WASHINGTON: The Russian government sought to highlight successes of its yearlong G8 presidency with a Ketchum-managed publicity tour in the US and UK that began December 5 and included a White House visit.
Featuring Igor Shuvalov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's top assistant on G8 matters, meetings with reporters and government officials touched on the ongoing UK investigation into the poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. However, they also covered a wide range of Russian government interests, including energy security, said Dmitry Peskov, Putin's first deputy press secretary.
Such "scandals" are a continual distraction for all governments, Peskov said, and last year's highly publicized dispute between Russia and Ukraine over gas distribution led Russia to more generally embrace help from Western PR firms.
"We simply understood at that one moment that our argumentation was not being heard. At the same time, representation of the Ukrainian side was picked up everywhere," Peskov said. "For Russia it was always a matter of priority to be heard abroad, but it was not necessarily that we were successful every time in communicating our position, our arguments, our points to a foreign audience."
Peskov said that his government's skill at communicating abroad is still evolving in part because open communications by the government spokespeople requires open internal communications within and among the various ministries of the government, whose bureaucracy contains not a few holdovers from the days of the Soviet Union, when the government sought to tightly control the release of information.
Future use of PR by the government will be based in part on a year-end review of Ketchum's work representing Russia during its G8 presidency, which ends December 31. Peskov stressed that his government does not look at PR as something that can cover up flaws or otherwise spin the truth.
"When we started with Ketchum, they told us very openly: ‘You will work. We'll assist you in communicating, but not work instead of you,'" Peskov said.