Dear reader,

In this newsletter: China amplifies Russian disinformation on Ukraine, V4 countries pursue different policies on Moscow’s aggression, a Russian spy ring is busted in Slovakia, and high expectations arise ahead of  EU-China summit.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine presents an interesting case of Russian and Chinese narratives mutually reinforcing each other. The MapInfluenCE project has studied the confluence of Chinese and Russian propaganda as one of the key research topics, including in the latest study on the topic of Russian and Chinese state-run outlets in Poland by Alicja Bachulska. 

While on the issue of the Russian invasion, the Chinese state media have not whole-heartedly echoed all Russian narratives on the conflict and there are even some signs that they are increasingly willing to show the ugly side of the war, Beijing willingly peddles anti-Western disinformation pushed by Russia. 

The most widespread disinformation narrative surrounding Ukraine is that of US bioweapons labs in the country. This narrative was first brought up officially by the Russian Ministry of Defense on March 6, which accused the US of running up to 30 bioweapons labs in Ukraine. Allegedly, the US was working on using animals, including bats, to spread deadly pathogens. Soon after, the accusation was taken up by Chinese official channels, including Foreign Ministry representatives. This included some indications that Beijing’s promotion of the narrative outpaced even the Kremlin’s own efforts. In fact, the biological labs indeed do exist in Ukraine, but are owned by the Ukrainian government. The US has been funding some activities there aimed at reducing the biological threats, a pursuit that has been underway since the early post-Soviet era.

The rationale for Beijing willingly laundering the Russian narrative is quite clear - the accusations of US bioweapons fit almost perfectly with the previous efforts of Beijing to link the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic to US labs, specifically Fort Derick. While there is no clear evidence of coordination on spreading disinformation between Russia and China, this is yet another case showing how these two countries are willing to amplify each other’s narratives.

  • The Russian Embassy to Slovakia has recruited Slovak nationals to conduct espionage. Slovak authorities have arrested four individuals suspected of cooperating with Russia’s intelligence services via the Russian Embassy in Bratislava. One of the detained is Bohuš Garbár, an active contributor to two alternative media websites Hlavné správy and Armádní magazín. The editor of Hlavné správy, which is currently blocked due to spreading of disinformation and pro-Russian narratives related to the war in Ukraine, distanced himself from Garbár, claiming no knowledge of his contacts at the Russian Embassy. Yet, the case shows evidence for the long-suspected links between Russia and alternative Slovak media space. Similarly, a former Assistant of a Slovak Member of Parliament from the extremist ĽSNS (People’s Party Our Slovakia) party was implicated for leaking information from classified reports of Slovak intelligence services. ĽSNS has also received donations of €10,000 from Garbár, casting further suspicion on the potential Russian involvement. The far-right political party has championed Slovakia’s departure from both the EU and NATO and closer ties with Russia. Two other detained suspected informants for Russia are the vice-dean of Slovak armed forces academy and a Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) officer. Slovakia has already expelled three Russian diplomats in relation to the case.

  • Orbán’s Hungary remains Putin's sole ally in V4. The Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia traveled by train to Ukraine to show diplomatic solidarity with the embattled country. Apart from Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland was also represented by Deputy Prime Minister and PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. This visit signified strong support from the Czech Republic and Poland for Ukraine, in addition to being the largest recipients of Ukrainian refugees, active providers of military and humanitarian aid, and supporters of early EU integration. During the visit, the leaders discussed sanctions and their effectiveness, humanitarian and military aid, and diplomatic measures to end the conflict. Kaczynski also raised the issue of a NATO peacekeeping mission to Ukraine that was later supported by several member states but remains unlikely. Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger declined to join the visit based on the recommendation of his security services, which he later said was a mistake. Slovakia is also considering providing Ukraine with the Soviet era S-300 air defense system. The Patriot system provided by Germany and the Netherlands is already being deployed to Slovakia to upgrade the country’s defense system, opening the window for providing the S-300 to its eastern neighbor. Meanwhile, Hungary is taking a considerably different approach to the Russian invasion from its V4 partners. The war in Ukraine has figured prominently in the run-up to the Hungarian parliamentary elections, complicating Orbán's reelection bid. Orbán’s government, which has for a long time been one of closest partners of Moscow in the region, has made it clear that it will support neither the EU sanctions against Russian energy suppliers nor a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine. Orbán has also openly criticized the opposition ahead of early April elections, proclaiming that they wish to drag Hungary into the war.

  • Russian aggression in Ukraine presents yet another challenge for EU-China relations. With the EU-China summit on April 1 approaching, there are expectations in some corners in Europe that China might step up and play a positive role in resolving the situation in Ukraine. However, to this point, there has been little indication that China is willing to step in. Instead, only vague signs of willingness to mediate in the conflict without any practical follow-up have been communicated. Additionally, China has only offered paltry humanitarian aid to Ukraine thus far. Moreover, Beijing has continued to blame the West for war. Still, it serves China to play up its potential role and potentially exact concessions from the EU. At the same time, while overshadowed by the Russian invasion, the Lithuania-China spat continues. Trade data shows that bilateral trade collapsed after China’s unofficial boycott late next year, delivered in “punishment” for Vilnius’ development of ties with Taiwan. While the Baltic country has called for the EU-China summit to be canceled in light of China’s position on Ukraine, there is apparently no support for such a move on the EU level. However, hopes that the EU can convince China to leverage its influence on Russia are most likely overly optimistic.

  • MapInfluenCE leader Ivana Karásková outlined the confluence of Russian and Chinese information operations targeting Central and Eastern European countries at the European Parliament's Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE) meeting (watch here).
  • “To say that 140 million Russians stand by the regime and its war against Ukraine is not only a dangerous exaggeration but also a strategic mistake,” explains our analyst on Russia Pavel Havlíček in his article for Visegrad Insight (read here).
  • “Many Central and Eastern European leaders and citizens will feel compelled to gloat about their warnings that fell on deaf ears for so many years. In many respects, this is justified,” comments our analyst Kevin Curran for Euronews (read here).

  • The latest Voice for CHOICE podcast features our Polish analyst Alicja Bachulska, who dives into the issue of China-Russia ties, Polish president Andrzej Duda's trip to the Olympics, and mass misinformation aimed at Poland (listen here).

Based upon popular demand and a spate of last-minute requests, our sister project CHOICE decided to extend the application deadline for the 2022 Future CHOICE Summer School: Untangling EU-China Relations! 

The extended window will remain open until March 27.

Find all the information about the program here.

Best regards

Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE

Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

Contributions from: Filip Šebok, Veronika Blablová

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE








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