ISSN 2330-717X

Is Baku Buying Off Russian Media To Promote Pro-Azerbaijani Positions? – OpEd

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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.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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