Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hot Off the Shelves

For Defender of the Fatherland Day on Feb. 23, my wife gave me a copy of Sergei Minayev's bestseller, "Media Sapiens: A Tale of the Third Term." The book has created a storm of media controversy. Major media outlets like the daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets and the web site have weighed in on the debate, with the majority of reviews labeling the author as something of a fool. In a recent column published in the online magazine Vzglyad, Minayev returned the charge.

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

I agree with both sides here.

The book is about a young, talented spin doctor who is fired from his job at the Foundation for Effective Politics, a think tank with close ties to the Kremlin, for inserting slightly paraphrased passages from Joseph Goebbels into his clients' speeches. This is to show the reader that the Kremlin does operate on moral principles.

The out-of-work Goebbels fan is then hired by a nongovernmental organization called "Back to the Source" that is financed "from London" -- the implication being that Boris Berezovsky or some other disgraced Russian oligarch is behind it. His assignment is to thwart attempts to stir up public sentiment for a third term for President Vladimir Putin. Demonstrators are paid to picket state organizations and protest in support of freedom of speech in order to cast a positive light on Back to the Source and generate publicity for four newspapers, the Ekho Moskvy and Svoboda radio stations, and a certain "Channel 8" television station. Having failed in their efforts, the spin doctors hatch a scheme to simulate a terrorist act on the Moscow metro, for which they receive additional funding from the NGO.

Things get out of control when the panic created by these dummy explosions leads to a number of deaths and a fake attack staged against a human rights activist to generate public sympathy goes too far and she ends up hospitalized.

The book then concludes with the words: "To be continued sooner than you think. The games are over."

What useful tidbits can we glean from this piece of pro-Kremlin propaganda? First, it is a fairly accurate portrayal of PR methods and mentalities. It doesn't matter to which camp the PR man belongs.

Second, the book serves as a virtual compendium of Kremlin phobias: oligarchs meddling from abroad, NGOs, uncontrolled media, bombings and being blamed for the murder of journalists. Constantly lurking in the background is the phantom of an "orange revolution."

To what extent are these fears groundless?

"It's too bad we don't have a budget for establishing connections with the federal government," one bad guy says to another. "We have the money," the other replies, "but the feds control the channels." For some reason, this episode made me think of the excesses committed by the oligarchs under President Boris Yeltsin, when they had both money and access to the Kremlin. I also pondered their current circumstances. Men who once frequented the offices of the nation's highest-ranking leaders and pulled the strings behind the affairs of state are now forgotten. They sit on their billions and only appear from time to time to face questions about money laundering. Imagine how much energy, hatred and thirst for revenge they must have built up since their fall from grace. That they are not inhibited by any moral standards is obvious to everyone, even without Sergei Minayev and his book.

As my grandmother used to say: "It doesn't matter which side of the political fence they're on -- they're all no good!" The only debatable question remaining is which side is less rotten.

The other questions I have, of course, are why my wife would give me this book on Defender of the Fatherland Day and what should I give her in exchange on Women's Day?

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Mediaprofi, a monthly magazine for regional media professionals.