By Paul Goble
Last fall, the Nezygar telegram channel reported that Baku via its SOCAR company and embassy in Moscow was investing in Russian media outlets to ensure that they would promote pro-Azerbaijani positions, a violation of Moscow’s understanding of the rules of the game (eadaily.com/ru/news/2020/10/08/smi-v-kremle-razdrazheny-usilivayushchimsya-vliyaniem-baku-v-rossiyskih-media).
That was during the latest round of Armenian-Azerbaijani fighting. Now that the difficult task of reaching an agreement on the border between the two countries has arisen, some Moscow outlets have resuscitated this story, suggesting that it is a continuing concern in the Kremlin (e.g., realtribune.ru/azerbajdzhan-pokupaet-rossijskie-smi).
It does not appear that Moscow has any more evidence of this now than it did in October 2020, but the appearance of the story again does indicate that some in the Russian capital are worried about a phenomenon that few have focused on, the ability of countries like Azerbaijan with deep pockets to buy into the Russian media and seek to influence Russian opinion.
What may be going on now is the preparation of new charges against more media outlets that they are “foreign agents,” in this case not acting on behalf of Western countries but for former Soviet republics and CIS member states like Azerbaijan, a use of the “foreign agents” law far different from what many have expected.
But it may simply be a warning shot both to Baku and to Russian media outlets that the powers that be in Moscow are not going to tolerate such outside involvement inside Russia even if it comes from countries that are nominally in good relations with the Russian Federation.