A new novel about the fight for the Kremlin in 2008 -- no conscience, no ethics, just money and hate
A new would be bestseller which lays bare the dirty tricks of political PR Russian-style and explains how the media manipulates people, just hit bookshelves and naive minds in Moscow.
The author, Sergei Minaev, first made headlines in culture magazines last year after publishing his first book Dukhless (roughly translated, "soulless"). The novel sold over half a million copies and detailed the inside world of top businessmen in Russia.
Like Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking which draws back the curtains of tobacco PR, Minaev penetrates the world of political PR in Russia and uses a mix of fictional characters and real life stories and events woven together to not only entertain, but to draw out interesting possibilities of events yet to come in Russia's future.
Set in 2007-2008 and leading up to the presidential election, this first novel in a series is written from the perspective of Anton Drozdikov, a young, but tough political PR expert, the storyline follows his beginnings at Gleb Pavlovski's political center Effective Politics Fund by writing speeches for United Russia parliamentarians and Kremlin personalities. He is fired for plagiarizing Goebbels speeches. When asked about his political views and preferences Drozdikov does not deny his admiration for the late fascists command of the media, he states, "I hate," and as the plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that this is truly his main motivation.
Drozdikov creates his own PR company, Che Media, and quickly proves a success in regional campaigns. However, with a change in election rules which favors party lists over individual figures, his business begins to dry up.
Drozdikov is then hired by two different factions, the first comprised of united opposition forces (led by a man with "links" in London) and the other headed by a former gangster (like the "bratok" depicted in Brigada) who is now trying to employ "civilized" business methods. The gangsters give Anton $100,000 for a campaign to defeat their opponents (Zevs Bank) in a proxy fight for the land under a former Soviet manufacturing plant in the middle of Moscow. The opposition forces offer Anton $50,000 a month for heading the election campaign and fighting against the Third Term Committee which is covertly planning to prepare a third term for Putin using the media.
The inspired Drozdikov sets in motion a series of events to bring his clients victory:
First, in order to throw the bank into a crisis, Che Media starts a wave of Internet rumors (mostly in the blogosphere). People calling themselves Zevs Bank employees participate in popular online forums telling stories like, "some suspicious things happened today, they switched off the server for two hours," or, "I heard my boss has some problems with tax inspections." Day by day, the blogosphere starts influencing the press. Journalists start checking the information pointing to looming crisis. Then Internet postings appear tracking the outages of the bank's cash machines not working.
Meanwhile, Drozdikov meets with an old college friend who is now chief editor at Kommersant (a top finance newspaper). In their drunken revelry, Drozdikov "confesses" to his firned that he received an order from the government media-structures on "something" related to Zevs Bank and that he knows that a crisis is inevitable. "I predict that tomorrow you will see long lines there [at the cash machines]." The worst is yet to come he says as the ties between Zevs and the much larger Alpha Bank will drag much larger Russian financial institutions into the crisis.
After his meeting, Drozdikov calls the opposition party and orders them to demonstrate in front of Zevs using a "flash mob" of students forming lines at the cash machines. With that, Kommersant publishes an article which concerns the both bank's clients and partners and sets in motion the artificially created crisis. Alpha sues the paper for a million dollars. But with a $100k in his pocket a hot stupid "chick" (as he continually refers to women) on his lap, Drozdikov has succeeded in helping his client acquire the factory land in the ensuing financial maelstrom while also keeping his editor friend clean.
Army Bullying & Illegal Arms Trading
Second, in an attempt to create a backlash against the Third Term Committee, Drozikov blows a story about army bullying out of proportion. Using a minor incident concerning an injured soldier selling some of his equipment for quick cash, Drozikov seeds the opposition television channel, radio stations, and Internet with pieces that turn the incident into a chain of illegal weapons trading with terrorists run by army officials. Without knowing how his interview will be edited, the soldier accepts $20,000 from Drozikov. At the same time, the hospital is bribed into preventing other journalists into the soldier's room due to "serious health concerns". AP, Reuters, and CNN are then left with only the oppositions footage of the soldiers predicament. A week later, state television runs footage contesting the lies, but it is too late because the individual soldier is no longer news. Everyone is now focused on the bullying and arms trading stories.
Terrorist Attack Silenced by the Kremlin
Third, Drozikov decides to stage a bombing of a Moscow subway station. Bankrolled by the opposition party bosses, he will use fireworks to create panic and chaos while hired actors will act injured and hired ambulances will carry them away. Opposition television will be coincidently nearby and will manage to film everything while other media will manage to film only blood on the ground and some eyewitness interviews (given also by Drozikov's hired actors). The media will report that first, but as they start to dig further and find that there are no injured in hospitals or any victims at all it will be too late. The blast will have been reported and further attempts to denounce the news will be made to look like Kremlin trying to silence the truth in order not to spoil the presidential campaign.
How Drozikov's plan all plays out will have to wait until the second book is released (or maybe when the next election takes place in Russia).
Anton Verstakov is an independent documentary producer, founder of AVProductions Creative Group. In the past five years Anton worked as a News Editor for Russia Today TV and as a broadcast journalist/producer for the Rossija television channel (RTR).