Saturday, July 01, 2006

Backing the Bully

It looks as though there is still no shortage of misguided souls in the West who want to "save" the Russian government from itself. In the Independent, Andrew Osborn writes about the hiring of the New York-based PR company Ketchum, intended to help Putin and his government to overcome the mounting criticism around the world of Moscow's record on human rights and international policy - all in the run-up to the G8 summit which opens in St Petersburg in two weeks' time.

Osborn notes that an important role in the Ketchum operation will be played by British figures, including the BBC's former Moscow correspondent Angus Roxburgh and Tim Allan, an associate of Downing Street spin doctor Alistair Campbell. From the article:
Ketchum has up to 50 spin doctors and media specialists working round the clock in nine countries to ensure that at the end of this year people shed their stereotypical image of Russia as a bellicose country in which bears roam the streets and the Kalashnikov is mightier than the pen. The company has its work cut out, though Russia's moment in the limelight is also an opportunity for its critics to strike and Moscow does not want its moment spoilt by what it sees as Russophobes. It is the first time Moscow has chaired the G8 and it sees this year and the showcase summit in St Petersburg as an opportunity to show the world it is a confident yet reasonable power after the chaos of the 1990s.

Several US senators and human rights groups see things differently. They believe Russia should not be in the club of the world's richest industrial nations at all. Their greatest concern is about Russian democracy. Western critics allege that President Vladimir Putin has used the past six years to roll back the gains of the 1990s in favour of authoritarianism. The broadcast media is little more than a Kremlin mouthpiece, it is claimed, while any political opposition is starved of publicity, harassed, and sometimes jailed.

It is charged that Mr Putin has used his own "war on terror" - with Chechen militants - to push through legislation that appears to give people less say in their affairs, such as his decision to abolish direct elections for regional governors in favour of direct appointments by the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, the BBC is advertising a forthcoming Q&A session with Putin.
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