In Washington, Vladimir Putin's Russian government has all the usual tools of statecraft at its disposal—an enormous embassy compound on Wisconsin Avenue, a stately Beaux-Arts ambassador's residence on 16th Street, and even a Ministry of Foreign Affairs Twitter account.
But the Putin government also has less visible tools of influence in Washington: a battery of well-paid American public affairs experts and lobbyists, each helping to push the Russian government's line in the U.S. capital.
Thanks to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, you can get a sense of just how much money the Russian Federation is spending in the United States, and what that government is spending its money on.
According to records maintained by the Justice Department, the Putin government exerts most of its behind-the-scenes influence in the U.S. through the public relations firm Ketchum, which documents show was paid more than $1.5 million in the most recent six-month reporting period for its work on behalf of Russia.
What does Ketchum do for that cash? Mostly distribute press releases, the documents say. But according to a document filed in November, Ketchum is also involved in "preparing, disseminating or causing the dissemination" of the website ModernRussia.com, a URL that redirects to ThinkRussia.com.
This week, the English-language site features a look back at the Sochi Olympics, a feature on international women's day in Russia, and a piece detailing a crackdown on bitcoin. It does not include any mention of tensions in Ukraine. The website says that it is intended to "offer news and share perspectives on Russia."
Ketchum is also charged with managing the Twitter account. One day after Russian forces apparently seized control of key sites in Crimea, that Twitter account instead focused on the Olympics, which had ended a week earlier. The account included this tweet: "If you could have attended any #Sochi2014 event, which would you choose?"
A Ketchum representative did not respond this week to several phone and email requests for comment.
Ketchum also has a separate contract, paying more than $3 million between June 1 and Nov. 30, to represent the interests of Gazprom Export, the natural gas exporting subsidiary of the Russian energy giant Gazprom, which is itself controlled by the Russian government.
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