INTERNATIONAL NEWS: Russian military: PR can’t fix the regime

MOSCOW: The sinking of a Russian nuclear submarine last week was yet another in a long string of disasters that have plagued the Russian military.

MOSCOW: The sinking of a Russian nuclear submarine last week was yet another in a long string of disasters that have plagued the Russian military.

MOSCOW: The sinking of a Russian nuclear submarine last week was

yet another in a long string of disasters that have plagued the Russian

military.



After five days of rescue attempts, all 118 crew members were declared

dead, and the government has been left trying to explain what went

wrong.



The Russian media is crying foul, flinging accusations of lies and

cover-ups. The government responded by saying its sub fleet is grossly

underfunded and needs repair. In any event, the world continues to

wonder how such a tragedy could have been so mishandled.



’All the PR in the world won’t do them any good until they can put their

ships safely at sea,’ said Larry Smith, president of the Institute for

Crisis Management. ’There’s not much of a way to put a PR spin on a

situation that’s so dire to begin with.’



It’s estimated that defense spending in Russia fell by about 10% in

1996, to about one-sixth of peak Soviet levels in the late 1980s. Since

that decline, Russia’s sub fleet has suffered a series of collisions,

fires, explosions and malfunctions.



Now the Russian government is being sharply criticized not only for

letting its fleet deteriorate but also for waiting too long to accept

international aid.



Smith said the Russian government could have managed the ordeal better,

perhaps by having Russian president Vladimir Putin appear on national TV

to express sorrow for the tragedy.



’They could have generated a great deal of sympathy if they had been

open and honest with the rest of the world,’ he said.



However, ’The military was true to their culture,’ Smith added, noting

that many of the navy’s top brass probably lied about the severity of

the collision to save their careers and protect defense secrets.



’The Russian government has operated like too many corporations,’ Smith

said. ’When they get in trouble, they try to stonewall it, to hide it or

at least cover it up.’



The Soviet method of PR - or lack thereof - doesn’t work today, said

Peter McCue, SVP and senior partner and director of the corporate group

at Fleishman-Hillard in New York.



’It’s a Cold War response in a post-Cold War world,’ said McCue.

’There’s still pressure inside (the government) not to reveal

weakness.’



In Russia, the PR community is mixed. Vladimir Pyzin, general director

of information and analysis at PR agency Emissar, said he thinks the

disaster was used to put pressure on Putin. ’Some of the media are

playing on the feelings of the relatives with the aim of harming Putin’s

reputation,’ Pyzin said.



For others, the incident raised suggestions that PR pros are badly

needed in Russia.



’That the rescuers could not cope with such a seemingly simple task has

given rise to two explanations among Russians: we have old and

inadequate training of personnel, (and) the military tries to keep its

secrets, regardless of human lives,’ said Mikhail Taits, head of the

analysis department of the PR agency RIM.



See editorial, p14.



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