Over the last weeks, the standoff between the federal government and Texas state authorities over border security and immigration has made headlines in the United States — and proven a hot topic in Russia and China.
In Russia, government officials and state media are publicly cheering for U.S. civil disruption, supporting the Lone Star state’s controversial and hypothetical referendum on whether to secede from the United States.
By comparison, the Chinese official stance on the issue remains restrained. No government officials have commented on the U.S. border escalation, and state media reports are largely accurate.
Yet hashtags “U.S. civil war” and “Texas has entered a state of war” have been allowed to trend on China’s tightly controlled social media.
Russian government officials and state media are savoring the U.S. border dispute. Op-eds, analyses, and social media posts predict a “bloody civil war” in the U.S., sympathize with, and offer help in the “liberation” of the state of Texas.
In a post on X, Dmitry Medvedev, the former president and prime minister who is currently deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said the U.S. border dispute is “another vivid example of the US hegemony getting weaker.”
“Establishing a People’s Republic of Texas is getting more and more real,” he wrote, adding that this could lead to “a bloody civil war which cost thousands upon thousands of lives.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova mocked U.S. President Joe Biden’s handling of the border standoff.
“It’s high time the American president, following in his predecessor Obama's footsteps, declares 'Texas must go' and assembles an international coalition to liberate its residents in the name of democracy," she wrote on her Telegram channel.
Zakharova’s nod was to U.S. President Barack Obama’s famous “Assad must go,” in March 2013. The U.S. and others accused Russia-backed Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces of indiscriminate violence in Syria’s civil war.
Russian lawmaker Sergey Mironov posted on X his support for Texas “independence referendum” and offered help.
"In the conflict between Texas and the United States, I am on the side of the state,” he wrote. “If necessary, we are ready to help with the independence referendum. And of course, we will recognize the People's Republic of Texas if there is one. Good luck! We're with you!"
Russia’s RT state broadcaster has been consistently pushing out narratives saying the U.S. is on the brink of a civil war.
But the enthusiasm in Moscow is nothing new. The Kremlin has long sponsored annual conferences on secessionist movements from around the world, many featuring presentations by activists from the U.S. states of Texas and California, and, according to ABC News, the self-proclaimed "King of Hawaii."
To organize and host such ‘conferences” the Kremlin uses proxy groups like the obscure Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, a Moscow-based “think tank” run by U.S.-sanctioned figure Alexander Ionov.
Ionov’s group has covered the airfare and accommodations for Texan delegates who have attended the annual gatherings in Russia.
Ionov displays the Texan nationalist group’s flag on one wall of his office along with letters of commendation signed by Vladimir Putin.
On social media, primarily X, Russian users with obvious state allegiance have also expressed support for Texas’ “freedom.”
“Texas we are with you! Freedom for Texas!” and "We are of course for Texas, the Lone Star State, which has fully earned its right to self-determination."
Bret Schafer, a senior fellow of media and digital disinformation at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), told Polygraph.info that the U.S. civil war narrative “is something that has popped up for at least a decade (in Russia), various secessionist narratives around Taxes, various breakaway stories.”
He said that Russian state media and Russian troll armies have a track-record of trying to push for armed conflict in the United States, so the narratives by Russian officials and state media are no surprise during this round of their online campaign.
By comparison, government officials and state media in China have not taken public stance in the controversy. State media like CCTV and Xinhua refrain from directly commenting on the Texas border standoff.
GMF’s Schafer believes this has to do with Beijing and Moscow’s differing motives.
“While Russia usually does seek to cause chaos in the US, China typically has not,” he told Polygraph.info. “A U.S. that devolves into a civil war isn't particularly good for the Chinese economy, while this is a zero-sum game for Russia, where Russia looks at America being zero as a benefit.”
Schafer said it is unlikely that Chinese officials would publicly discuss the border crisis in the U.S.
Nevertheless, China usually takes advantage of civil unrest in the U.S. to promote its model of governance, and its censors are allowing a heated debate about the border controversy to take place in China’s tight-controlled social media.
Hashtag “Texas has entered a state of war” was trending on China’s X-like microblogging site Weibo earlier this week, with posts backing the Lone Star State’s tough stance and calling for it to secede from the United States.
On Weibo, multiple influencers are pushing out disinformation that Texas is in a state of war with the federal government.
“At least 400 Humvees, 72 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and 48 M109 self-propelled howitzers were sent to the front line in Texas. Texas governor has declared a state of war,” wrote a Weibo user with the handle Pingyuan Prince, who has more than 1.2 million followers on Weibo.
In fact, Texas Governor Abbott has never declared a state of war against the federal government, and the images of tanks spreading on Chinese social media are in fact Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles being shipped to Fort Bliss in Texas for a military exercise and have nothing to do with the Texas border crisis.
As reported by Wenhao Ma of VOA's Mandarin Service, many of the false and apocryphal rumors about Texas found on Chinese social media have not been debunked or punished but have been spread on Weibo and other platforms as "hot search topics."
Responses to such false posts often express excitement.
One wrote: “A divided America will mean peace for the world!”
“We stand with the people of Texas!” another cheered.
Some have echoed statements from Russian officials, reposting Zakharova’s “Texas must go” and Medvedev’s “People’s Republic of Texas” comments.
Other readers did not take the civil war narrative seriously.
“We want peace, not hot war,” a third post read.
“Don’t take this seriously, it’s all just for the election,” another argued.
Illegal immigration has been at a crisis level at the Texas border in recent years.
According to data from the Department of Homeland Security, illegal entries in December 2023 reached 371,036, a record high. Border Patrols intercepted some 302,034 people at the U.S. southern border, nearly 250,000 have been detained between the ports of entry.
Olivia Wee contributed to this report.