| WASHINGTON, March 6
WASHINGTON, March 6 The U.S. company that
handles public relations for Russia in the United States
distanced itself on Thursday from the Ukraine crisis, saying
that it advises the Kremlin largely on economic development, not
Ketchum Inc, which has come under increasing scrutiny in
recent months as Washington has clashed with Russia over Syria
and gay rights, said in a statement: "We are not advising the
Russian Federation on foreign policy, including the current
situation in Ukraine."
Ketchum, a division of Omnicom Group Inc, has earned
more than $55 million over eight years handling publicity and
media relations for the government of Russia and Gazprom
, the state-owned natural gas giant, federal filings
"Our work continues to focus on supporting economic
development and investment in the country and facilitating the
relationship between representatives of the Russian Federation
and the Western media," Ketchum said.
The company was hired to help Russia prepare for a summit of
the G8 industrialized countries in St. Petersburg in 2006, and
over the years it has encouraged reporters, including those at
Reuters, to write about Russian trade summits, technology
companies and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Ketchum also manages an English-language Web site and
Twitter account called "thinkRussia," which have not mentioned
the unrest in Ukraine.
Another Omnicom subsidiary, G Plus, represents Russia in
Russia occupied Ukraine's Crimea region last weekend and has
rebuffed Western demands that its forces return to their bases.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have made little
headway so far.
News outlets including CNBC and Business Insider have noted
Ketchum's work with Russia recently.
Public-relations executives say there is nothing wrong with
representing countries such as Russia that have poor human
rights records, but warn Ketchum's reputation may suffer if the
situation in Ukraine deteriorates further.
"The moment that a client becomes an enemy of the United
States, or an enemy of our citizens, then I think it's probably
a whole new calculus," said Michael Carberry, a former
public-relations executive who now teaches at American
University's Kogod School of Business.
Ketchum's work is not unusual in the United States, where at
least 330 companies and individuals have registered with the
Justice Department to represent foreign entities.
While they are prohibited from doing business with countries
like Iran and Cuba that face U.S. sanctions, lobbying and
public-relations firms are free to work with other governments
whose interests conflict with those of the United States.
Their work can help improve relations by building ties
between the United States and its adversaries through
non-official channels, and providing feedback to foreign leaders
on how their actions might be perceived abroad, industry
"We could rapidly accelerate our dialog with Iran if we did
things like museum exchanges, cultural exchanges, university
exchanges," said Philip Elwood, a vice president at Levick
Strategic Communications in Washington.
Ketchum's affiliate in Ukraine, Pleon Talan, distanced
itself from its parent firm's work on Wednesday in an apparent
response to local criticism. "Pleon Talan does not work and has
never been involved in work with the Russian government," the
company said on its Facebook page.
Ketchum farmed out some of its Russia work to other U.S.
companies last year, records show.
Alston and Bird, a Washington law and lobbying firm, was
paid $100,000 over a six month period last year for policy and
politics advice and communications firm Maslansky + Partners was
paid $139,000 in that same time frame. The polling firm Ipsos,
which also works with Reuters on some news stories, was paid
$92,000 during that period. All three companies referred
questions to Ketchum.
Ketchum helped Putin land a commentary piece in The New York
Times last September that urged the United States to rely on
international bodies like the United Nations rather than
military force to resolve the Syrian conflict.
Ketchum helped Russian President Vladimir Putin win Time
magazine's "Person of the Year" award in 2007 and pressed the
U.S. State Department to soften its assessment of Russia's
human-rights record, according to lobbying records. The company
has also contacted reporters who wrote articles chronicling
Russia's human-rights abuses.
Russia is rated as "not free" by Freedom House, an
international civil-liberties watchdog, and it ranks 149th out
of 179 countries on Reporters Without Borders' press freedom
Filings with the U.S. Justice Department show that Ketchum
has earned more than $26 million for its work with Russia and
more than $29 million from Gazprom.