Ukraine’s Strategic Partners: Ukraine in Azerbaijani Information Space (5)
expert of the Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy,
specially for BlackSeaNews
Strategic partners of Ukraine: The southern flank in the mirrors of the national media. Azerbaijan – Ukraine (1)
Ukraine’s Strategic Partners: Azerbaijan in Ukraine’s Information Space (2)
Ukraine's Strategic Partners: Situation in the National Media: Azerbaijan Compared to Ukraine (3)
Strategic Partners: Situation in the National Media of Ukraine (4)
With regard to Ukrainian topics in the Azerbaijani media, there are several factors that are important to take into account. First of all, we should keep in mind that before the 2022 Russian aggression, Ukraine was not of much interest to the Azerbaijani authorities and, accordingly, to the media, that prioritized other countries in the region and the world, so the number of publications was generally lower when compared to the coverage of Azerbaijani topics in Ukraine.
In addition, the position of the controlled Azerbaijani media on information related to Ukraine could be influenced by the fact that among the numerous Azerbaijani diaspora in our country — according to the Council of Azerbaijanis of Ukraine, at least 500,000 people — there are many opponents of the ruling regime, in particular, members and supporters of the opposition Musavat party. The leaders of this party — first of all, the former speaker of the parliament, now the head of the Center for National Strategic Studies (CNSS) Isa Gambar — maintain friendly relations with a number of leading Ukrainian politicians, in particular, with the charismatic leader of the Crimean Tatar people Mustafa Dzhemilev. Gambar is the author of very harsh statements about the leadership of Azerbaijan, such as:
«In Azerbaijan, those in power are ready to fulfill any task of Moscow for the sake of their position. If there is a respective order tomorrow, they will sign up for the restoration of the USSR and the invitation of the Russian army to Azerbaijan…»
The CNSS (established in 2015) also holds expert events to discuss Russia's aggressive policy and calls on the government of Azerbaijan to provide «full support to the Ukrainian allies.»
Baku's dissatisfaction could also be caused by the appeals from the representatives of the Azerbaijani diaspora to take an active part in the first summit of the «Crimean Platform» that took place on August 23, 2021. It’s a well-known fact that Azerbaijan’s leadership refused to participate even at the embassy level, apparently due to the Russia's very angry reaction to the event.
Perhaps, all those circumstances to a certain extent influenced the position and rhetoric of the Azerbaijani leaders, resulting in a relatively low level of attention to Ukraine in the country’s media, mostly controlled by the authorities. In particular, we can recall some of President Aliyev's «programmatic» speeches on the international policy, where Ukraine wasn’t even mentioned.
Among other things, it is obvious that the previous Ukrainian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Oleksandr Mishchenko, failed to establish friendly relations with the Azerbaijani press. The current situation is completely different, because Vladyslav Kanevskyi is a favorite of the local media that regularly cite his FB posts, tweets, statements and speeches, and willingly publish his articles (see, for instance, «...Ambassador Volodymyr Kanevskyi has once again proved that Ukraine is a brotherly country to Azerbaijan»).
The huge difference in the outreach activities of the Ukrainian Embassy in Baku can be best illustrated with the following example. On June 19, 2015, Mishchenko complained about the negative publications on Ukraine and the Embassy on the Haqqin.az website and the latter's refusal to interview him, asking the Azerbaijani media to publish his statement on the matter. Here is what it said:
«...during the last period alone, the internet portal Haqqin.az has published three times deliberately false information about Ukraine, the leadership of Ukraine, the Embassy of Ukraine in the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Head of the Ukrainian diplomatic mission in particular. ... I would like to note that not a single material submitted by the Embassy of Ukraine in the Republic of Azerbaijan has been published on the information-analytical and monitoring portal Haqqin.az.»
Only one little-known agency, SalamNews, responded and published a statement. However, it should be pointed out that this particular agency was originally registered in Russia, and in Azerbaijan is considered pro-Iranian with its activities now being investigated by law enforcement bodies. Whereas on January 6, 2023, when on behalf of the Embassy, Kanevskyi asked Haqqin.az to publish his article about President Zelensky's «peace plan», it was published on the same day.
These facts once again emphasize the importance of effective cooperation between Ukrainian diplomats and national media abroad. The success of such cooperation in the Republic of Azerbaijan is evidenced by the certificates of appreciation awarded on August 24, 2022, by Ambassador Kanevskyi to Emil Mustafayev, editor-in-chief of Minval.az, and Tofiga Gasimova, the outlet’s political commentator, whose analysis of international politics that she writes under the nickname «Nurani» is both sharp and insightful, often mentioning Ukraine in a positive way.
Unfortunately, that and similar events usually go virtually unnoticed by the Ukrainian press whereas they should be taken into account, in particular, when analyzing Azerbaijan's information policy and its changes related to the Russian-Ukrainian war.
However, in early April 2023, the almost idyllic picture described above was spoiled by a report about Ambassador Kanevskyi's unethical attitude towards the ordeal of the family of Said Huseynov - an Azerbaijani who died in the battle for Ukraine. The information was published by journalist Akper Hasanov both on Facebook and in his blog on Gazeta.ua. Later, Ukrainian politician Boryslav Bereza drew attention to it, which did not go unnoticed by the Azerbaijani media («Boryslav Bereza Shamed Ukraine’s Ambassador to Azerbaijan,» from April 4, 2023).
Two days later, the Embassy and Ambassador Kanevskyi's Facebook pages posted a comment that referred to the dissemination of information «distorting the activities of the Embassy to strengthen the strategic partnership between Ukraine and Azerbaijan» and «containing elements of a defamatory nature.» It was noted that «unverified information on sensitive issues disseminated in a provocative manner by some bloggers causes reputation damage, including to the diplomatic mission of Ukraine in Azerbaijan,» but «…the possibility of taking part, within the limits of competence, in finding out the causes and circumstances that led to the situation» was being considered. Of course, one would hope for the efforts not only «to establish the causes and circumstances» [of the publication], but also, to do justice to the memory of the fallen hero and provide real help to his family.
Back to the main topic, interestingly enough, the Azerbaijani media had not lacked favorable materials about Ukraine even before the outbreak of a full-scale war, but at the same time, the guests of the TV programs and authors of publications and comments had often been quite odious individuals from the Russian political establishment and expert community – such as, for instance, Sergei Markov.
The main criteria for the selection of speakers seemed to be unconditional loyalty to Azerbaijan and its political leadership, as well as the ability to amplify the vilification of Armenia as an insidious enemy or even a «fictitious nation.»
The most striking negative example of such an information policy is the regular publication of posts by the editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine, Igor Korotchenko, a «hawk»-Ukrainophobe who at the same time ardently lobbies for the interests of Azerbaijan and incites hatred towards Armenia. His most «outstanding achievements» in that field are also evidenced by the fact that at the end of September 2021 he was honored with a personal interview by President Ilham Aliyev, the fact that another apologist for the Russian-Azerbaijani alliance Alexandr Karavayev wrote about with the greatest thrill. Overall, usually Korotchenko is referred to as a «political expert and consultant» on Azerbaijani-Armenian relations, without mention of his statements on Ukraine. But on November 4, 2021, sadly, Minval.az reprinted a shocking publication from his Telegram- channel. Although the episode remains an isolated incident, I will quote some of its statements:
«Armenian society is in the same hypnotic trance as Ukrainian society.
Both countries, elevate fascist henchmen to the rank of national heroes: Nzhdeh — Bandera.
Both countries favor nighttime torchlight parades, just like the Third Reich did.
Both countries have the society deluded by the pseudo-historical myths.
Both countries have a thirst for revenge and hatred of the neighbors.
Both countries have the economy that is dying, the financial system that is ruined, and the citizens who are fleeing the country.
Both countries have rampant chauvinism.
Both countries make territorial claims against neighboring states.
Both countries are undergoing the process of social dumbing and primitivization that is gaining speed.
Both countries use bloody massacres of political opponents…»
Despite the requests of Azerbaijani friends and colleagues not to pay attention to this unfortunate incident that occurred on an online resource known, in their opinion, for being unscrupulous, I believe Ukrainian media community should have reacted, for example, by appealing to the journalistic community of the Republic of Azerbaijan to condemn the episode.
However, since February 24, 2022, anything of the sort has become unimaginable in the Azerbaijani press. From the very beginning of the full-scale war with Russia, the Azerbaijani media started paying great attention to Ukraine. In particular, diligently using the official data
— mainly from the General Staff of the AFU, but also not neglecting Telegram channels — it has been providing detailed coverage of the situation on various fronts; reporting who, when and what kind of weapons is supplying — or refusing to supply — to Ukraine, and who called who and what they talked about in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as regularly quoting daily addresses by the Ukrainian President, Foreign Minister and other officials.
To inform and analyze the events, they increasingly refer to respectable Western sources, such as the Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg, Washington Post, New York Times, The Hill and others, rather than predominantly Russian ones, as they used to before.
As a rule, the participation of Ukrainian guests in events important for Azerbaijan is regularly covered, with publications about the Ukrainian parliamentary delegation taking part in the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Heydar Aliyev's birth as an example.
Along with the emphatically respectful materials about Ukraine, its leaders and the Armed Forces, there is a growing amount of negativity towards Russia and Putin, sometimes presented in a rather derogatory manner. Here is an example:
«He [Putin] has not only failed to conquer Ukraine, but has also lost the trust of his people and the respect of almost the entire world, and is on the path to losing his country. Russia and Russians are now hated by almost all of the civilized world, its economy is rapidly declining, more and more countries are refusing to buy its energy resources, and no one wants to be friends with it, let alone trade with it, even on favorable terms. It has become a pariah, an outcast. The second army of the world and the unparalleled military-industrial complex have proven to be a myth. No one is afraid of Russia anymore, and post-Soviet countries, which even after the collapse of the USSR and the parade of sovereignties did not become completely independent of the Kremlin, are now throwing off their shackles. The leaders of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Armenia are boldly speaking the truth to Putin's face, and not only they are not punished for it, but the Russian president himself is looking for an excuse to meet with them, attending various summits in the CIS countries again and again. He had probably never visited these countries so many times in all the 22 years of his rule. But now he has no choice, since no one else invites him anywhere, so he has to be content with little.»
No, this is not a post by some Ukrainian nationalist blogger or Eastern European «Russophobe», but an excerpt from the article «The Mountain Gave Birth to a Mouse, or the Ark of Judgment Day for Pu and Co.» on an Azerbaijani website. At the same time, the authors of that and similar publications clearly have no fear of possible pressure from the authorities or aggression from the pro-Russian fellow citizens or members of the «Russian Community of Azerbaijan».
In the fall of 2022, the number of materials related to Ukraine and the Russian-Ukrainian war in the analyzed Azerbaijani media sources reached 20-40 percent and sometimes even more than half of all daily publications. Here are the examples taken on the randomly selected dates: on November 10, 2022, the pro-government Haqqin.az published 13 stories about the war in Ukraine out of the 25 total; on November 26, Minval.az — 19 out of 83, and on November 30, Turan.az — 6 out of 24.
A case in point is a report by Ukrainian military correspondent Roman Bochkala named «Nagorno-Karabakh Today. How the War Between Azerbaijan and Armenia Ended», and a heartfelt commentary to it: «Roman, thank you very much. We are so unaccustomed to someone telling the world about our tragedy that we lived with in silence for 30 years, that we appreciate any manifestation of humanity and an attempt to convey to the world the truth about what happened here, and will forever appreciate it.»
One of the most eloquent demonstrations of the attitude towards the Russian-Ukrainian war was the refusal of Azerbaijani chess player Rauf Mammadov, winner of the European Team Championship as part of the Azerbaijani national team, to continue participating in tournaments under the auspices of the International Chess Federation (FIDE). The reason is the position of FIDE, headed by Russian Arkady Dvorkovich. «I won’t play for as long as this war continues. Glory to Ukraine!» said the grandmaster.
The wide coverage of Ukrainian events has also become possible because for many years, Azertag.az correspondent is working in Ukraine on a permanent basis. In addition, after the Russian invasion, a group of influential and experienced Azerbaijani journalists and photo-reporters came here, opening, in particular, the Haqqin.az Kyiv studio. Their reports and numerous profound interviews with Ukrainian officials, MPs, mayors and ordinary citizens, as well as foreign celebrities, deserve much more attention than they currently receive, and should be known not only in the Azerbaijan, but also in Ukraine (1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12).
Since the beginning of the full-scale war, the special interest of Azerbaijan's media has been attached to the Azerbaijani citizens and Ukrainian citizens of Azerbaijani origin in our country, in particular those who defend Ukraine at the front, participate in the volunteer movement, or suffer this or that way from the Russian military aggression (1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8). According to various sources of information, about 500 Azerbaijanis, some of whom are volunteers, are fighting on the Ukrainian side.
Ukrainian military personnel of Azerbaijani descent have been awarded various honors and medals, one of them has been granted the Hero of Ukraine status. Both Ukrainian and Azerbaijani media report on soldiers who have died in battles for Ukraine (1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7). Meanwhile, Azerbaijani law prohibits its citizens from participating in wars on the territory of other states — an offense that can lead to imprisonment.
Close attention is also paid to the humanitarian aid to Ukraine. It is emphasized that in addition to sending numerous cargoes, supporting Ukrainian refugees and taking care of the Ukrainian children, SOCAR Ukraine Energy company took the unprecedented step of refueling ambulances and vehicles of the State Emergency Service for free, which was of vital importance during the energy crisis.
After its catastrophic aggravation due to Russia's missile attacks in October-December 2022, on December 10, 45 transformers and 50 generators provided by Azerenergi were sent to Ukraine as another humanitarian aid shipment. The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted by once again expressing its dissatisfaction («surprise») with such a step, but on that occasion, did not stoop to its by now customary «retaliation» targeting Azerbaijani fruits and vegetables (1; 2; 3; 4).
The information about Azerbaijan's friendly assistance in overcoming the energy crisis widely circulated in the Ukrainian media, and not only Ukrainian but also Azerbaijani readers commented on it. Below is the quote by one of them, Mexman Huseynov:
«What Ukraine fights for, is not just about Ukraine, but is about the whole world. We in Azerbaijan are well aware and understand what you are going through, as we ourselves have overcome that path, although not entirely. Glory to the heroic people of Ukraine! And a deep bow to those who have died for the freedom of Ukraine. I would be happy to accommodate 2-3 families of your militaries and provide for their boarding and food expenses.»
We must also acknowledge that state institutions, non-governmental organizations and ordinary citizens are all involved in ensuring humanitarian aid to Ukraine, sometimes combining their efforts (1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8). Ukrainians are also grateful to Azerbaijan for a number of other concrete steps, such as the reconstruction of Zarifa Aliyeva School No. 12 in Irpin, that had been destroyed by Russian invaders, as part of the SOCAR Energy Ukraine project «SOCAR.Ukraine.Together.»
The pro-Ukrainian activity of civil society has also been reflected in the Azerbaijani online media. In view of the growing threat of the Russian invasion, the «Supporting Ukraine — for Democracy Platform», created on February 1, 2022, condemned the possible use of Russian military force against Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, stressing that it also threatened the entire region. After the outbreak of the full-scale war, the Platform repeatedly issued statements calling, in particular, for the renaming of Moskovsky Avenue in Baku to Mariupol Avenue, and appealing to the UN General Assembly, the European Parliament and PACE with a request to recognize the massacres of civilians as a war crime and an act of genocide of the Ukrainian people.
On February 27, a rather large as for Azerbaijan rally in support of Ukraine and against Russia was held near the Ukrainian embassy, while on March 4, a protest organized by the human rights organization «Line of Defense» was held in front of the Russian embassy.
However, as DW rightly noted, any unauthorized public action is impossible in Azerbaijan, so if it takes place, it means the tacit consent of the authorities. Although apparently afraid of the excessive spread of such public protests, as well as of Moscow's reaction, the authorities later resorted to certain manipulations. For instance, on March 30, the National Council of Democratic Forces was denied permission to hold a rally in support of Ukraine on April 2 on the grounds of the quarantine restrictions and COVID threat. For the same «epidemiological» reasons, the Azerbaijani Party of Democracy and Welfare that, along with other opposition political parties, has an openly pro-Ukrainian position, was denied permission to hold a picket near the Russian embassy on April 12 (1; 2; 3).
The change in attitudes toward Ukraine is also reflected in the fact that Ukrainian experts, one of whom, Leonid Shvets, is a regular contributor to Haqqin.az, are being invited more often than before to discuss topical issues of domestic, interstate and international politics.
Among the invited commentators are such well-known experts as Ihor Semivolos, director of the Center for Middle East Studies, his deputy Serhiy Danylov, Vadym Triukhan, chairman of the board of the NGO European Movement of Ukraine, Mykhailo Honchar, president of the Center for Global Studies «Strategy XXI», Oleksandr Kovalenko, military observer of the Information Resistance group («Angry Odessan»), a number of well-known military experts, specialists of the National Institute for Strategic Studies, and so on. In addition, citations and references to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians and journalists that had previously been frequently seen on the pages of the same online publications, have now virtually disappeared.
Nevertheless, even after February 24, 2022, a certain discrepancy between the officials’ rhetoric – usually very cautious – regarding issues relating to the Russian-Ukrainian war, and the clear-cut pro-Ukrainian sentiments of the Azerbaijani society was evident.
This difference is particularly noticeable if formal speeches and statements are compared with the publications in the Azerbaijani media, including on popular online resources, as well as with the vivid discussions on social networks and forums, and comments of the YouTube viewers/listeners. However, over time, and as a result of the deterioration of Azerbaijani-Iranian relations accompanied, conversely, by the Iran's rapprochement with Russia, remarkable changes have occurred. October 24, 2022, can be considered a turning point: on that day, harsh criticism of Russia and Iran was voiced on the Azerbaijan State Television channel, and for the first time, it was officially recognized that Russia was waging an aggressive war on the territory of Ukraine. After that, welcoming powerful assistance to Ukraine, the well-known opposition journalist Alexandr Nevzorov stated that Azerbaijan «has overcome its fear of Russia and made its civilizational choice.»
In contrast, despite constant attempts to gain the support of the West (see 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7), Armenia often calls for strengthening cooperation with Russia and Iran, and declares that Armenia and Iran are allies in the fight against the «Turkic world».
It is also important for Ukraine that in view of the ongoing confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijani media have recently spread information from Western sources about Armenia's circumvention of sanctions against Russia. For example, sales of electronic equipment in 2022 increased from $14 million to $158 million, and according to Der Spiegel, in December 2022, German companies' export revenues from Armenian business were 287% higher than the average for 2018-2020. After persistent warnings from Western leaders, Armenia allegedly seemingly took measures against the «parallel imports» (1; 2; 3). This time, a number of Ukrainian experts, who are usually willingly give interviews to the Azerbaijani media and readily respond to their requests, when contacted by the Minval.az editorial board, for some reason refused to comment on this sensitive issue related to some extent to the classified information leaks in the US. There was also no response from the Ukrainian embassy.
In general, the observed trends together with the fact that Azerbaijani media are under almost total control of the central and local authorities, suggest that the current information policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan and its changes, described above, in fact correspond to the position of the authorities themselves, even if not publicly disclosed.
Therefore, it is difficult to agree with the opinion of Yuriy Panchenko, editor of the «European Pravda», regarding the pro-Ukrainian position of Azerbaijani media, which allegedly «were not afraid to go against the Russian Federation.» It seems much more likely that the change in the Azerbaijani media rhetoric actually reflects the respective change in the political line of the country’s leadership, not in the least caused by the current concentration of Russia's military potential in Ukraine that naturally weakens its ability to influence the South Caucasus.
To a certain extent, that has created a window of opportunity for Azerbaijan and «untied the hands» for Aliyev, who took advantage of Russia’s being distracted in Ukraine. The situation has allowed him to take more decisive action, in particular, to strengthen Azerbaijan's positions in its military confrontation with Armenia, that, as is becoming increasingly clear, was not ended, but only suspended by the November 2020 trilateral Statement and subsequent documents. An additional «bonus» for the Azerbaijan leadership has been the opportunity to develop and formulate a clear vision of the future fate of the Russian peacekeeping contingent (RPC) without fear of active opposition from Russia. Obviously, the RPC now has no chance of extending its stay in the officially recognized territory of Azerbaijan, including Karabakh, after 2025. That strategic decision was accompanied and reinforced by a powerful media campaign.
However, despite certain advantages of the Russian-Ukrainian war for Azerbaijan, in the Azerbaijani reaction to it, one can’t help but notice also certain jealousy to what is perceived to be an unequal attitude and double standards of the international community towards this war as compared to the Azerbaijani-Armenian one (see, for instance: «Azerbaijan Can be Shelled, While Ukraine Cannot» or «...while the West imposed heavy sanctions against Russia that violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine, we had not seen anything comparable in 30 years against the occupying Armenia…»). In April 2022, similar dissatisfaction was voiced by President Aliyev.
Another very sensitive topic concerns arms supplies. It’s a known fact that both Azerbaijan and Ukraine strongly deny any form of assistance to Ukraine, except for purely humanitarian aid. At the same time, on December 29, 2022, the website of the Ukrainian World Congress published separate lists of countries that had provided humanitarian aid and those that provided military one. Somehow, Azerbaijan was listed in both.
That could easily have gone unnoticed if the data, including the aforementioned lists, had not been duplicated by Ukrinform. We don’t know (and shouldn’t know) how true this is, but in any case, must pay tribute to the Azerbaijani diplomacy that «overlooked» those publications, despite numerous indications that Ukraine’s media space is under close supervision in Azerbaijan. While that has allowed to avoid a scandal and a showdown to find the culprits, it still raises an important question for the Ukrainian media of whether or not everyone understands the need to observe informational «hygiene» and silence in that and other sensitive matters in the sphere of interstate relations. The question applies, in particular, to the Dialog.ua website that has managed to publish – with a reference to an Iraqi Telegram channel – a story about the alleged supply by Azerbaijan to Ukraine of guided bombs for use by Su-25 attack aircraft.
Therefore, I would strongly recommend to some Ukrainian media outlets to give up the pursuit of sensationalism and hype news that can cause significant damage to state interests, especially in the field of national security.
In the context of the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war on the media space, it is hardly possible not to mention the Azerbaijani-Russian media conflict, that again, has been significantly exacerbated by this war and its coverage in Azerbaijan’s national press.
Actually, dissatisfaction with Russia’s media policy and, in particular, popular talk shows discussing the 2020 Azerbaijan-Armenia war, have been heard well before (1; 2; 3; 4). Moreover, back in April 2016, journalists of the Russian LifeNews TV channel who, according to the head of the Foreign Ministry's press service, Hikmet Hajiyev, worked in the country without accreditation and provided provocative, distorted information about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (1; 2), were expelled from Azerbaijan.
However, the strongest outrage was caused by the unprecedented steps of Roskomnadzor — dubbed «Roskomposor» [Roskomshame] in the Azerbaijani press — that after February 24, 2022, closed access to popular Azerbaijani websites in Russia. The blocking began in March 2022, with Minval.az and Haqqin.az, containing the largest number of materials about the war in Ukraine, becoming the first victims; they were followed by Oxu.az and Baku.WS, and on April 28 by Caliber.az which specializes in military topics.
Thus, by the early summer of 2022, at least five of the most popular websites had been blocked, while Azerbaijani experts had no doubt that the reason for those draconian measures was truthful and objective coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian war based on the official Ukrainian sources (1; 2; 3; 4; 5). Such openly hostile Russian information policy resulted in numerous calls for a «symmetrical response» (1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7). As a result, on June 3, 2022, Azerbaijan blocked Russia’s RIA-Novosti in the country due to its «defamatory publications», and on June 10, it became known that the editor-in-chief of Sputnik Azerbaijan, Antonova-Trizno, and her husband, a producer at the Sputnik press center, were denied the country’s work permit, which caused positive reaction from the Azerbaijani public (1; 2; 3; 4).
This situation looks especially paradoxical in light of the «Declaration on Allied Cooperation» signed on February 22, 2022, which, among other things, stated that «the parties will actively develop information and telecommunications cooperation, as well as in the field of information security.» Moreover, against the backdrop of fierce Russian-Azerbaijani media wars, on June 24, 2022, Foreign Ministers Jeyhun Bayramov and Sergey Lavrov signed in Baku an agreement between the Azerbaijani and Russian governments on cooperation in the field of international information security.
That raised fears that by doing so, Moscow was protecting itself from further criticism from the Azerbaijani media. However, over time, it has become clear that there were no fundamental changes in the two states’ information policies, which, in my opinion, signifies a certain depreciation of the very notion of the importance of their «strategic partnership» and «alliance» (despite repeated assurances from both sides to the contrary).
The above overview does not mean to imply that after February 24, 2022, Azerbaijan’s official information policy has taken a180-degree turn; not at all, it’s not like that. A number of online resources still publish a lot of materials about Russia and quotes its leaders and experts, and after several months of being ignored, such odious authors as Korotchenko and Markov have reappeared.
Pro-Western and anti-Russian publications are «balanced» by openly or covertly pro-Russian and anti-Western ones, mostly written by the Rosbalt journalist Irina Jorbenadze, who, becoming a regular contributor to Minval.az, at the same time, actively lobbies Azerbaijan’s interests and praises President Aliyev in every possible way (see, for example, 1; 2; 3; 4). Nevertheless, the above-mentioned positive trends are very important and should be taken into account when developing a further strategy for Ukraine's relations with Azerbaijan, in particular, in the media sphere.
Finally, it is important to find out how Azerbaijani media professionals assess the way their fellow citizens are informed about events in Ukraine and vice versa.
This issue was addressed, in particular, at the roundtable «Strategic Partnership between Ukraine and Azerbaijan in the Context of Challenges to the Global World Order» held on May 12, 2023 at the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center in Kyiv. According to Hamid Hamidov, director of the Global Media Group holding, «most Azerbaijanis are well aware of what is happening in Ukraine. They know where the theater of operations is, what the city of Bakhmut is, and what percentage of the territory is now occupied. However, the number of Ukrainian citizens who know about the thirty-year conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is much smaller.» He expressed a wish «that my Ukrainian colleagues would pay more attention to what is happening in the South Caucasus, study it and show interest, because our countries are incredibly close.» His colleague, Fuad Huseynaliyev, director of the Azerbaijani news agency Report, agreed: «I have seen how Ukrainian colleagues, when visiting us, were surprised by the development of Azerbaijan and Baku. On the other hand, they saw with their own eyes how everything was destroyed in the de-occupied territories,» adding that it would be important for the Ukrainian media to receive information from primary sources, i.e., directly from the Azerbaijani media, as Azerbaijani journalists do to obtain reliable information on Ukraine. As a positive example of cooperation between Ukrainian and Azerbaijani media, the speakers cited the 2021 agreement between UNIAN and REPORT and the organization of tours for Ukrainian journalists, all of which resulted in more materials about Azerbaijan appearing in Ukraine’s media.
The event was attended by Ihor Semivolos, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, Oleksandr Merezhko, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Policy and Interparliamentary Cooperation, Valeriy Korol, Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and others, while former Mufti of the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine “Umma”, now a military medic of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Said Ismagilov, joined the discussion online. The roundtable was initiated and moderated by Maryna Honcharuk, curator of Ukrainian-Azerbaijani projects (1; 2; 3). All participants agreed on the need to strengthen cooperation between Ukraine and Azerbaijan in various areas, including information.