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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Official Urges Better State PR Campaign

A government official in charge of foreign investment on Tuesday defended plans to improve Russia's image abroad at a roundtable where suggestions included electing the right president.

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry earlier this month proposed a series of measures to the Cabinet in an attempt to formulate a concerted policy to get out more good news about the country.

The proposals range from urging greater transparency at Russian companies and sending officials and business leaders to speak at international investment forums to making officials more accessible to foreign media and carefully selecting "independent" experts at economic conferences in Russia.

The international media's often less-than-rosy picture of the country is because the economy is now a major competitor for foreign investment, said Mikhail An, chief of the ministry's department for developing the investment climate. "Information sometimes gets distorted -- not sometimes, but quite often," An said at a roundtable discussion of the proposals. Problems such as corruption and bureaucracy do persist, but conditions for foreign businesses here are much better than the media report, he said. Russia last year launched a state English-language television channel, Russia Today, in an attempt to dent foreign media coverage of the country, but An said more needed to be done.

He did not say how much state funding the proposals would require or when the Cabinet would consider them.

Some PR and business experts at the roundtable embraced the proposals, but others said they missed the point. Andrei Lapshov, president of PR firm Insiders, said Russia's image rested entirely on the person it has as president. Sochi's winning bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics came largely because of President Vladimir Putin's support, he said.

"So why don't we concentrate on choosing the right president?" he said to a burst of laughter.

Lapshov also said the measures would have no effect if media coverage continued to include the likes of the recent court cases against PricewaterhouseCoopers and the pressure on the Shell-led Sakhalin-2 oil project.

One section of the proposals talks about improving British perceptions of Russia, apparently in response to worsened relations between the countries over the Alexander Litvinenko killing.

The way to improve perceptions lies through more access to government officials for media such as Reuters, the Financial Times, Bloomberg and The Economist and making sure their reporters get to visit companies that do business with Britain, the proposals say.

The section on the United States encourages Russian firms holding conferences on doing business here to be more careful in choosing which experts to invite. "The choice of 'independent' experts in debates about Russian social and economic development has not always been a success," the proposal says.

The proposals also recommend that Russian companies operating in Iran, such as Gazprom, LUKoil and Tatneft, should work better on their PR and should offer students sponsorships on short Russian-language courses in Iran and oil and gas courses here.