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Reuters/Denis Sinyakov
Tina Kandelaki has 1.8 million Twitter followers.
TOP GUN

This is the Russian socialite behind Kalashnikov’s flashy rebranding

By Hanna Kozlowska

Stuck in the past and strapped for cash, Kalashnikov, the maker of the world’s most popular gun, got a marketing makeover last year from Tina Kandelaki, a celebrity host, socialite and marketing whiz.

She’s a colorful presence in Russia. As Alec Luhn points out in his profile in Maxim magazine, Kandelaki is a tabloid darling, known for her days as the “sexiest TV host,” or the time when she kissed a fellow socialite on stage. She is also the director of Apostol, a communications agency she transformed into the top company in the field.

When Kalashnikov found itself with new private sector owners in 2013 after years of financial problems, including a bankruptcy (the Russian state still retains a majority stake), it set about re-organizing production and divided operations into three lines: military, sports, and hunting. And it brought in Kandelaki to give the company a new look.

She and her team came up with a somewhat counter-intuitive re-imagining: The Kalashnikov, used by soldiers, militants and terrorists, would be a “weapon of peace.”

“Kalashnikov weapons are made to maintain peace around the world, regionally and in particular countries—they help nations protect their sovereignty, their right for peaceful existence, their right to pick their own historic fate,” the company said, in unveiling its new look.

Perhaps Kandelaki, who is such an expert at curating her own image (she has 1.8 million followers on Twitter), is the only person to pull off this re-branding. Consider this detail from Luhn’s profile:

“‘I have a heavy hand,’ she says with a grin, sitting beneath a huge glass chandelier in her gleaming white office in central Moscow. At the moment, that hand is adorned with a gold-and-diamond Parmigiani Fleurier watch and a giant amethyst ring that matches the purple spots on her pale yellow leopard-print blouse. ‘I don’t have such a manicure that I can’t pull the trigger,’ she adds.

Luhn writes that she took a photo with him during their interview and posted it on her Instagram with various hashtags such as “#me” “#interview,” “#magazine.”  He says that the next day he got 200 new follower requests and “congratulations on my newfound fame.”

When she is not about “#me” Georgian-born Kandelaki, known to be a supporter of president Vladimir Putin, is all about mother Russia, and how to spin the country’s brand. She posted a photo of Bradley Cooper on her Instagram, declaring Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper to be a good piece of “propaganda,” and wished that Russian filmmakers would adopt the same kind of earnest mentality, unironically presenting the fight between the good guys and the bad.

She echoed this sentiment when speaking with Luhn. “For the American citizen, it’s an old story: When there is injustice in the world, the American soldier goes and protects the weak and defenseless….This is a period when we shout to the world with our brand that we’re ready to go and protect our own, and we’re ready to give the possibility to others to protect those values that are common across the world.”