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Hunter Cawood

Founder of the Russian Public Affairs Committee, RIAC Intern

Twenty-seven years ago, Russia embarked upon a journey of blockbuster proportions. The maelstrom that was the collapse of the Soviet Union gestured in a new era of economic and political realities — realities that mirror no historical analogy. In the same time it takes to binge-watch a Netflix Original Series, the world we know and love watched as Russia histrionically walked away from its past as the world’s largest centrally planned economy and embraced a future of free enterprise and private property. The Soviet Union’s decision to dissolve sent reverberations across the world, many of which are still apparent today.

Fast track to 2019, Russia now has another opportunity to drastically change the course of history, and it starts with something Russia has, quite frankly, never done before. It starts with launching a pro-Russia lobby to win the hearts and minds of Russia’s historical nemesis, the United States.

That is precisely the problem Russia has today in its relationship with the United States; Americans and especially American decision-makers are not hearing Russia’s side of the argument. They instead hear a one-sided media mantra that categorically assigns Russia the role of the bad guy in international relations. It is starkly similar to the way Hollywood notoriously cast Russians as the generic villain in almost every action movie known to man.

The solution, however, is not to fight media with media. Although RT and Sputnik are doing valuable work, they will never capture a large enough audience in the United States to change the conversation and rebrand Russia’s image among America’s decision-makers. Shifting the Overton window and revitalizing Russia’s brand among Americans starts on a more fundamental level. If Russia wants to effectuate change in the United States and American foreign policy towards Russia, then it starts with having a pro-Russia lobby in the United States dedicated to that mission.


Twenty-seven years ago, Russia embarked upon a journey of blockbuster proportions. The maelstrom that was the collapse of the Soviet Union gestured in a new era of economic and political realities — realities that mirror no historical analogy. In the same time it takes to binge-watch a Netflix Original Series, the world we know and love watched as Russia histrionically walked away from its past as the world’s largest centrally planned economy and embraced a future of free enterprise and private property. The Soviet Union’s decision to dissolve sent reverberations across the world, many of which are still apparent today.

Fast track to 2019, Russia now has another opportunity to drastically change the course of history, and it starts with something Russia has, quite frankly, never done before. It starts with launching a pro-Russia lobby to win the hearts and minds of Russia’s historical nemesis, the United States.

There is an old adage that if you want something done right, then you have to do it yourself. That might be true in most circumstances, but when it comes to American politics the more accurate advice is — if you want something done at all, then you have to have a lobby do it for you. Virtually every major political policy that exists today in the United States owes its success in some part to a group of lobbyists or an organization that lobbied on that policy’s behalf. Whether it is a domestic policy like Obamacare or an $8 billion dollar arms deal, chances are there was a lobby behind it to make happen. Lobbyism is the fuel that feeds the American political machine, and most Americans know that.

What is surprising is that Russia has for a long time been reluctant to venture into lobbying in the United States. Although it’s true that Russia has invested in media projects like RT and Sputnik, Russia itself has invested little to nothing into lobbying-related efforts that actually influence the American political landscape. Decorated experts like Andrey Sushentsov, have said that the reasons for this reluctance are rooted in skepticism that lobbying can actually effectuate foreign policy changes in the American political establishment. However, Russian experts are now realizing that is not the case.

American foreign policy is, in fact, very malleable and responsive to foreign lobbying. Countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and even the small island country of Bermuda have long realized this reality and set a precedent for Russia to follow. Such countries have invested millions into well-oiled lobbying machines that advance their interests in the United States, and in doing so, have seen their investments pay off in the form of favorable policies.

As a matter of fact, there seems to be a correlation between the amount a country spends on lobbying in the United States and the relationship the United States has with that particular country. Israel is perhaps the premier example of this phenomenon. Israel spends more on lobbying in the US than any other country, and it uncoincidentally enjoys the best relationship with the United States.

Its ability to lobby in the United States has convinced many American policymakers that Israel and America’s security and interests are one and the same.

Top 10 Countries Ranked by Foreign Lobby Spending in the US (Source: OpenSecrets.org). However, it should be noted that Russia would not be on this list, but for the fact that the United States has forced Russian media outlets like RIA Novosti and Russia Today to register as foreign agents. The US has notably not forced other state-run outlets from other countries to do the same (e.g. Al Jazeera). Roughly $36 million out of the $40 million represented in the chart above is money spent by RIA Novosti and Russia Today since 2017 to simply broadcast in the United States.

Now it is important to say that lobbying is not the same as a quid-pro-quo. It is not a form of bribery nor is it inherently corrupt. In the American context, lobbying has both a historical and legal basis that lends it credence as a legitimate component of the democratic process. Lobbying is essentially a form of targeted marketing. Interest groups and lobbying organizations market their ideas, values, and policy recommendations to a narrowly targeted audience of decision-makers who would otherwise, especially in the case of foreign interests, never hear those ideas and arguments.

That is precisely the problem Russia has today in its relationship with the United States; Americans and especially American decision-makers are not hearing Russia’s side of the argument. They instead hear a one-sided media mantra that categorically assigns Russia the role of the bad guy in international relations. It is starkly similar to the way Hollywood notoriously cast Russians as the generic villain in almost every action movie known to man.

The solution, however, is not to fight media with media. Although RT and Sputnik are doing valuable work, they will never capture a large enough audience in the United States to change the conversation and rebrand Russia’s image among America’s decision-makers. Shifting the Overton window and revitalizing Russia’s brand among Americans starts on a more fundamental level. If Russia wants to effectuate change in the United States and American foreign policy towards Russia, then it starts with having a pro-Russia lobby in the United States dedicated to that mission.

With a pro-Russia lobby to educate lawmakers, build connections and relationships, submit articles to leading media outlets, organize and attend events, provide policy recommendations, and make the intellectual case for Russia-friendly policies — Russia could change the course of history towards cooperation, stability, and a mutual respect for interests. Instead of fighting proxy wars across the globe, a pro-Russia lobby could rewrite the future to entail collaboration in fighting terrorism and maintaining regional stability. Instead of being on the brink of a nuclear arms race, a pro-Russia lobby could persuade Washington to recommit itself to nuclear treaties that make both countries and the world at large safer. And instead of an American foreign policy that shows total disregard for Russia’s interests, a pro-Russia lobby could foster a future of mutual respect.

More importantly, organizing and funding an organization to lead the way in lobbying for Russia’s interests in the United States would not require a huge investment, but the potential return on that investment could be colossal — especially if that organization could convince American lawmakers to lift the multitude of sanctions currently haunting the Russian economy. Seen from that perspective, an investment in a pro-Russia lobby would also be an investment in the Russian economy, the Russian people, and a better future for both countries.

Hunter Cawood is the founder of the Russian Public Affairs Committee and a volunteer at the Russian International Affairs Council. He holds a Master’s in Management from Saint Petersburg State University (Russia) as well as a Bachelor’s in Political Science from Kennesaw State University.

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