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    Russia has paid at least $10 million since 2006 to U.S. public relations agencies hired to improve its image on the global stage, a Russian magazine said on Monday.

    MOSCOW, March 16 (RIA Novosti) - Russia has paid at least $10 million since 2006 to U.S. public relations agencies hired to improve its image on the global stage, a Russian magazine said on Monday.

    The New Times said Russia had sought PR advice ahead of its debut as a Group of Eight summit host in 2006 and had signed a $2 million contract with a respected U.S. public relations and marketing firm, Ketchum.

    Foreign media said at the time that the agency would find it difficult to reverse Western public opinion about Russia. Just before the summit in St. Petersburg, then-U.S. vice president Dick Cheney accused Russia of backsliding on democracy and using its energy resources to blackmail its neighbors, and Senator John McCain called on world leaders to boycott the summit.

    The services of the PR firms are believed to have been paid for by bankers loyal to the Kremlin, the weekly said.

    The United States' PR Watch said Ketchum had lobbied vigorously to have then-Russian President Vladimir Putin named Time Magazine's 2007 Person of the Year, Moscow's radio station Echo Moskvy earlier said.

    Foreign media also suggested that a kiss that Putin planted on the stomach of a five-year-old boy was a clumsy attempt to follow PR experts' advice about being friendly to children in order to soften his image in the run-up to the G8 summit.

    The Kremlin spent $2.8 million on PR services in 2007 and has increased spending fivefold by the start of 2009 as analysts have noted that the Kremlin has become more open, the weekly said.

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