Russia’s PR Disaster with Greenpeace

“By charging the protestors on the preposterous grounds of “piracy”, Russian officials have given Greenpeace a platform to attract attention that must wildly exceed the expectations of the protest’s planners,” John Lough writes in the Moscow Times. I fully agree that Russia’s move has backfired, but they must seriously be pressured to immediately release the activists and seek another avenue to deal with the issue.

The interesting question is why such smart, wealthy, powerful people continue to commit such foolish mistakes, courting PR disasters one after the other.

From Lough’s piece:

The easy answer is that they just do not care about Russia’s international reputation. But the evidence points to the contrary. They want Russia to be seen as an important international player, a pole in its own right that attracts other Eurasian countries around it. The Russian government wants foreign investment that they know is essential for economic modernization. It wants support for Russia’s determination to uphold the principle of sovereignty in international relations and prevent a unipolar world. They have established the 24/7 news channel RT as well as the agency Rossotrudnichestvo to promote Russia abroad. They also retain international PR advisers.

To be fair, Russia’s leaders can sometimes communicate very effectively. President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in the Syria crisis and his editorial in The New York Times were part of a diplomatic masterstroke that left U.S. President Barack Obama flat-footed. Putin also addressed leading foreign Russia-watchers from around the world at last month’s Valdai Discussion Club . The event was a successful exercise in reaching an important target audience.

The Russian leadership’s strategic understanding of global competition should mean that the priority of maintaining a positive international reputation is well understood. This is far from the case and Russian officials and businesspeople regularly complain about the anti-Russian bias of Western media. They are seemingly blind to two facts: Firstly, that Russia is poor at developing and delivering credible messages that engender support and, secondly, that it allows others to shape the narrative about the country.