On trend. Russia’s Foreign Ministry makes its TikTok debut with videos about Alexey Navalny and ‘Sputnik V’
At the end of last week, both the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Emergency Situations Ministry joined the popular video-sharing app TikTok. So far, Russia’s diplomats have uploaded two videos, both of which take aim at imprisoned opposition politician Alexey Navalny and his previous claims about the “Sputnik V” coronavirus vaccine. Meanwhile the Emergencies Ministry has promised viewers entertainment in the form of “tricks and challenges.”
Two of Russia’s federal ministries opened accounts on TikTok within a day of each other late last week. The first was the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, which announced that it had joined the popular video-sharing platform on February 6. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the state news agency TASS that Russia’s diplomats had been planning to open an account “for a long time,” but “the development of events in recent weeks accelerated the process.” “It’s not an homage to fashion, but merely information work,” she emphasized.
Though Zakharova didn’t specify which events she was referring to, the first two videos uploaded to the Foreign Ministry’s account made things clear. Both TikToks are about opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who was sentenced to nearly three years in prison on February 2 for alleged parole violations. In particular, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s posts refute claims that Navalny made during a live broadcast on his YouTube channel on August 13, 2020 (one week before he was poisoned with a chemical nerve agent).
During the live stream, Navalny made the following statement: “Putin’s lies about the fact that Russian scientists have invested, registered, tested, and are ready for mass use of the vaccine [are] so obvious that it causes nothing but laughter” (it’s worth noting that Navalny wasn’t the only one who doubted the effectiveness of the Russian coronavirus vaccine at the time). In response to Navalny’s statements, the Foreign Ministry quoted statements made by EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell during his official visit to Moscow in early February 2021. Referring to the interim results of the vaccine’s Phase III trial published in the scientific journal The Lancet, Borell congratulated Russian scientists on their success and expressed hopes that the European Medicines Agency would be able to register the vaccine.
So far, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s content doesn’t appear to be a hit. One of the most popular comments on the second video says the following: “Alexey Navalny is so much so a useless blogger that the Russian Foreign Ministry starts a TikTok account because of him? And this is where our taxes go? Do your job.” The other comments mainly call for the release of both Navalny and other political prisoners.
Though it didn’t make any explicitly political statements, the Emergency Situations Ministry launched its official TikTok account on February 7, to “popularize a culture of safety among the population.” A press release on the agency’s website promises “challenges, tricks from rescue workers, and first-person video.” Of the four videos the ministry has posted so far, the most memorable one is of a firefighter from the Russian Far East doing a handstand on the blades of two axes. As for its first “challenge,” the Emergency Situations Ministry posted a “Never Have I Ever”-style video asking viewers questions like have they ever called the emergency services or put out a fire.Securing the TikToker vote Moscow’s authorities plan to use TikTok to promote Kremlin-backed candidates during the 2021 elections
Translation by Eilish Hart