Russia and Azerbaijan, rich in gas, have used their natural resources to disguise their highly criticized policies. Both countries have launched military engagements against their neighbors filled with numerous war crimes, such as the targeting of journalists and executions of civilians and POWs alike.

Nevertheless, the ruling autocrats of Russia and Azerbaijan, Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev, respectively, have attempted to whitewash their crimes by bribing journalists while simultaneously persecuting them.

Where Russian “journalists” have taken part in fighting in Ukraine and incited genocide, Azerbaijan has attempted to bribe journalists to hide the cultural erasure of Armenian heritage in the Karabakh region.

Russian “Journalists” are Actively Taking Part in Combat Operations

During the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Kremlin has put out obituaries and complaints of Russian journalists killed by the Ukrainian army (ZSU). Moscow hides the active role their “journalists” play in the fighting.

On July 24th, Russian media claimed a “journalist,” Rastislav Zhuravlev, was killed while embedded with the Russian military. Zhuravlev has been embedded and has taken part in active fighting since 2014. Rastislav was killed by cluster munitions while directing UAV engagements, and his history of carrying rifles alongside the Russian military has been heavily documented.

Moscow has embedded known military bloggers to stoke ethnic hatred while promoting genocidal rhetoric against their neighbors. One such figure was Vladen Tatarsky, who actively fought in the Donbas region in the earlier stages of the war and operated armed drones during the carpet bombing of Mariupol.

During Putin’s “annexation” ceremony last year, Tatarsky was invited, in which he proclaimed, “We’ll defeat everyone, we’ll kill everyone, we’ll rob everyone we need to.” In poetic irony, Tatarsky would be ultimately killed by a bomb embedded in a trophy during one of his speaking events in Saint Petersburg in early April.

Vladen Tatarsky, a known genocide inciter and Russian military blogger via CNN

Azerbaijan’s Whitewashing of the Aliyevs Through Journalism Bribing

Azerbaijan has used its rich gas money to bribe journalists to rewrite history and erase all types of Armenian heritage in the Karabakh region. Holding a media forum in Shushi, which has become the cultural capital of Azerbaijan after its capture, Aliyev invited various international journalists with paid expenses.

Azerbaijan’s central strategy in manipulating media is ‘caviar diplomacy.’ In caviar diplomacy, Baku lobbies foreign politicians and journalists alike with all-expense-paid trips through their oil money, which allows the state to successfully bribe said persons through expensive and lavish gifts.

Reporters Sans Frontières, also known as RSF, would state the media forum was nothing more than a media show by Baku and that no true independent journalist was allowed there. Aliyev has been known to handpick and select journalists when covering the territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The world-famous and late Anthony Bourdain was banned from Azerbaijan when he visited the region.

Azerbaijan’s Media Forum via Azernews

Statistics on Press Freedoms in Russia and Azerbaijan

According to the RSF media freedom list, Azerbaijan ranks 151/180 and Russia 164/180. Baku recently enacted a media registry law that has been condemned due to Azerbaijan’s government’s oversight over freelance and independent journalists, which shelters the ruling elite from critique.

Amnesty International would report on the persecution of opposition newspapers in Azerbaijan. Not only are journalists not safe in Azerbaijan, but also abroad. One prominent critic and writer, Mohammad Mirzali, has been actively targeted in France with numerous death threats and assassination attempts related to the ruling Aliyev family.

According to the International Women’s Media Forum, Russia ranks 10th in global impunity for killings of journalists. Since Vladimir Putin took power in 2000, 21 journalists have been assassinated, many linked to his personal Federal Security Services, the FSB.

Putin has heavily criminalized journalists and dissidents who report against him. One such example was banning the documentary of the FSB’s complicity in the Ryazan Bombings that gave Russia the Casus Belli for the Second Chechen War.

After the 2012 protests, the Kremlin became more aggressive towards dissidents and bloggers, and the war in Ukraine only exacerbated this. Putin himself had become so ruthless against journalists and bloggers he cracked down on the more hardline figures, such as notorious war criminal Igor Girkin, for criticizing his wartime leadership.

They paint themselves as ‘victimized’ by the media yet have strict control over all outlets and reporting on their countries. Journalists are heavily persecuted in both nations, which rank amongst the bottom in media freedom, and dissident voices will continue to be oppressed in Moscow and Baku as long as the kleptocracy remains in power.