The Russian Embassy in London has been accused of adopting a “white supremacist symbol” after it tweeted criticism of Theresa May alongside an image of the cartoon Pepe the Frog.
The embassy has amassed more than 40,000 followers on the social media platform with a combination of provocative statements and comments on controversial issues, as well as engagement with a series of popular memes.
It tweeted on Monday to question Britain’s “trust” in the US after Boris Johnson made a hastily-arranged trip to New York and Washington to meet with officials from the Trump transition team.
The post read: “In today’s papers: pundits call on @Theresa_May to disrupt possible Russia-US thaw. No trust in Britain's best friend and ally?”
The embassy received hundreds of replies in a matter of hours, but most focussed more on the image accompanying the tweet than the words themselves.
That’s because the smirking green cartoon frog has largely been co-opted by white supremacist and “alt-right” movements in the US, more so since Donald Trump became the Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential election.
The Daily Beast has previously quoted two anonymous white nationalist activists as stating Pepe the Frog was deliberately “mixed with Nazi propaganda” through “an actual campaign” organised online.
And while it stresses the cartoon emerged from innocent beginnings in 2005 and is not inherently a racist meme in its own right, the US Anti-Defamation League has categorised it as a hate symbol.
During the US election campaign, an article produced by Hillary Clinton’s team described Pepe as “almost entirely co-opted by the white supremacists who call themselves the ‘alt-right’”, and said the Trump connection to the meme was “horrifying”.
The “papers” referenced in the Russian Embassy’s tweet appear to include The Times, which ran an editorial on Monday suggesting the West “should worry that Mr Trump and Mr Putin could draw up a grand bargain stretching well beyond the Middle East”.
One reply advised the embassy: “This is a white supremacist symbol..You just told all minorities who Russia stands with..”
Another Twitter user responded: “This is grossly offensive. Pepe is a recognised symbol of Neo Nazis. U people are in the gutter with them obviously”.
And others seemed to doubt such a message could be sent by a genuine embassy account. American user Jess asked: “Are you a real embassy? This continues to seem... unprofessional.”
A handful of embassy staff are reported to be responsible for contributing to the verified embassy Twitter account, among them the ambassador Alexander Yakovenko.
And it is not the first time the profile has been used to wade into international politics, often controversially.
When the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats at the end of last year, the embassy mocked Barack Obama as a lame duck. It again used a picture to make its point – in this case a duckling next to the word LAME, and a caption that read “hapless”.
Last week, Oxford University digital diplomacy expert Ilan Manor told The Times that the embassy’s profile was a textbook example of how Russian officials are using the medium to undermine Western principles.
“It is a conscious attempt to frame issues and win debates and public opinion,” he said.
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