US-Russia Relations Under New Scrutiny – OpEd


The tragic terrorist attack in Boston and worsening violence in Syria call into question the dicey state of U.S. Russian relations. Could better cooperation on intelligence matters have averted the Boston Marathon tragedy? Could greater understanding of each other’s concerns lead to finding a solution in Syria?

Some American political leaders believe trying to improve relations would be foolish. Senator John McCain, for instance, was very vocal in opposing the Obama administration’s past initiative toward improvement. McCain said the administration “should not be overly enthusiastic about ‘resetting’ relations with Russia because Moscow and Washington do not share common interests or values.”

There is lots of evidence to support Senator McCain’s position. Russia invaded Georgia. Putin ordered the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Russia uses energy as a weapon. Putin pulverized Russia’s free press. What more proof is needed?

The only problem is that those commonly-accepted allegations are specious. They are not fact based. What’s more, they were maliciously concocted by Putin’s political enemies, and ingeniously spread through the media. Now those stories are almost universally believed to be totally true.

Take the Russia invades Georgia story, for example. In 2008 news headlines screamed of that brutal and unprovoked military aggression. But a subsequent fact finding investigation of the European Union has found that it was Georgia that was the aggressor, not Russia. The original story was a fabrication. And so were the news stories based on the various other popularly-believed allegations against Russia.

Georgia isn’t the only example that’s been thoroughly debunked. I wrote a book titled The Phony Litvinenko Murder. It documents how the entire story about the murder of that purported former Russian spy was falsified. In reality, the man’s death has never even been officially classified as a homicide. It was all a ruse. Yet it is popularly believed today that Putin was behind a murder, even though the death has not been declared a murder.

The Litvinenko affair and all the other phony stories went effectively unchallenged. They easily became commonly accepted for one main reason. Russia has a bad image. It’s a result of the persistent, malicious stories propagated through the press. The cumulative effect is that negative news about Russia seems perfectly plausible. That’s what supports the mistaken notions of people like Senator McCain. And that’s a significant impediment to better relations between the Russia and the U.S. The culprit is Russia’s bad image internationally.

While the bad image may have been created by enemies of Putin, the Russian president has done little to effectively remediate the problem. He’s allowed his enemies to figuratively spit in his face, and he’s just wiped it off. The result is that Putin’s enemies have successfully defined him internationally.

Putin has not been without PR counsel, however. Since at least 2006, Putin has retained Western advisors. But based on Russia’s unremittingly negative international image, it would seem that the president was fleeced by those Western sharpies.

I have personal knowledge of Putin’s being offered a practical plan with real potential for seriously alleviating his PR woes. It is a project I strongly support called “Russia without Spin.” It aims to deploy countermeasures to emergent negatively-spun news stories. But there was no response to that overture, even after it was advanced through multiple channels.

Now, however, the Russian government has announced a new initiative to improve the country’s image. Apparently the Kremlin is finally acknowledging that the country’s bad image is repelling foreign investors. But to implement the program, the government has hired Ketchum and Goldman Sachs. Ketchum, I believe, is the PR agency that has been advising the Kremlin all through the devastating media attacks in past years. As such, their work speaks for itself.

As for Goldman Sachs, it is worth noting that this company has done a poor job managing its own image. Its name has become closely identified with scandal and disrepute. Inviting this company to improve Russia’s image is like bringing in the barnyard pig to make your house smell better.

What was Putin ever thinking of? His poor PR choices are quite problematic, especially in light of all the prior inaction.

Russia has failed to respond decisively and effectively to the incessant onslaught of derogatory attacks in the media. Putin has neglected his responsibility to protect the image of his country. The truth appears to be on his side. But he’s not using it advantageously.

The plethora of maliciously negative media coverage certainly isn’t doing much good for Russia’s position in the world. And a bad international image attracts troubled international relations.

Yet Putin has undertaken a new initiative that doesn’t seem like much of a solution. That’s particularly baffling in the wake of the long-standing absence of any effective countermeasures against malicious media attacks. Something needs to be done. But it’s not happening. Doesn’t this all add up to Putin being the prime obstacle to Russia’s greater acceptance by other nations?

This is a tragedy not only for Russia, but for the greater world community as well. But until Russia loses its bad image, there likely will be powerful opposition to better relations.

William Dunkerley

William Dunkerley is a media business analyst, international development and change strategist, and author of numerous books, monographs, and articles. He has been editor and publisher of media industry information, and has additional expertise in post-communist media business and content.

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