Friday

15th Nov 2019

New pro-Russia campaign comes to EU capital

  • Artwork of Stalin: Not a black and white figure for some (Photo: agitprop)

Russian news agency Ria Novosti is rolling out a new public relations campaign in the political capital of the European Union which, according to sources in the PR industry, aims to justify Russia's great power ambitions and improve the image of Joseph Stalin.

The state-owned news agency has teamed up with a little-known Washington, London and Zurich-based consultancy called RJI Companies and is trying to recruit one of the top 10 PR firms in Brussels to put the project in play.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The primary contract involves organising a high-level conference about the Arctic to take place in Moscow in late November. The Arctic event is to portray Russia as a good egg on environmental and energy policy and is likely to be followed up by similar conferences in the Middle East and the Far East next year.

Ria Novosti is also offering a second contract to "generally improve the image of Russia abroad," a contact in the campaign team told this website.

An RJI Companies agent in September in Brussels pitched the project to a major PR firm, saying that the aim of the second contract is to help portray Russia as a benign great power entitled to negotiate with the likes of the US, China and the EU on global security and energy issues.

He added that part of the PR effort would be to cast a positive light on the actions of the Soviet Union before and after World War II in order to justify the idea that modern Russia should also impose its influence on neighbouring countries for the good of the world.

A senior executive at the PR firm in question recalled one particular exchange with the RJI Companies envoy: "I asked him 'Do you want us to say that Stalin was not such a bad guy?' And he said 'Well, I know it will be difficult.' I said 'So, you want history to be rewritten?' And he said 'Yes, in a way'."

"Expect to see more articles in European newspapers saying that Stalin had his good points as well," the PR executive said.

When contacted by EUobserver, RJI Companies denied that the second contract has anything to do with Stalin. Ria Novosti denied that a second contract exists at all. "Our business is not to enhance Russia's image. It's to report news," the company's spokesman, Valery Levchenko, said.

Normal in Moscow

Kremlin watchers, such as the Moscow-based paper Novaya Gazeta, the former employer of murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, say that a campaign to rehabilitate the reputation of Stalin is already under way inside Russia.

They point to developments such as the recent state-sponsored publication of a school history book which describes Stalin as an "efficient manager" and to secret police seizures of NGO documents on Stalinist-era crimes as aspects of the trend.

At the highest political level, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Poland last month defended the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, a 1939 deal between the USSR and Nazi Germany to carve up Europe. Russian MPs also attacked Polish deputies for "defaming" Stalin after the Poles accused him of genocide in a parliamentary resolution.

Novaya Gazeta deputy editor Valery Shiriaev said that Soviet revisionism is linked to the vanity of Russia's ruling class as much as its geopolitical ambitions.

"It's important to the ex-KGB people, Putin and his friends, to explain why they are repeating the policies of Soviet Russia," he said. "They need to say there were good things in the former Russia, so that they do not see themselves as cannibals. It's important for the psychological health of the Russian elite."

Meanwhile, Russian diplomats say there is no Kremlin programme to rebrand Soviet ideology.

"Nobody in the Russian government is trying to whitewash what was happening then. And of course Stalin was responsible for numerous criminal acts," Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told this website.

The ambassador added that "history should be left to the historians." But he went on to give a less black and white picture of Stalin than is conventional in the West.

"It is of course obscene to put Hitler and Stalin on the same plane," he said. "People can argue endlessly whether the Soviet Union became a great power because of Stalin or in spite of Stalin, his harsh methods of industrialisation."

Words and things

When asked by EUobserver if Stalin, who is estimated to have overseen the deaths of between 9 million and 20 million people, could be called a "mass murderer," Mr Chizhov gave a relativistic answer.

"Stalin committed a lot of crimes, you could definitely say, so did other people. You could [point to], the battle of Mers-el-Kebir in 1940, when the British navy bombarded the French navy, and they were allies, not enemies, and the number of victims was the same as of Americans in Pearl Harbour," he said, referring to two World War II battles.

Apart from RJI Companies, Russian interests also work with PR firms GPlus in Brussels, Berlin and Paris, Ketchum Pleon in London and Washington, Weber Shandwick in London and Brussels and Saylor Company in Washington.

Novaya Gazeta's Mr Shiriaev said the Kremlin's use of PR professionals was pioneered in the final years of the Boris Yeltsin presidency in the late 1990s. The first company it hired was the Moscow-based agency Niccolo M, named after the Renaissance-era thinker Niccolo Machiavelli.

Letter

Storm in a teacup

RIA Novosti chief editor Svetlana Mironyuk calls for a delicate approach to history, following a report in EUobserver about Russian efforts to "improve the image of Joseph Stalin."

Leftist MEPs call on EU to address crisis in Chile

A total of 48 MEPs from GUE/NGL, the Greens and the Socialists have demanded the EU to comply with the democracy clause of the EU-Chile agreement to ensure that Chile respects fundamental rights.

News in Brief

  1. Germany: EU banking union deal possible in December
  2. EIB: no more funding of fossil-fuel projects
  3. UK defence chief: Russia could trigger World War III
  4. Hungary's Varhelyi will face more questions
  5. Police put former Berlusconi MEP Comi under house arrest
  6. MEPs criticise Poland for criminalising sex education
  7. UK will not name new commissioner before election
  8. Trump expected to delay EU car tariff decision

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner
  2. Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room
  3. Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner
  4. EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors
  5. Hungary's commissioner-to-be grilled over loyalty to Orban
  6. Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act
  7. Leftist MEPs call on EU to address crisis in Chile
  8. Mustard gas and cod: Last chance to stop Nord Stream 2?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us