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The Americans were "vital," says Mikhail Margolev, who coordinated the Yeltsin account at Video International. Margolev had worked for five years in two American advertising agencies but freely acknowledges that his methods are still influenced by his earlier tenure as a propaganda specialist for the Soviet Communist Party and as an undercover KGB agent masquerading as a journalist for TASS, the Russian news agency. "The Americans helped teach us Western political-advertising techniques," says Margolev, "and most important, they caused our work to be accepted because they were the only ones really close to Tatiana. She was the key. The others in the campaign were like snakes, and snakes, you know, often eat each other. Putting his daughter in to get things done was Yeltsin's smartest move, and she was clearly leaning on the Americans."
The TV ad the Americans most wanted was the one the campaign made last, which had Yeltsin himself speaking. "We actually wanted him in every spot," says Gorton. "After all those great ads with average folks talking about their lives and then about Yeltsin, we wanted the President to come on and say that he understood what they were talking about, that he heard their complaints, that he felt their pain." But Yeltsin resisted--and that caused the team to reach out to Bill Clinton's all-purpose political aide, Dick Morris.
Communicating in code--Clinton was called the Governor of California, Yeltsin the Governor of Texas--the Americans sought Morris' help. They had earlier worked together to script Clinton's summit meeting with Yeltsin in mid-April. The main goal then was to have Clinton swallow hard and say nothing as Yeltsin lectured him about Russia's great-power prerogatives. "The idea was to have Yeltsin stand up to the West, just like the Communists insisted they would do if Zyuganov won," says a Clinton Administration official. "By having Yeltsin posture during that summit without Clinton's getting bent out of shape, Yeltsin portrayed himself as a leader to be reckoned with. That helped Yeltsin in Russia, and we were for Yeltsin."
The American team wanted Clinton to call Yeltsin to urge that he appear in his ads. The request reached Clinton--that much is known--but no one will say whether the call was made. Yet it was not long before Yeltsin finally appeared on the tube. That was the good news--the bad news was that the spot was awful. With all three of the American principals out of the country (the only time that happened during their employment), Video International dealt with Yeltsin on its own. Gorton had written several memos detailing how the shoot should proceed. Yeltsin, he said, should be filmed for at least four hours over several days, with the best 15 or 30 seconds culled for airing. "Even a former actor like Ronald Reagan would never attempt so important a task with less time and preparation devoted to the job," Gorton advised.
But it was not to be. "You'd have to say we were a bit reluctant to push the President," says Margolev. So at 6 one morning, after Yeltsin had slept barely three hours, Video International taped him for about 40 minutes. The finished commercial had Yeltsin speaking for more than two minutes. He looked exhausted. "It was ridiculous," says Shumate. "Here you have a guy whose health is a major issue, and his fitness to serve is called into question by his very own television spot."