After his defeat to Viktor Yushchenko in the 2004 "Orange Revolution", Viktor Yanukovych decided to airbrush his image. Cast as a one-time thug who served jail time for theft and a Kremlin stooge, Yanukovych turned to Madison Avenue for a remake. And it seems to have worked. Barring a miracle, Yanukovych looks set to become Ukraine's new leader following elections whose first round is set for Sunday, January 17. However, Yanukovych is not the only Ukrainian pol to reach out across the Atlantic for campaigning and other tips.
An AP report notes:
Candidates have hired campaign consultants, lobbyists and public relations firms with deep ties in Washington. With an interest to securing vital connections, the most prominent candidates have sought firms with ties to recent U.S. presidential candidates, including President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, both Democrats, and Republican Sen. John McCain.
Viktor Yushchenko, who was carried into power back in the heady, hopeful days of 2005, has turned to Clinton campaign strategist, Mark Penn, and the Washington-based consulting company PBN.
PBN and Myron Wasylyk have been chearleaders for Yushchenko's "Our Ukraine" movement.
All that pr talk isn't helping Yushchenko. He's expected to exit the race after Sunday's first round of voting along with 15 other lesser candidates.
Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, running second in opinion polls to Yanukovych, has turned for media savvy to the consulting firm AKPD, which was founded by Barack Obama's now chief-of-stafff David Axelrod.
According to Global Post, AKPD, has come up with some of Timoshenko's more pithy billboard messages.
Here are a few gems:
“They talk, she works.”
Or: “They promise, she works.”
Or: “They betray, she works.”
The Global Post piece quotes Larry Grisolano, the firm’s CEO, as saying:
AKPD has been hired in a consultative capacity, though not to run the campaign itself. “Six or seven folks” are working in the Tymoshenko campaign in various capacities, including polling, strategy and message development. Super pollster John Anzalone and Jeff Link — a longtime Democrat consultant who runs his own firm, Link Strategies — are involved on a day-to-day basis in the campaign.
But AKPD's ties to Axelrod poses some of the same kind of ethicall problematic entanglements that Obama repeatedly denounced during his election campaign, as Michael Isikoff at Newsweek has pointed out.
The former bad boy Yanukovych, who titilates the ethnic Russian majority in the east with his vows to make Russian an official language in Ukraine, proves not only Democratic strategists have their finger in the Ukrainian political pie.
Paul J. Manafort, , the business partner of former John McCain manager Rick Davis, has recast Yanukovych as a crusading reformer.
In this New York Times piece, Manafort explains Yanukovych has been unfairly maligned in the West, especially Washington.
“The West has not been willing to move beyond the cold war mentality and to see this man and the outreach that he has extended,” said Mr. Manafort, 58, who favors monogrammed dress shirts and has the looks of a network anchorman. He has worked for candidates around the world, including some, like the former Philippine president Ferdinand E. Marcos, with unsavory reputations.
Miraculously, Yanukovych has picked up some of Bill Clinton's speaking cues.
“I understand your dreams,” he told supporters at a rally, before echoing a line from former President Bill Clinton. “I feel your pain, and I share in your desire to make Ukraine a land of opportunity.”
This blog post from Ukrainiana, points out the anti-NATO, and pro-Kremlin American Institute in Ukraine thinktank in Washington has been carrying water for Yanukovych as well.
Is their is a bright side to all this behind-the-scene image management?
By turning to U.S. firms, all of Ukraine's political heavyweight have made it clear the U.S. figures in Ukraine's future. And even if Yanukovych does win, Moscow will not have a stooge. Maybe there is more to this than image.