"Politics seem only to be a thin veneer covering the underlying day-to-day life of the people," said John Bailey, Johnson & Johnson managing director.
Mr. Bailey said the resignations and resulting drop of the ruble had "no effect on the people who are actually here doing business."
More troubling is a newer trend.
Levi's, Marlboro and other icons of the mysterious and beautiful land beyond the former Iron Curtain were once enough to light up Russian eyes.
But the recent flood of Western goods, from Mars bars and Winston cigarettes to Mercedes cars, has begun to cause some hard feelings.
Hostility to Western advertising and sales "goes back to the past, when Russians-or Soviets-were afraid of being cheated in arms talks or trade agreements," said Dmitry Abroschenko, Ogilvy & Mather director general.
"Now that there's no Cold War or economic competition, the animosity has come down to a consumer level," Mr. Abroschenko said.
And now a U.S. group and prominent financial writer are helping to fuel the fire with TV spots advocating a ban on all types of tobacco advertising.
The spots began appearing on most Russian channels late last year.
The 15-spot campaign is financed by Time columnist and financial guru Andrew Tobias and Smokefree Educational Services, a U.S. anti-smoking group.
In one commercial, Mr. Tobias tells the story of the "Winston guy," who Mr. Tobias says "recently excused himself in front of schoolchildren for advertising this most dangerous product."
Mr. Tobias says one of the directors of the man's company-presumably R.J. Reynolds International-told the "Winston guy" that "we leave the right [to smoke] to the young, the poor, blacks and idiots."
Mr. Tobias adds: "And now, it seems, to Russians as well."
A spokeswoman for RJR in Winston-Salem, N.C., said the company is "fulfilling a need that was already there." She said the com-44
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pany was asked by the Russian government to help fill demand after riots over a cigarette shortage several years ago. She wouldn't comment directly on the spot.
In another ad, a girl says Western tobacco companies spend a lot on ads in Russia because they know they can make "enormous profits" from Russian smokers.
She adds: "In most countries, tobacco advertising is banned. Is our health worth less than theirs? Please, President Yeltsin, put a stop to cigarette advertising."
Mr. Tobias and a friend created the campaign. After reading about the low cost of media in Russia, Mr. Tobias decided he could "reach 100 million people for tens of thousands of dollars."
Attacks on candy bars have centered on Mars Inc.'s Snickers, the candy bar so popular in Russia that its name crops up in everything from jokes to Parliament speeches. But recent references to the heavily advertised candy bar have been negative.
The popular daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets recently printed a front page item that linked high diabetes rates here last year to a glut of Snickers bars, and there have been rumors that the bar has high lead content.
Representatives of Masterfoods, Mars' Russian division, declined to comment on the origins of such rumors or their effects on sales, but there can be little doubt of the latter: A girl interviewed on TV recently told viewers she does not eat Snickers bars because they are "poisonous."
At Stimorol, marketer of a popular chewing gum of the same name, General Manager Klaus Olsen hasn't encountered direct resentment of the brand.
But in the Cold War's aftermath, "there's a feeling among Russian people that they're humiliated internationally, that they're deteriorating to the level of a Third World country in the eyes of the world," Mr. Olsen said.M