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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Adopts a New Spin

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Many have been struck by the seeming openness with which the Kremlin is handling the Kursk salvage operation. Nearly a hundred journalists have been shipped to the Kursk site on a special press boat. The engineers in charge of the operation have given news conferences and released computer simulations. A special web site, www.kursk.strana.ru, has been set up.

Kremlin press handlers boast that this operation will prove that the Putin administration has learned the bitter lessons of its PR fiasco when the submarine sank last August. "We have invited the world's journalists to see what's going on here in the Barents Sea to show we have nothing to hide with this operation," said Igor Botnikov, the Kremlin press officer accompanying journalists to the site of the operation.

There are other manifestations of the new openness as well. President Vladimir Putin held an open news conference Wednesday attended by more than 500 journalists who merely had to call in advance to get access to the head of state, rather than passing through the usual gauntlet of stone-faced bureaucrats who appear specially trained to ignore ringing telephones and who only work on the third Tuesday of each odd-numbered month from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Could it really be that a fresh wind is blowing through the Kremlin? We doubt it.

Instead, what we are seeing is the deft touch of Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky, a touch he mastered while he was charged with restricting media access to the conflict in Chechnya. When federal forces renewed the fighting there in late 1999, the creation of the Russian Information Center, headed by Yastrzhembsky, was an integral part of the plan. And for more than a year it did an admirable — if that is the right word — job of preventing any information from filtering out of the war zone.

Yastrzhembsky was rewarded for his information-management skills by being put in overall charge of Kremlin press relations. The results have been startling. On one hand, information about atrocities in Chechnya has proliferated in recent months, and the government "message" from the war zone has been decidedly less monolithic than it was when Yastrzhembsky ruled the roost.

On the other, Putin's press relations generally have grown slicker, with numerous choreographed events for Russian and foreign journalists and, now, the stage-managed openness of the Kursk operation.

But we won't be convinced that anything has changed until we see how the Kremlin handles the next urgent, unanticipated situation. Only then will we know whether openness is a new policy or just a clever public-relations facade.