Olga Loiek
China is reportedly spreading AI-generated videos of Russian women who praise China and want to marry Chinese men. YouTube Screenshot / Olga Loiek

A new online trend sees short videos featuring two young Russian women, fluent in Mandarin, praising China's culture and progress while criticising their home country's men.

This trend is said to be Chinese cyber actors that have become significantly more aggressive in the past year in pushing both agenda and patriotism - establishing ties between China and Russia. Their attacks once focused on regional rivals, now target major global powers like the United States and India. This shift hints at a calculated strategy by China to expand its cyber operations, using more sophisticated methods to disrupt foreign elections and manipulate policy.

Microsoft has uncovered a coordinated cyber espionage campaign by multiple Chinese groups, including groups Volt Typhoon and the Nylon Typhoon. These groups are launching sophisticated attacks to steal secrets from the US defence industry and disrupt critical infrastructure worldwide.

This aligns with a recent report by Amnesty International detailing China's growing focus on monitoring and potentially silencing its citizens studying abroad for political activism. This approach contrasts with their well-documented tactics of using technology and intimidation to suppress dissent within China itself.

China's Rise of AI-powered Social Media Videos

Chinese influence operators have intensified their disinformation campaigns ahead of the impending elections in the US and India. They are exploiting new technologies, such as generative AI, to produce and disseminate AI-generated memes and deepfakes targeting political figures and sensitive issues.

"The influence actors behind these campaigns have shown a willingness to both amplify AI-generated media that benefits their strategic narratives, as well as create their own video, memes, and audio content," Microsoft Threat Intelligence said.

According to Microsoft, this manipulation has fueled social divisions within the United States and widened existing rifts in the Asia-Pacific region. China is leveraging AI to create compelling multimedia content, like the recent "A Fractured America" series by state media outlet CGTN.

This series exemplifies this shift, showcasing AI-generated documentaries that critique various societal issues in the United States, portraying it as a declining nation. According to a report by Aljazeera, the series' use of AI aims to shape international perceptions and potentially exacerbate existing divisions within the US.

Russia's relationship with many nations has changed after President Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine. Russia relies on Iran for drones and North Korea for missiles. The war in Ukraine has triggered a dramatic shift in global power dynamics. China, defying the West's sanctions, has become a lifeline for Russia's oil industry.

Stronger ties with Russia, fueled by AI advancements, are seen favourably by Chinese nationalists, according to a report in The Economist. Recent online trends feature short videos with young Russian women praising Chinese culture and expressing interest in marrying Chinese men. Some have interpreted these videos as appealing to Chinese nationalistic sentiment.

AI -generated videos of Russian women
AI -generated videos of Russian women praises China and expresses desire to marry a Chinese man. Twitter / Byron Wan @Byron_Wan

The videos depict young Russian women, often with Slavic names like Natasha and Sofia, speaking Mandarin and expressing positive views on Chinese culture, society, and technology. They contrast this with their experiences in Russia, and some mention a desire for marriage and family life.

Additionally, some videos feature women expressing a desire for marriage and traditional family roles like cooking, washing clothes and bearing children. Despite potentially appealing to some Chinese viewers, these videos featuring young Russian women praising China and expressing interest in marriage are actually deepfakes created using readily available artificial intelligence tools.

Viral Videos Push Products, Patriotism And Propaganda

The straightforward production process requires only short snippets of real video footage. By combining short snippets of actual footage with dubbing and advanced video editing software, creators can manipulate the appearance and speech of any woman to fit their desired narrative.

Much to her chagrin, Olga Loiek, a Ukrainian woman studying in America, recently discovered that somebody had used her face and voice to impersonate various fictitious "Russians who speak Mandarin." Reacting to these videos, Loiek said: "I was disgusted and felt like my personal autonomy was violated."

These AI-generated videos, spreading on social media, have garnered significant attention and raised red flags. These videos often push products or promote a rosy view of China. Notably, Chinese authorities are taking a closer look.

Last month, the country's top cyberspace regulator introduced rules demanding clear labelling of this AI-generated content to avoid misleading viewers. However, nationalists' pride over China's perceived role as a powerful ally of Russia runs deep, and the fake Russian women are attracting their attention. Don't be surprised if they make a comeback.