Azerbaijan has pursued a pro-Western multi-vector foreign policy balancing integration and cooperation with NATO and the pursuit of good relations with Russia. Baku’s relations with the Kremlin were, therefore, never as cold and brittle as those encountered by Georgia and Ukraine whose territories were invaded by Russia in 2008 and 2014 respectively.
Azerbaijan’s foreign policy was rewarded last year when Russia resisted intervening in defense of its proxy state and Armenia suffered a crushing defeat in the Second Karabakh War. Russia intervened only at the last minute by inserting itself as a “peacemaking” force in the separatist enclave in Karabakh. In Georgia and Ukraine, Russia invaded respectively to defend South Ossetian and Donbas separatists.
Nevertheless, Russia’s understanding of hybrid warfare includes the weaponization of information, a factor that was vividly seen ahead of its occupation of Crimea. With Ukraine the guinea pig for Russian information warfare, the Kremlin has spread dezinformatsiya to European countries and the United States with implications for modern warfare.
Russian information warfare is targeting Baku with six dezinformatsiya themes.
The first is a product of Russia’s long-standing conviction, pre-dating Vladimir Putin, of its Eurasian neighbors. The Kremlin has always viewed only itself as possessing true sovereignty and the former non-Russian republics of the USSR as “artificial” states with non-existent sovereignty. Russian great power nationalism only views great powers such the United States, China, and itself as possessing sovereignty.
Russian great power nationalism has long viewed Ukraine as an “artificial state”; Putin first claimed this in the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest. The Kremlin’s view of the non-Russian states of Eurasia as “artificial” denies them sovereignty and their independence in 1991 was an “accident.” Armenia and Azerbaijan are part of “historic Russia” and, therefore, within the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.
The second describes Azerbaijan as a puppet state of the West or “puppet client systems.” Pro-Western states in Eurasia are encouraged to become independent of the Kremlin’s sphere of influence as part of Western-inspired conspiracies to make Russia look weak by surrounding her with “unfriendly” states.
Related to this theme is dezinformatsiya about the West in the Second Karabakh War. Azerbaijan allegedly received “instructions” from Washington over how to conduct its policies towards Karabakh. The West wanted war in the South Caucasus and its intelligence services fomented the Second Karabakh War. The British pushed Turkey into supporting Azerbaijan as part of an age-old “Anglo-Saxon” struggle against Russia, repeating typical tropes from Russian Eurasianists who believe Russia and Western civilizations are in constant conflict.
The goal was to distract from Russian support for President Alexander Lukashenko, who was faced by Belarusian protests, and from military operations in Syria. Propaganda claims that the West does not like the presence of Russian “peacekeepers” and is intent on provoking Azerbaijan and Armenia into discrediting and breaking the ceasefire.