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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Tackles Its Cold War Image

Moscow officials will open a public-relations shop and launch media offensives in foreign countries as they embark on a $27 million, three-year campaign to combat Cold War bias and bolster the city's image abroad.

The campaign will also include several million dollars for hosting concerts, conventions, meetings and other events in Moscow; holding pro-Moscow events in international venues; and researching the city's PR problems.

Foreign journalists covering Moscow will also be courted by city officials, and ties will be strengthened with Russians living abroad.

The effort comes at the same time that federal authorities are looking to boost Russia's reputation. Of the total amount to be spent on Moscow's image, $17 million comes from the city; another $10 million comes from private donors.

Details about the image-boosting plan were released by city officials three weeks after Mayor Yury Luzhkov announced that Moscow must do something to correct the impression that Moscow is inhospitable to foreigners.

"It is important that Moscow's image is presented in the West and in the East objectively," Luzhkov said at a meeting with city officials. "We have a right to claim to be a civilized city."

Compared to the PR campaigns of some cities, that of Moscow is decidedly low-budget, with the city planning to spend $550,000 on planning events, $340,000 on research and $220,000 on foreign advertising.

Las Vegas, which relies heavily on casino-seeking tourists, spends $188 million per year on its image. Its new motto -- "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas" -- has become a national laugh line in the United States.

"Moscow must compete to secure its fair share of international travel and tourism," said Peter Necarsulmer, chairman and chief executive officer of PBN, a U.S.-based public-relations firm. "A truly international destination like Moscow can surely spend 10 percent of that amount to compete with New York, Paris and London."

While the city's plan relies on traditional image-bolstering techniques, it has the potential to be effective, PR experts said.

"These routine methods also can achieve their goals, slowly but surely," said Sergei Topilin, a strategist with the PR outfit Mikhailov and Partners. Topilin added that Moscow's historical and cultural assets -- the Tretyakov Gallery, Red Square and Gorky Park, among others -- and a global hunger for "genuine Russian vodka," among other goods, would help.

Stanislav Radkevich, an image analyst with the Nikkolo-M consulting firm in Moscow, said the PR strategies being used by City Hall were widespread. Their effectiveness, he added, will depend on how professionally and imaginatively they are implemented.

Part of the city's plan entails countering negative depictions of the city in the foreign media. The plan does not state explicitly how these impressions will be countered.

Analysts largely agree that foreign media tend to paint Moscow in a less than flattering light, reminiscent of the Soviet era. Old stereotypes of the city focus on its cold weather; serious, communist-style demeanor; and Spartan accommodations, even though many of those impressions are no longer even remotely accurate.

Andrei Rylsky, director of marketing communications with the Willard Group/Burson-Marsteller Moscow, blamed the Soviet-era stereotypes on foreign reporters fearful of being accused of having been bought by the Kremlin in exchange for positive coverage.

PR experts added that the city could only do so much given the reality on the ground.

Foreign visitors often complain of overpriced hotels and restaurants, and a dearth of English-language signs, said Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for an organization that represents tourism firms.

"Moscow is known worldwide as a great tourist destination incapable of accepting tourists," she said. She added that the lack of cheap, decent hotels and the protracted visa-application process meant many tourists must wait for up to a year before they can visit.

Georgy Muradov, head of the foreign relations department at City Hall, said this week that the city would buy the existing Moscow.com and Moscow.ru Internet domains and set up English-language sites for tourists within the year.

"Many foreign colleagues tell me that Moscow.com brings them to the web site of a small American town," Muradov said. Moscow.com, in fact, leads to a blank page. But the domain name is owned by an Internet provider based in the town of Moscow, Idaho.

Moscow.ru is owned by the Institute for Stock Market and Management, a Moscow think tank. Spokeswoman Anna Cheprakova said the institute had not been approached by City Hall about selling the site, but that the institute had approached the city about jointly developing the site to promote the city. "There has been no reply from City Hall so far," she said.