Asia, Business & trade, Human rights, Image makeovers, New in Lobbying

Uzbekistan sells ‘change’ campaign with second PR hire in six months

The Central Asian state of Uzbekistan has hired its second public affairs firm in just over six months as it seeks to convince Washington and US investors that it has turned a page on its repressive recent history.

Washington PR firm Xenophon Strategies has been working for the Export Promotion Agency of the Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade since May, according to a newly disclosed filing with the Department of Justice. The firm is to be paid $585,775 for one year to distribute informational materials to “companies that may want to do business in Uzbekistan.”

The PR push comes as the government of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has promised wholesale improvements to the rule of law and individual freedoms following the death of dictator Islam Karimov in 2016. He has delivered economic and social reforms but the political landscape remains lacking.

The country, Central Asia’s most populous, is looking to the United States to further its development.

Mirziyoyev visited US President Donald Trump at the White House in May 2018 to cement the growing relationship. Companies from Uzbekistan and the US signed 20 business deals worth $4.8 billion just days before the meeting.

“We’ve been working very closely together on different things, including trade,” Trump said at the time.

Xenophon’s work includes the fledgling Twitter account @UzbekChange, which currently has zero tweets and zero followers, and the website President and CEO David Fuscus, Senior Vice President Mark Hazlin, Vice President Jennifer Lay and Hayden Bardorf are registered on the account. 

It appears that Xenophon’s work has already begun. On May 10, the firm paid Cometis AG, a Germany-based investor relations agency, a $6,055 “planning fee” for “work to be done in Europe only” that was “necessary to finalize the contract.” Meanwhile Xenophon disclosed being paid $13,250 on May 1.

Previously, Uzbekistan’s Agency for Information and Mass Communication hired New Jersey-based Frontier Consulting in November 2019 for a three-day press tour for western journalists “in an effort to promote Uzbekistan as an attractive destination for investment and tourism and to publicize Uzbekistan’s ongoing economic and political reform program.”

In addition, a nonprofit organization of journalists called the Public Fund for Support and Development of National Mass Media has hired Bridgeway Advocacy of Washington in March to “inform public and private sector audiences in the US of the advancements being made and the work being done and planned in Uzbekistan to promote freedom of speech, press and journalistic freedom, and gender equality.” Former congressman John Tanner, Democrat of Tennessee, is registered to work on the $30,000-a-month account.