Looks like Russia is experiencing something of an identity crisis. Apparently, Europe’s biggest state has decided its dodgy image is putting off foreign investors – so it’s hired PR agency Ketchum to do something about it. While we’ve no doubt that for every AK-47 (the weapon of choice for dictators and evildoers everywhere, invented in Russia), there is a babushka-esque grandmother just waiting to ply us with Beluga caviar, revealing Russia’s cuddly side is a job MT is extremely relieved not to have been offered.
Russia says it wants to ‘shift global views’ of itself in order to attract new business. Apparently, it’s not just that slightly hairy period when Russia was constantly close to destroying all human life as we know it that has left a lasting impression on the global consciousness; ‘recent developments’ (like the time it cut off the Ukraine's gas supply, or the polonium incident, or sending Yukos boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky to jail) haven’t helped either. What's more, Transparency International has consistently rated Russia as one of the world's most corrupt countries. So we can see why they're concerned.
That said, Russia has shown signs of being serious about improving its international image. Not only has it hosted a G8 summit in the last few years, but it has also launched two international news channels - one in English and one in Arabic. And the government’s dignified approach to the crash of the Polish presidential plane last month indicated that winds of change might well be blowing through the Kremlin. (Until its soldiers were caught thieving credit cards from the Polish dignitaries’ corpses, that is…)
On the other hand, Moscow probably needs to get its its own people onside before it starts wooing the rest of us. And in the wake of an opinion poll showing that trust in the Prime Minister and the President has fallen 10% in the last six months (following a string of - you guessed it - corruption scandals), we'd argue that taxing the national pastime isn’t the best way to shore up popular support. Yet the Russian government has just announced it’s planning to raise duty on vodka, more than doubling its price over the next two years. Understandably, Russians are incensed – although with ‘at least’ two million people in Russia officially classified as alcoholics, there’s little chance the tax rise will put them off. In fact, drinks manufacturers are already protesting that illegal alcohol production could rocket.
If all else fails, perhaps the government should turn to President Vladimir Putin. Just last year, the former mountain skier, KGB agent and judo black belt donned a pair of wraparound sunglasses, stripped off his shirt, jumped on a horse and proceeded to be conveyed, bare-chested, over the Siberian tundra. Putin as the new Clooney-esque international heart-throb? It might work...
In today's bulletin:
Osborne primed after watchdog slashes growth forecast
BP under pressure to suspend divi as Obama demands more
Majestic raises a glass to upturn in results
Russia to get the rebranding treatment
MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Make a million before lunch