Маргарита Симоньян (Фото: Екатерина Кузьмина / РБК)

Маргарита Симоньян (Фото: Екатерина Кузьмина / РБК)

“RIA Novosti violated the requirements of the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “On Information, Informatization and Protection of Information” by disseminating slanderous and separatist information on the information Internet resource directed against the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan,”  reads the statement of the ministry.

The patience of the Azerbaijani authorities was filled with an interview in RIA Novosti with the so-called State Minister of the NKR Artak Beglaryan, who made separatist statements that run counter to the initiatives of Russia and the European Union on the reconciliation of Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The state-run RIA Novosti presents Beglaryan as the minister of an accomplished state education, which is not recognized by Russia, Armenia, or the international community.

Earlier, official Baku reacted harshly to such attacks by the Russian media and politicians, mainly representing the Russian parliament. In particular, Azerbaijan was annoyed by the biased position of the Russia Today (RT) media holding, which includes the RIA Novosti and Sputnik agencies. The holding is headed by Russian journalist Margarita Simonyan, a descendant of fifth-generation Armenian settlers.

Simonyan does not hide her  negative attitude towards Azerbaijan, Turkey and openly called for blocking relations between the two sovereign countries. In an interview with the KP, she recommended that Russia should stand up for its own interests in the conflict over Karabakh. According to Simonyan, these interests are as follows: Turkey must get out of the South Caucasus so that Azerbaijan would not become its province, and Armenia would have a pro-Russian course. 

It is no secret that Russia wants to maintain its influence throughout the entire post-Soviet space in an exclusive manner, but at the same time acts within the framework of realpolitik and after the collapse of the USSR agreed to a foreign presence in the former socialist republics, as well as on its own territory. And here the head of RT does not reveal anything new. Another thing is that, based on a conflict of interest, it would be better for her, as a representative of a nation that is in a state of conflict with Azerbaijan, to distance herself from projecting her personal relationship onto Armenian-Azerbaijani, Russian-Azerbaijani, as well as Armenian-Russian relations. This is how she reacted to the conclusion of peace on November 9-10, 2020: “Burn in hell, creature (Pashinyan - ed.)! Approximately such moods reign now in Yerevan, on Pashinyan’s Facebook and in my kitchen,” she wrote in her post.

In February, at a meeting in TASS of the Club of Chief Editors of the Russian Federation with President Aliyev, she raised the issue of infringement of the rights of Armenians wishing to visit Azerbaijan. That is, she did not fail to use the Russian state information platform to promote the goals and interests of a certain part of the Armenians. By the way, Aliyev pointed this out in his answer.

But is it possible in this case to say that these actions of Simonyan are her autonomous self-expression outside the context of the policy of the Russian state regarding Azerbaijan? In the event that Simonyan would be an ordinary citizen, and not a state servant, then this could be understood. But since it represents the information interests of the state, which vigilantly monitors the actions of its servants, then in this case its independent information activity is completely excluded. And the actions of Simonyan have to be perceived as the position of the Russian state. And the fact that the state is often behind such attacks, there are plenty of examples in the history of Azerbaijani-Russian relations.

Let's take, for example, the notorious interview of the so-called state minister of the Armenian-populated territory of Karabakh (APTK). It was distributed by a significant number of Russian media:

https://ria.ru/20220603/karabakh-1792782076.html

https://ru.armeniasputnik.am/20220603/karabakh-vedet-peregovory-s-armeniey-o-priznanii-no-podvizhek-net---artak-beglaryan-42757835.html

https://www.rosbalt.ru/world/2022/06/03/1960837.html

https://iz.ru/1344214/2022-06-03/nagornyi-karabakh-vedet-peregovory-o-priznanii-s-armeniei

https://regnum.ru/news/3609260.html

https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/5382620

https://www.mk.ru/politics/2022/06/03/v-karabakhe-zakhoteli-bessrochnogo-prisutstviya-rossiyskikh-mirotvorcev.html

https://eadaily.com/ru/news/2022/06/03/kak-ravnyy-s-ravnym-no-bez-priznaniya-karabah-podelilsya-peregovorami-s-armeniey

https://life.ru/p/1499135

https://svpressa.ru/politic/news/335909/

https://lenta.ru/news/2022/06/03/mirotvorci/

https://www.gazeta.ru/tags/person/artak_beglaryan.shtml

The current media in Russia, as in Azerbaijan, are almost without exception controlled by the state. They may formally have state and commercial status, but in reality, this does not change anything. And therefore, in Russian and Azerbaijani government circles, they perfectly capture the messages that the media sends. Both Moscow and Baku want the loyalty not only of their domestic journalists, but also of the opposite side. And they consider criticism of the opposite side unacceptable. An example of this is the blocking of Azerbaijani sites by the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor), which started in March, and at least five Azerbaijani sites have already been banned for no reason. Considering that caliber.az, which specializes in military topics, has been blocked since April 28, it can be assumed that the sanctions were introduced in connection with the coverage of the war in Ukraine in a way that is not beneficial to Russia.

The blocking of RIA Novosti by Azerbaijan, as well as Azerbaijani websites by Russia, is an emergency measure and signals some tension in relations between the two elites. In May, Baku and Moscow tried to relieve information tension when a Russian emissary arrived in the capital of Azerbaijan privately to settle the conflict with RT at a high level. But judging by the fact that the conflict continues, the parties could not come to an average denominator. The authorities in Russia are burdened by the war in Ukraine, Western sanctions and information control over their own society, unprecedented since the collapse of the USSR. The authorities in Azerbaijan are striving to quickly close the page of the conflict with Armenia and are also making excessive efforts to limit the information freedom of society.

The current information tension between Azerbaijan and Russia should be characterized as tactical. Strategically, these similar authoritarian systems have common goals and objectives, which are formed within the framework of interstate agreements in the field of information security and interaction.

They are also united by the policy towards Western information initiatives and approaches to freedom of speech and expression. In the near future, Moscow plans to conclude another agreement with Baku in the field of information security

Russia and Azerbaijan can even be called brothers in the field of suppression of freedom of speech. According to the World Press Freedom Index, Russia and Azerbaijan continue to lead the group of not free countries for a long time. True, in the report for 2022, Azerbaijan lost 1 point to Russia, ranking 154th  in the list of 180 countries.

In the article “Russian Information Influence in Azerbaijan”, published in March 2018, we have already noted the basic principles of interaction between the authorities of the two countries. These principles have not changed:

"After Vladimir Putin came to power, Moscow is stepping up its information influence. Under the patronage of the authorities of the two countries in June 2002, the Interfax-Azerbaijan news agency was created http://interfax.az/, a subsidiary of the Interfax agency. In September 2005, the "Novosti-Azerbaijan" agency was created - a subsidiary of RIA Novosti. In September 2014, the Azerbaijani branch of the Sputnik news agency is being created https: https://sputnik.az/, which is part of the structure of the international agency "Russia Today". In all three cases, the Azerbaijani side was the financial sponsor of the projects. On the one hand, the Azerbaijani authorities tried to satisfy Moscow's information requests, and, on the other hand, to use new resources to maintain Azerbaijan's positive image in Russia and other countries.

Along with this, since 2009, the authorities have closed the Azerbaijani services of the BBC and Radio-Azadlig, which actively worked according to international standards and had high popularity among Azerbaijani audiences.

The economic crisis in Russia led to a reduction in its information presence. For example, RIANovosti merged with "Russia Today", while in Azerbaijan the subsidiary structure is being closed, replaced by the branch "Russia Today". The branch is located in the building of the Baku International Press Center, which is the property of Ali Hasanov, the presidential assistant on public-political issues.

Information content is formed primarily from the interests of Moscow, although the interests of official Baku are also taken into account. In the information politics the advantage is given to the expression of positions of similar or close views of Moscow and Baku:

West:

exports democracy,

uses for its own purposes the topic of protection of human rights, minorities,

strives to undermine stability,

weaken economically,

grab resources,

interferes in internal affairs

wants to manage and control,

warms up the ethnic conflict.

As a counteraction to Western influence, the parties use the following messages to the society:

The country includes:

a special way of development,

national interests,

the national mentality,

religious feature,

the task of protecting material and raw materials,

the task of protecting the domestic market.

The media outlets mainly disseminate Russia's viewpoint on foreign policy processes and do not affect the internal political problems of Azerbaijan; they do not provide airtime to the opposition or independent civil society activists. In fact, they can be called part of the governmental media system of Azerbaijan."

 

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