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How Pro-Russia Influencers Framed Taiwan’s Elections on Telegram

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How Pro-Russia Influencers Framed Taiwan’s Elections on Telegram

An investigation into pro-Kremlin Telegram users reveals Russia’s influence operations regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy.

How Pro-Russia Influencers Framed Taiwan’s Elections on Telegram
Credit: Depositphotos

Taiwan’s national elections on January 13 led to a clear victory for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s presidential candidate, Lai Ching-te, but a split legislature. According to Doublethink Lab, Taiwan was the target of frequent information operations that likely stemmed from China in the lead-up to the election. Particularly, Chinese state actors amplified stories that exacerbated internal conflict within Taiwan in the pre-election period, such as alleged scandals of DPP politicians, and completely fabricated stories closer to election day. 

Doublethink Lab also investigated how pro-Kremlin Russian Telegram users with a substantial following framed discussions about the Taiwanese elections. With the help of a large Telegram database previously compiled by our partners at Mantis Analytics, we conducted a thematic analysis to investigate narratives circulating among widely-viewed Russian Telegram accounts. However, we likely only scratched the surface of Russian Telegram discussions surrounding the Taiwanese elections.

The following analysis outlines how pro-Kremlin Telegram users leveraged the elections to call into doubt Taiwan’s sovereignty and undermine faith in its democracy.

DPP vs. KMT, or the “Americans” vs. the “Chinese”

One of the common themes we identified was a tendency to equate the DPP with Americans and the main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), with Chinese. One prominent Russian China commentator, Nikolai Vavilov, who has approximately 150,000 subscribers on his Telegram account, drew one such parallel in his post-election analysis by saying that Taiwan was now ruled by “the triumvirate – both ‘Americans’ and ‘Chinese’ achieved equal results and the third party – the ‘populists’ – became the ‘key’ to any decision in parliament.” Vavilov suggested that Taiwanese political parties are directly backed by the two superpowers—the DPP are the “Americans” and the KMT are the “Chinese.” 

Vavilov styles himself as an authoritative voice on Chinese affairs in the Russian language space and has a YouTube channel with over 200,000 subscribers. He frequently appears as a commentator on Russian news broadcasts, such as the far-right Tsargrad TV network and the state broadcaster Rossiya 1. For example, as recently as January 17, 2024, Vavilov posted a segment in which he was a guest speaker on Tsargrad TV, which has been banned from YouTube since July 2020.

Vavilov portrays the DPP as the instigator of hostilities between China and Taiwan, insinuating that the Taiwanese government is provoking China. Particularly, he suggests that the DPP aspires to change the constitution to enshrine Taiwan’s independence as law. He writes that the DPP is “likely to further arm the island, demonize Beijing, and create a mobilization base.” 

Vavilov also mentions the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), the third party in the election that ran on a platform of providing an alternative to the two major parties. The party, which won eight seats in the Legislative Yuan, will be crucial in any future coalition-building, as both the DPP and KMT failed to secure a majority of the seats. Vavilov argues that the DPP would not fulfill its goal of declaring independence unless the TPP, or the “populists,” are swayed by external influence, presumably from the United States. Of course, Vavilov’s hypothesis that the DPP would change the constitution if given a majority in the Legislative Yuan falls flat, given that the DPP has held control of the presidency and legislature for the last eight years.

In a post that received over 28,000 views, another Telegram user suggested that China must “negotiate” with people living in Miaoli County, a region that votes predominantly for the KMT, so that a “quiet beach landing” can occur in the event of an amphibious invasion. The post is interesting as it not only connects the KMT as being a pro-China party, but also suggests that the user understands that Miaoli County is regarded as a KMT stronghold, and is therefore reasonably well informed about Taiwan’s politics. The user, a self-declared expert in Chinese militarism, Russian-Chinese relations, and conflict in the Asia-Pacific, frequently posts in support of the People’s Liberation Army.

In summary, observed Telegram accounts frequently describe the DPP and KMT as being the “American” party and “Chinese” party, respectively. These oversimplified labels send the message that Taiwan is not in control of its own destiny; its existence is only permitted by the two superpowers with interests in the Taiwan Strait. 

The United States as a Provocateur 

Another prominent theme throughout many Telegram posts is the role that the United States plays in the region, particularly as an instigator of conflict. A win for the DPP is framed as a continuation of U.S. weapons and military infrastructure being provided to Taiwan – leading to an inevitable war in the Taiwan Strait due to U.S. actions. 

Military and political analyst Boris Rozhin has a popular account with over 800,000 subscribers that frequently spreads narratives of U.S. interference in both Ukraine and the Asia-Pacific. Although he normally reports on Russia’s war in Ukraine, he has also created widely circulated posts on Taiwan in the past. Following the Taiwanese election, Rozhin acknowledged that the “pro-American” candidate (i.e. Lai Ching-te) won and suggested that the likelihood of war had increased. 

In another post, he stated that the DPP’s electoral victory “means that the U.S. maintains control” over potential war against China, and warned that more aggressive actions against China, in the form of official U.S. visits to Taiwan, military provocations, and “information-diplomatic attacks,” are now more likely. 

Memes exemplified the United States supposed role in stoking cross-strait tensions. One user insinuated that Taiwan’s election was a battle between American and Chinese puppets by posting an image of Uncle Sam and a panda at odds with one another behind a puppet show, with the caption, “In the recent Taiwanese elections, Uncle Sam pulled the strings more effectively.” 

Screenshot of a post on Telegram.

On another Telegram account, a user shared a mock front-page story in English satirizing the New York Times with the headline, “CIA Wins Taiwan Elections,” which stated that Lai won the election “despite more people (60 percent) voting against him.” The mock story also featured a picture of Lai and National Endowment for Democracy CEO Damon Wilson (misspelled in the post as “MacWilson”), with the caption describing the organization as a “CIA spin-off.” 

Screenshot of a post on Telegram.

Such memes fuel the narrative that conflict in the Taiwan Strait is a proxy conflict between the United States and China, with the former leveraging Taiwan for its own geopolitical benefit. The election results additionally provided an opportunity for pro-Kremlin users to take shots at the United States’ foreign policy and institutions. The meme also pointed to another significant theme across Russian Telegram posts – questioning the validity of the election itself.

Questioning Taiwan’s Democratic Elections

It’s no secret that Russian influence operations heavily target elections and sow distrust in democratic systems. The Telegram accounts we observed similarly honed in on Taiwan’s democratic process, primarily by targeting the election results. 

As previously mentioned, Taiwan’s 2024 elections were unique in that they fielded a strong third party candidate, the TPP’s Ko Wen-je, the former Taipei City mayor. The TPP garnered a significant share of the votes in the election by attracting voters who were frustrated with the incumbent DPP and the longstanding KMT. Because Taiwan’s presidential elections have no run-off and candidates only require a plurality of the votes to win, votes against the DPP were divided between the KMT and TPP, leading to the DPP’s Lai Ching-te winning with just over 40 percent of the votes. 

Pro-Kremlin Telegram users immediately targeted the elections to draw attention to the supposedly unfair results. For example, users would highlight Lai’s 40 percent victory to infer that the majority of Taiwanese people are actually in favor of closer ties with China. These posts turned into a numbers game; not only would users mention Lai’s less-than-50 percent victory, but also factor in voter turnout. 

One user proposed that Lai actually won 29 percent of the vote after factoring in turnout (in making this calculation, the user incorrectly posted that the voter turnout was 74 percent; Taiwan’s Central Election Commission reported voter turnout to be just under 72 percent). The user went on to ask whether people will think that CNN, the private American media outlet, would write about the “so-called legitimacy of the so-called winner, for whom essentially 29 percent [of the population] voted, only slightly more than a quarter of the country’s residents.” These assertions drastically oversimplify the views of Taiwanese voters of all parties. 

Screenshot of a post in Telegram.

Interestingly, the same user posted a video from the Taiwanese media outlet UDN the following day on a minor election-day controversy. According to CNA, roughly 100 residents of Taiwan’s Kinmen Island were stranded at Taipei Songshan Airport after being told that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) would provide them with free air transport back to the island to vote. However, due to miscommunication between the Civil Aviation Administration and the MND, air transport could not be provided to the voters to return to their precinct in time. In the Telegram post, the UDN video consisted of interviews with stranded Kinmen residents expressing their anger with the authorities. 

Using the video as justification (and without translating it for the audience), the user suggested that the government cut off flights to the island to prevent the “80 percent” of KMT supporters on the island from voting. CNA reported that the army could not conduct the flight as military personnel were limited to allow for other service members to vote. Nonetheless, this Telegram post amplifying election interference narratives by the Taiwanese government reached over 26,000 users.

Taiwan Foreign Ministry’s Response to Kremlin Counterpart Draws Ire from Russian Users

After the election, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded to a question from the press regarding Russia’s position toward Taiwan. In her response, Zakharova reiterated that Russia acknowledges Taiwan as “an inalienable part of China” and that attempts to use the election to “pressure Beijing and destabilize the situation in the strait…must be condemned.” 

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) issued a response condemning Russia’s claims and stating that “Russia has willingly become an accomplice of the Chinese Communist Party regime.” (In the original Mandarin, the language is even stronger, using the term “打手,” usually translated as “thug” or “henchman” rather than “accomplice.”)

As recently reported by Ukraine Crisis Media Center, the rebuttal from Taiwan’s MOFA ignited fierce comments from pro-Kremlin Telegram accounts. In one long-winded post, a user, who seems to be a research associate at a Russian university, described MOFA’s rebuke as hypocritical and described Taiwan’s de facto independence as being purely a result of intervention from the United States in the 1950s. Moreover, Russia is painted as a victim of the West for simply stating their official policy position – one that, the user claimed, is also the position of the United States. The user drew parallels with U.S. involvement in Ukraine are also drawn, again painting Russia as a victim that has been dealing with the “consequences for almost two years now.” 

Users responded in another similar post by suggesting that “Taiwan is a puppet of the United States” and that the United States “uses Taiwan to destabilize the region – somewhat like Ukraine 2.0.”


Political developments in Taiwan captured the attention of pro-Kremlin Russian Telegram, many of whom spoke out on Taiwan’s political future. The way that Taiwanese political parties are framed by online users and the events surrounding the election fuel deep narratives that question Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy. These narratives also frame Taiwan as a mere pawn in a larger battle between two superpowers and significantly antagonize the United States. 

Given the surface level similarities, Ukraine has become a natural comparison to Taiwan, and many users fixate on the supposed role of the United States in the invasion of Ukraine and in cross-strait relations between China and Taiwan. As Russia’s war drags on and Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks further validation from China, antagonism toward Taiwan on Telegram may ramp up, and Russia may become more vocal on issues in the Taiwan Strait.  

Readers interested in this topic are encouraged to register to attend “Ukraine – Taiwan: Exploring shared experiences in countering disinformation” on March 22 at 10:00 in Kyiv (16:00 in Taipei). The event will feature speakers from UCMC, Doublethink Lab & Mantis Analytics, Ukrainian political scientists and legislators discussing information exchange across the Ukraine-Taiwan bilateral and how to counter PRC-Russia cooperation and FIMI-related threats.