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Situation with TOAZ, Russian producer of ammonia

More details of dark PR attacks against Togliattiazot (ToAZ), a major Russian ammonia and urea producer based in the industrial city of Tolyatti in the Samara Region on the Volga River, have come to light in a leaked email exchange between “PR hitmen” and those behind the smear campaign against the company. The website www.russianprleaks.com, dedicated to exposing the behind-the-scenes operations of dirt manufacturers for hire, has revealed more facts about carefully orchestrated actions against the chemicals giant.

 

According to the emails, the media relations company that orchestrated the smear campaign against ToAZ, created a series of completely bogus news pegs where citizens of Tolyatti allegedly complain about ToAZ, complaints ranging from environmental concerns to hate-graffiti. In reality, the PR team attempted to tarnish Togliattiazot’s reputation among the locals.

 

A leaked email of May 2, 2012, includes a detailed script for a staged protest rally against ToAZ and its supposedly deplorable environmental policies in Tolyatti, specifying that the participants would be “brought to the site of the rally by buses” and would include “four tested “shouters” from Moscow” who would set the tone, “incite the crowds… then make a statement for the [TV] cameras and leave after 15 minutes.” The staged rally was just one more news peg in a series that began earlier that year, all of them attempting to represent ToAZ as an incorrigible violator of environmental laws.

 

One of the earliest strikes against ToAZ was an open letter in March 2012 signed by “fifty concerned Tolyatti residents” about the management’s lax attitudes to environmental issues and to keeping the ToAZ facilities in good repair, and the allegedly dire state of environmental protection at the company. This was reinforced in April by “reports” of environmental investigation in Tolyatti by Green Patrol, a Russian environmental watchdog NGO. Leaked emails clearly point to the origin of the “open letter” as the dark PR artists, and detail the efforts to lend it legitimacy by providing the media with scanned signatures of the concerned citizens. Careful management of Green Patrol’s revelations evident in leaked emails and discussion of payment for publication also cast serious doubt on the authenticity of environmental activists’ findings.

 

The staged grassroots campaign continued with local residents’ polls, interviews and letters to the editor about the environmental horrors perpetrated by the ToAZ management and core shareholders, much to the surprise of actual local residents, wiring in comments on one of the paid stories: “I find it amazing that locals in your interviews are never worried about any regional companies but Togliattiazot. In the meantime, some ten oil refineries do not seem to cause any discomfort.”

 

However, the dark PR artists and their client were unabashed, staging hate graffiti against ToAZ around Tolyatti and even setting up a billboard on a major highway just outside Moscow pretending to advertise ToAZ purported expertise in tax avoidance and capital flight, all at a significant expense to the client (over US$ 10,000 for a day or two of exposure, according to an invoice attached to an email of September 10, 2012 – the billboards had to be taken down, and certainly nobody really expected them to stay up for a full month). The PR crowd went over the top, leaving very little plausibility to their efforts. They attempted to correct this by going into crisis management mode and claiming that the graffiti were in fact the product of ToAZ sympathizers who used this trick to instigate support for the company and its key officers – an even more preposterous suggestion.

 

These attacks against a major employer and an important source of municipal revenue in Tolyatti triggered a response by a number of citizen organizations in Tolyatti who asked the Russian president, the Prosecutor General, and the Investigative Committee in an open letter to look into the source of these attacks.  Countering the efforts of the opponents, the PR artists reprinted the letter in several local media outlets, adding a gay association as one of the letter signatories, in an attempt to play on homophobia prevalent in the traditional Russian society. The attempt apparently backfired, as most of the commentators on the reprinted open letter saw through the ploy.

 

 

The leaked emails show a wide gamut of tools and techniques in a smear campaign. While most of the names and email addresses are obviously fake, they contain a lead to the organization behind the campaign against ToAZ, the ultimate client of the dark PR professionals: the Uralchem Group, a chemicals and fertilizers conglomerate put together by Dmitry Mazepin, which holds a significant minority stake in ToAZ. An email of January 24, 2013 shows dark PR experts’ concern about a dead link in a story that was supposed to lead the readers to Uralchem corporate website, further confirming what many previous emails and pre-paid media stories hinted at, and what many Tolyatti residents already knew, as comments on many paid articles show.

 

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