas.” After Merkel restated her commitment to Ukraine, REN TV, part of Putin ally Yuri Kovalchuk’s National Media Group, published a piece on supposed outrage in Germany. 

Opposition

Golos Ameriki, the Russian brand of the US-funded Voice of America, amplified calls for Merkel to call on Putin to release dissident Alexei Navalny, a year to date after the assassination attempt against him. Ekho Moskvy, editorially independent but owned by state energy corporation Gazprom, reported that Merkel had demanded Navalny’s freedom but the Kremlin press release omitted this fact.

#3: 30th Anniversary of the August Putsch

On August 19th, 1991, Communist hardliners seized control of the Kremlin and placed then-premier MIkhail Gorbachev under house arrest in Crimea. The “August Putsch” failed three days later with Boris Yeltsin dramatically rousing protestors from atop a tank outside the Soviet seat of government. The event was a major milestone in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Pro-Government

Komsomolskaya Pravda–part of ESN Group, Russia’s leading newspaper, and named for the newspaper of Communist Youth League–wrote several flatteringpieces on coup-leader Sergey Akhromeyev, consistently introducing him as “Hero of the Soviet Union,” a title awarded for his role in the Afghan War. The same paper sarcastically claimed “The midnight secret drunkenness of Gorbachev, Yeltsin, [Kazakh leader Nursultan] Nazarbayev led to the Emergency Committee [behind the putsch] and the collapse of the USSR” in a piece deeply critical of Gorbachev. Moskovsky Komsomolets, named after Moscow’s Communist Youth League, reported on the efforts of Gennady Zyuganov, current leader of the Communist Party, to have Yeltsin tried for treason. RIA Novosti reported on a speech by Sergei Shoigu, head of Putin’s United Russia party and Minister of Defense, where he stated that following the Soviet collapse, “a huge number of political programs were adopted in the country, but people's lives did not get better.”  

Opposition

Kommersant interviewed protestors against the Putsch who expressed joy at their “three days of freedom.” Dozhd TV, an independent TV channel Russia labeled a foreign agent, reported on Muscovites who laid flowers on behalf of protestors killed in the Putsch.

People’s Republic of China

Military Exercises Continue Apace in the PRC

#1: China Revels In American Failure

Pro-Government

Chinese state sources reveled in American humiliation in Afghanistan. “What’s the most you can win in 10 days?” asked Xinhua, the state newswire, in a video replete with laugh track and sound effects, “Ask the Taliban! What’s the most you could lose?... Ask the United States!” People’s Daily, the newspaper of the Central Committee of the CCP, declared “the role of the United States is to destroy rather than build.” The piece was reprinted in local CCP outlets in Anhui and Hunan and in the national Guangming Daily

Other outlets focused on the looming refugee crisis. “Want China to wipe America’s ass?” asked an article by China Youth Network, part of the Communist Youth League of the CCP, which blasted the State Department spokesman Ned Price for accusing China of genocide against Muslims while mentioning China as a possible destination for Afghan refugees. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying declared minimizing refugee flows was necessary to stability in Afghanistan in a press conference reprinted in Heilongjiang Morning News, Beijing TV, and People’s Daily Overseas Edition.

Opposition

Radio Free Asia Uyghur praised Muslim countries which accepted Afghan refugees. BBC Chinese was critical of Biden’s handling of the evacuation, though pushed back on popular Russian and Chinese claims denying or minimizing the close ties between ISIS-K and the Taliban.

#2: The PLA Conducts Live Fire Exercises Along Coast

Pro-Government

China conducted live fire exercises in the Yellow Sea near the North Korean border, the nearby Bohai Strait, and the South China Sea from August 23-25. The exercises were among approximately one hundred over the past four months according to Hubei Radio and Television, part of the Hubei Provincial Committee, which framed them as a warning to Taiwan. “[A]ll the ‘Taiwan independence’ elements can do is to welcome the arrival of the People's Liberation Army on Taiwan Island!” the same piece declared. People’s Daily highlighted a simulated landing conducted by Eastern Theater Command, which conducted live fire exercises near Taiwan last week. Shanghai Eye, part of partially state-owned Shanghai Media Group, published a video lauding the exercises as a warning against Taiwanese independence.

Opposition

Radio Free Asia Chinese highlighted invasive PLA military exercises through the streets of Hong Kong. Voice of America Chinese reported on joint exercises by the US, Japan, India, and Australia “to jointly respond to the Chinese threat”.

#3: American Attempts To Blame COVID on China Fail

Pro-Government

CCP sources pounced on the United States failure to reach a conclusion in its investigation into the origin of COVID. The original investigation prompted a surge in Chinese promotion of the conspiracy last July. CCTV, part of the State Council’s China Media Group, preemptively dismissed any possible conclusions of the report, as did Hubei Radio and Television.

State newswire eCNS promoted the conspiracy that COVID originated at Fort Detrick, Maryland, in a story reprinted by Inner Mongolia News Network of the Regional Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and Shaanxi TV of the Provincial Committee. Strategic Security and Arms Control Online, a publication of the State Council, reported on diplomats Chen Xu’s request that the WHO investigate Fort Detrick. 

Opposition

Voice of America Chinese mocked China Daily’s conspiracies around COVID. Other opposition sources did not report on COVID origin theories.

Russia, China To Democracies: No One Will Save You

The lessons of the fall of Kabul top the news in both Russia and China

Welcome to the Omelas newsletter. At Omelas, we expose the way authoritarians manipulate the internet. Each Friday, we provide you with the top stories in authoritarian states, based on our analysis of tens of thousands of articles in local media. In each country, the state dominates the media environment, but to see these articles as merely tools of maintaining power would be a mistake. The writing reflects the assumptions and frameworks through which our adversaries see the world. By understanding the rationale they give their own people, and that they tell themselves, we avoid the error of applying our own worldview to vastly different circumstances. Better understanding leads to better responses and better results. For each story we provide not only pro-government sources but opposition and Western-backed local sources as well. Our first edition looks at Russia and China, while future editions will expand to Iran and Venezuela.

Russia

Talk show host Vladimir Solovyev warned Ukraine to reconsider provoking Russia after the US abandoned Afghanistan

#1: America Will Not Save Georgia or Ukraine

Pro-Government

Pro-government media published nearly 5,000 articles about Afghanistan over the past week, and promoted, above all, the warning to democracies resisting Russian domination. Pro-government media widely discussed an article by Nikolas Gvosdev, a professor at the American Naval War College, on American commitments to formal treaty allies such as the United Kingdom or Japan versus to informal allies such as Afghanistan, placing Ukraine and Georgia among the latter. Summaries of the article appeared in the state newswire, TASS, the City of Moscow-controlled Moscow-24, and Central Bank of Russia-owned Rambler Media. Many framed Gvosdev’s article as an official statement of the United States government and warning to Ukraine and Georgia “not to anger Russia.”

Vladimir Solovyev, a hardline nationalist and one of Russia’s most popular late night hosts, warned Georgia and Ukraine that Afghanistan should serve as a lesson on American credibility. The nationalist Pravda.ru (unrelated to the Communist newspaper) reported on a Ukrainian editorial warning against provoking Russia since the United States would not defend Ukraine. Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s powerful National Security Council, gave an interview to Izvestiya, part of Putin ally Yuri Kovalchuk’s National Media Group, where he warned Ukraine to heed the lesson of Afghanistan.

The symbolism of the United States stranding Ukrainian and Georgian troops and advisors in Afghanistan was particularly resonant, with coverage in state radio Vesti, Presidential Administration-controlled Vzglyad, Central Bank-owned Gazeta, National Media Group’s REN TV, and Komsomolskaya Pravda, the country’s leading newspaper.

Opposition

Liberal press largely avoided reporting on the implications for Ukraine and Georgia of American withdrawal, but covered the stranding of Georgian and Ukranians in Afghanistan. The independent Novaya Gazeta reported on the condition of the now disarmed Ukrainians and the U.S.-funded Ekho Kavkaz reported on the unknown fate of stranded Georgians.

#2: 22 Injured, 2 Killed in Bus Explosion in Voronezh 

Pro-Government

A passenger bus exploded in Voronezh, an industrial city of a million in Southwest Russia, killing 2 and injuring 22 more on August 12th. The explosion came a month after intelligence officials claimed to have foiled a three-pronged Daesh attack across the country. The initial investigation concluded that gas cylinders on the roof exploded due to faulty equipment, as reported in Rambler. Channel 5, owned by state gas monopoly Gazprom’s media arm, hosted an explosives expert who explained that automobiles “periodically explode”. As reported in Moskovsky Komsomolets, Russia’s second paper, the governor of Voronezh warned that dissemination of fake news about the explosion was illegal and would be referred to authorities.

Opposition

Golos Ameriki, the Russian brand of the US-funded Voice of America, cast doubt on the official narrative, reporting that the bus was diesel-powered and not gasoline-powered and that no cylinders are visible on the roof before the explosion. BBC Russian reported on the same inconsistencies.

#3: Lithuania and Poland Aim to Stem Refugee Flow from Belarus

Pro-Government

The EU formally censured Belarus for forcing refugees, largely from Iraq, to the Lithuanian and Polish borders. The two EU members have apprehended 4,000 refugees along the Belarusian border in 2021, 20 times the number as in 2020 according to TASS. Moskovsky Komsomolets reported that Lithuanian border guards were brawling with refugees. RIA Novosti reported that Latvia was sending special forces to its border with Belarus. Angela Merkel denounced Belarusian actions as reported by TASS.

Opposition

Ekho Moskvy, owned by state gas monopoly Gazprom’s media arm but editorially independent, stated that “Belarusian border guards violated the Lithuanian border.” Golos Ameriki reported that Belarusian officials entered Lithuania, forcing Iraqi refugees into the territory with them.

China

CCTV Military promoted joint military exercises with Russian troops

#1: America Will Not Save Taiwan

Pro-Government

CCP media published 650 Chinese-language articles about Afghanistan over the past week, with the lesson to be imparted upon Taiwan a major theme. Chinese media widely discussed a talk show featuring Jaw Shaw-kong, a prominent Taiwanese advocate of reunification with the Mainland, in which he declared that Afghanistan was a lesson for Taiwan about trusting the United States. The Inner Mongolia Morning Post, part of the Propaganda Department of the Regional Committee of Inner Mongolia, featured the interview in a video headlined “[Taiwanese President] Tsai authorities panic! The United States abandons Afghanistan today, and tomorrow it will be Taiwan.” Huanqui, owned by the CCP’s Central Committee, shared the video in full, quoting another guest who called the comparison to Afghanistan flattering as the US would never defend Taiwan for twenty years. The Taiwan Affairs Office, an agency of the State Council, shared the same video with the quote, “​​The United States will not come to save [Taiwan].” Global Times, owned by the International Department of the CCP’s Central Committee, ran op-eds with titles including, “Failure of America in Afghanistan serves as warning to Taiwan secessionists,” “Using Afghanistan as a guide, will US treatment of Taiwan island be any different?”, and “Afghanistan today, Taiwan tomorrow? US treachery scares [pro-independence] DPP.

Opposition

Radio Free Asia Mandarin, part of the American-funded USAGM, and the US Embassy in Beijing all published stories on National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s assurances that the United States continued to stand with Taiwan. VOA Cantonese, part of the American-funded USAGM, called Chinese reporting on Jaw’s interview part of an information war against Taiwan and provided Sullivan’s statement on Taiwan.

#2: PLA Conducts Military Exercises near Taiwan

Pro-Government

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Command dispatched combat ships, anti-submarine aircraft, and fighter jets to the Taiwan Strait, as reported by the People’s Daily, the newspaper of the Central Committee of the CCP. According to Dongfeng Express, part of the CCP’s Central Military Commission, the move was in response to Taiwanese and American “provocations” and violations of Chinese sovereignty. According to state newswire Xinhua, the proximate cause was an interview in which Taiwense president Tsai Ing-Wen promoted Taiwanese independence, while Hubei News, part of the Propaganda Department of the Hubei Provincial Committee, pointed to a tweet from American senator John Cornyn incorrectly claiming that 30,000 US troops were stationed on Taiwan. Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, tweeted in response that the existence of that many troops on Taiwan would be an act of war.

Opposition

VOA Cantonese pointed to the collapse of the Afghan government as the proximate cause of the exercise, viewing it as a test of American resolve to defend Taiwan. The piece said the United States is “clearly committed to Taiwan’s security and helping Taiwan to defend itself.” 

#3: World’s Most Advanced Weaponry on Display at Zapad Military Exercise

Pro-Government

China and Russia concluded their joint Zapad/Interaction-2021 exercise in Northwest China, described by People’s Daily as showcasing “the most advanced weapons in the world.”  The Ministry of Defense noted this was the first joint exercise with Russian troops in China. China Radio International, CCTV Military, both part of China Media Group which reports directly to the State Council, China Daily, part of the State Council Information Office, the Liberation Army Daily, and Hangqui Daily all shared the same promotional video, while Yangchen Evening News, part of the Guangdong Provincial Committee, shared a different video with the same score.

Opposition

BBC Chinese cast doubt on the claim that the operation was intended to prepare for counterterrorism operations, pointing to the use of China’s new stealth fighter, the J-20, and an advanced shared communication network between China and Russia as evidence the exercise was geared towards Great Power Competition. The BBC explored the possibility the exercise was a potential prelude to a formal Russian-Chinese military alliance. VOA Chinese highlighted Russian use of Chinese weapons systems, a first for joint exercises.

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