Russia is a personal subject for me. My kids speak Russian and I am a board member of a major non-profit organization aimed at educating Soviet émigrés’ to the US, RAJE.
Professionally, we have worked for many powerful people from the former Soviet Union, from representation of Rinat Akhmetov (the richest man in the Ukraine) to work for multiple Russian oligarchs, representing Vladimir Klitschko when he ran for Mayor of Kiev to crisis PR work for Maira Nazarbayev, the ex-wife of the brother of the President of Kazakhstan. We remain engaged in many powerful and important campaigns in the region, which require extreme confidentiality.
Recently, read two books which are largely profiles about one of the most powerful men in the world, Vladimir Putin. The books, “The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia” by Angus Roxburgh, who was employed by GPlus, a Brussels-based public relations agency, as an adviser to the Russian government, and “The Man Without a Face,” by Masha Gessen are largely negative profiles filled with opinions and theories, but are nevertheless worthwhile reading.
Each of the books made clear that Russia’s image is vitally important to Putin – and understanding what drives him is perhaps even more important than ever before in today’s world where Obama and Putin have the worst personal relationship between U.S. and Russian — perhaps even U.S. and Soviet — leaders in history. From the ongoing backlash against Russian companies due to purported anti-gay laws to Russia’s backing of Syria, it’s clear that Putin is center-stage in world politics – and controversy.
A fishing trip in the Republic of Tyva with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu further cements the Putin “man’s man” persona – courtesy Putin’s press secretary From examining Putin’s interpersonal relations with worldwide leaders to understanding theories on his rise to power, these books offer interesting insight into the man. Gessen’s book is rich on conspiracy theories (claiming that Putin had a hand in killing many Russian citizens), and Roxburgh offers some insider knowledge due to his work for the country – and both offer different insights which are worth reading. It’s clear from reading the books that Putin is a passionate patriot for Russia who isn’t likely to back down anytime soon at all.
Through the years, Putin has pulled many PR stunts – from walking through Siberia without a shirt on to his diving into the sea and finding two ancient amphoras – which was later revealed to have been planted there by his Public Relations team. It’s clear that this is a man who cares tremendously about his brand, and understands the importance of PR.
Roxburgh’s book does discuss Ketchum’s ongoing $1 Million per month work for Putin and Russia and reveals that they are largely functionaries without any real ability to make a difference on the country’s brand according to the book. Putin has gone about his business quite aggressively – from putting his associates in senior roles to challenging NATO and EU officials, and along the way handles media as he sees fit. While Putin, naturally, didn’t participate in either of these books, there was interesting background which was previously unaware of.
As one who was educated in the American public school system in the 1980’s, I was raised hating and distrusting Russia. The new Russia is something much different than we have ever seen before – which anyone concerned with capitalism and the world would be wise to better understand.