We’ve been looking at a few people in the West who like Vladimir Putin for free. Now we’re going to examine a few who do it for money.
Hang in there, because this gets complicated. You see, there are so many Washington PR outfits that are willing to take dirty money that it can be hard to keep track of them all.
It was not ever thus. As Luke O’Brien noted in a January/February 2015 article in Politico, there was once just one person in all of D.C. – an eccentric character who went by the apparently invented name of Baron Edward J. von Kloberg III – who was shameless enough to lobby for the likes of Saddam Hussein, Nicolae Ceausescu, and Mobutu Sese Seko.
That was back in the 1980s and 90s. Today, however, “Washington lobbying has turned into a multibillion-dollar enterprise in which much of the stigma attached to shilling for the unsavory has dwindled or been anonymized by big firms of lawyers and spin doctors….The thinking goes something like this: It’s just business.”
Yeah, just business. Just like in The Godfather.
At the center of this bucket of slime is a PR firm called Ketchum, whose CEO is Rob Flaherty and whose Chairman is Ray Kotcher. In March of last year, NBC News reported that according to Justice Department records, “the Putin government exerts most of its behind-the-scenes influence in the U.S.” through Ketchum, which during a six-month period pocketed over $1.5 million in Kremlin cash. (And that’s not all: until last year, Ketchum was raking in additional millions to flack for Russia’s state-run Gazprom Export, which ships natural gas abroad.) All in all, Ketchum has reportedly “earned more than $60 million from the Kremlin over the past nine years.”
What does Ketchum do for Russia? For one thing, it maintains the regime’s English-language Twitter account and propaganda website. At the G-8 summit in 2006, Ketchum arranged interviews with the goal of whitewashing Putin. In September 2013, Ketchum even managed to place a Putin-signed op-ed in the New York Times (an accomplishment that reflects even more poorly on the editors of the Times than on the creeps at Ketchum).
But pushing Putin on the American public hasn’t been an easy assignment for the long-suffering whores at Ketchum. When their client made war on Georgia, there was trouble in River City. No, the Ketchum folks didn’t experience a crisis of conscience about taking money from a warmongering tyrant. They wanted to do this dirty work. They just realized that the task was a very tough one, under the circumstances, and that their skills, honed on hawking FedEx and Delta Airlines, just weren’t up to the job. Still, the Ketchum crowd did their best, lamely peddling the frankly hard-to-sell line that it was the mean old Georgians who started the war.
According to O’Brien, the deal between Ketchum and the Kremlin resulted in something of a “culture clash.” You see, “Russian officials couldn’t understand why publicists weren’t simply able to buy journalists. Or manipulate them.” Ed Verona, former head of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, explained to O’Brien that in Russia such matters often involve “passing an envelope to somebody.” Well, an envelope full of cash may not buy some American journalists, but we know one thing: it’ll buy Ketchum.
To be sure, Ketchum isn’t alone in boosting Putin. And here’s where the picture gets a little busy. At one juncture, some of Ketchum’s work for Russia was being passed on to a fellow subsidiary of Ketchum’s parent company, Omnicom, called The Washington Group, which at the time was headed by former New York Congresswoman Susan Molinari.
Later, when The Washington Group proved to be insufficiently capable of polishing Putin’s turds, Ketchum took on Alston & Bird, Bob Dole’s law firm, which gets $15,000 a month from the Kremlin coffers. Russia’s point man at A&B is Robert C. Jones, former counsel to the Senate Appropriations Committee and to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).
For a while, Ketchum retained another Omnicom subsidiary, Clark & Weinstock, to lobby for Gazprom. Here’s more: Venable, a “law and lobbying firm” in D.C., collects $28,000 a month from Ketchum to work on the Gazprom Export account, which is handled by William R. Nordwind, a former aide to Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI). Maslansky & Partners, co-founded by famous pollster Frank Luntz, collected a six-figure sum in 2013 to help develop Putin PR. Another firm that’s profited from the Putin-promoting game is Hill and Knowlton. And the Gavin Anderson firm made $100,000 a month in 2007 alone to do PR for Gazprom.
Then there’s GPlus, a Brussels-based Ketchum subsidiary that’s counted Microsoft and Visa among its clients. In 2006 the Kremlin hired GPlus (Gazprom hired it separately the next year) to promote Russia in Western Europe. Estimated take: “€3 million to €5 million a year in total in fees alone, excluding expenses.” GPlus, in turn, hired a number of “former EU officials and eminent journalists” to help promote Putin. Among them: sometime EU hacks Gregor Kreuzhuber and Peter Witt and ex-BBC journalist Angus Roxburgh (who blames Putin’s brutality on George W. Bush and has warned the West not to “alienat[e]” Russians by being nasty to their dictator),
Alas, GPlus fell into some difficulties: during the Ukrainian-Russian “gas war,” the EU yanked its lobbying rights “for failing to disclose the identity of three clients.” The life of a prostitute isn’t always easy.