Russia Rains Roubles on Overseas Image

10 March 2008

MOSCOW: Russia's state news and information agency RIA Novosti, for long a backwater of fusty bureaucracy recalling the writings of Nikolai Vasilevich Gogol, was in 2004 dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century by its new director general Svetlana Mironyuk.

Slumbering amid the cobwebs of the Soviet Union's once ruthlessly-efficient global propaganda machine were legions of writers tapping out listless extolations of Putin's New Russia on typewriters that were past their prime in the Kruschev era.

Travel agents and dentists occupied unused offices in RIA's Moscow headquarters and the agency published a single English-language newspaper whose very title, Sputnik, was redolent of the 50s. This was purportedly sold in Britain despite no evidence of its presence there.

"It was a desperate situation," says Mironyuk. 

In 2008, however, things are very different. Awash with foreign revenues from oil and natural gas sales, the Kremlin has injected tens of millions of dollars into various forms of image-building diplomatic PR. 

The agency's newly refurbished offices include a state-of-the-art newsroom with flat screens and a circular news desk, where three hundred journalists peddle a daily multimedia package of news to an international audience.

Moreover, RIA has engaged American PR specialist Ketchum whose global clientele includes the likes of Kodak, Fedex and Roche.

Its mission? "To help the government tell its story of economic growth and opportunity for its citizens," says Ketchum executive Randy DeCleene

Meantime, under Mironyuk's baton the reenergized state agency is targeting international audiences with new media ventures.

It is also creating foundations to promote Russian language and culture around the world, as well as staging conferences and seminars to influence Western opinion-formers.

The campaign also aims to counter what locals see as constant unfair Western criticism of declining political freedoms under President Vladimir Putin.

And in a strategy more attuned to the era of the Cold War, RIA is also backing nongovernmental presences in Western capitals to scrutinize and report on the failings of Western democracy.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff