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Russian bid to counter Western criticism

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides at the Kremlin say they feel surrounded, and they're not going to take it anymore.

Russian corporations are being foiled abroad; the Russian state is being unfairly blamed for volatility in global energy markets; and suggestions that the state is eliminating its critics are just preposterous.

Why all the bad press? Because of "Russophobia" – an unreasoning Western hostility toward Russia – according to the Kremlin.

"I see a campaign here," Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said in a TV interview last week. "The stronger we are becoming, the greater, perhaps, is the number of those willing ... to prevent us from getting stronger."

Amid all the allegations that the Kremlin – in a reprise of KGB tactics – is behind the mysterious deaths of two investigative journalists and a former KGB agent turned critic in recent months, President Putin is turning to a page out of the old Soviet playbook.

His aides are reviving elements of the Soviet Union's once-massive propaganda machine as well as considering fresh approaches.

Novosti, the USSR's "information agency," has been renamed RIA-Novosti and is being bolstered by a flood of Putin-era petrocash. It has started an English-language satellite news network called Russia Today and a monthly feature magazine named Russia Profile, both of which carry offerings on the good job Putin is doing in the world and next to nothing on things like the conflict in Chechnya or the murder of government critics. The organization also brings Moscow's spin to US readers with paid supplements in The Washington Post and other papers.

"Many forgotten forms of work are being restored," says Pyotr Romanov, a Novosti veteran. "We feel there is a lot of misunderstanding about Russia out there, and that the Russian point of view urgently needs to be expressed in the world media."

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