A top spin doctor to Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticised the Western press for "rampant" Russophobia and use of negative stereotypes.
Sergei Yastrzhembsky – seen by some as the Kremlin’s Alastair Campbell – singled out The Guardian but directed his fire at most Western coverage, claiming it failed to acknowledge the political and economic sea-change in Russia.
"There exists a dangerous tendency to attribute to Russians such allegedly hereditary characteristics as cruelty, laziness, anti-democratism and irresponsibility," he complained.
"Pronounced negative stereotypes – such as official corruption, mafia dominance, pervasive poverty and alcoholism – continue to prevail in many Western mass media that cover Russia."
In some reports "a disrespectful and derogatory tone were more frequent even than during the Cold War".
Yastrzhembsky co-ordinates the Kremlin’s media relations on war-ravaged Chechnya and is a close adviser to Putin.
However, his article in a Moscow newspaper – based on a speech at a Russian investment conference in London – did not mention Western coverage of alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya.
Instead, he said: "It is important to understand what is behind all the stories about vodka, the mafia and uncivilised Russians."
The cause of this "information policy toward Russia" was ingratitude that a defeated enemy has begun to stir again, he indicated.
But, he claimed, the Russian response to the events of September 11 had led to some changes.
"On October 6, commenting on this transformation, Britain’s The Guardian wrote: ‘Within three weeks Putin turned from an intractable political enemy to a good friend and a key ally.’
"Responsibility for the surprising assertion that the president of Russia was a political enemy of the West must lie with this authoritative newspaper.
"But it gives you an idea of the power of negative stereotypes. I would call The Guardian’s confession a recovery of sight through shock."
Russia itself, he insisted, had broken the "vice-like" totalitarian system, and switched to a democratic and market system with hard-won stability which was now bearing fruit.
"It’s high time the West stopped treating Russia as a mischievous student in the school of democracy," he said.
It was time to "overcome the trend of negative coverage in the foreign mass media", he added.
by Will Stewart in Moscow