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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

America Will Pay to Buff Our Image

Last Tuesday Press Minister Mikhail Lesin announced his intention of correcting Russia's negative image abroad. I agree with every word of his speech, as it was reproduced on the site of Gazeta.ru. "Through the efforts of the American and Western European media, which present Russia exclusively in a negative light, average Western citizens have acquired a negative stereotype of our state," Lesin stated. Moreover, Lesin stated that complete openness would staunch "the flow of anti-Russian coverage by not allowing Western journalists to freely interpret or to pick and choose among the facts."

By Thursday morning, the ranks of supporters of Lesin's new openness were joined by many American journalists. "The average American's view of Russia can be changed," New York Times Moscow correspondent Sabrina Tavernise optimistically told Vedomosti, "But their opinions are mostly shaped by the press. PR should begin with intelligible commentary from Russia itself."

"Now it is very hard for us to get any comments from officials and for that reason the official point of view often does not appear on the pages of the Western press. I think that the best way of improving Russia's image is by working through American correspondents in Moscow," said Washington Post correspondent Peter Baker.

It may seem immodest, but I'd like to point out that I long ago sensed this mood among foreign correspondents in Russia. Exactly one year ago, in March 2000, Sreda began publishing a regular feature called "How to Manipulate Me," written by Patrick Cockburn, Moscow correspondent for The Independent and one of the most well-known Western correspondents currently working in Moscow. Cockburn has produced the following maxim, which sums up the position of foreign journalists: "If you [i.e., the government] yourself create an information vacuum regarding a situation of interest to the public, you cannot complain when that vacuum is filled by the opinions of your enemies."

So it turns out that Western journalists are ready to help staunch "the flow of anti-Russian coverage" and are even willing to stop "freely interpreting or selecting facts." All the government needs to do is ensure "complete openness." And between you and me, in order to create the illusion of complete openness, all the state needs to do is learn how to produce professional and timely official press releases.

The only disagreement that I have with Lesin is the matter of tactics: how to achieve our goal and how much to pay for it. The minister is calling for a massive advertising/propaganda campaign that will showcase Russia in the most expensive Western media organs. He even promises that "we won't spare any expense." Gazeta.ru interprets that to mean he is ready to fork over $100 million.

For my part, I propose taking the freely offered advice of Western correspondents and improving Russia's image on their dime. I am prepared to serve as Lesin's consultant and advise him on which American and Western foundations are ready — today — to give grants to train Russian press secretaries on how to write a decent, professional and well-timed press release.

Unfortunately, I suspect that for a businessman like Mikhail Lesin, a free image looks even worse than a trap.

Alexei Pankin is editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals. He contributed this column to Vedomosti.