MOSCOW — Many Russians find the image of 38-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Irina Volk, whose last name translates as “wolf,” a bit confusing. Is she supposed to symbolize the pretty side of the Russian police, or the destructive side? Or maybe both?
Last week, Russian authorities made Volk the face of the Russian interior ministry, the officer responsible for communications with media and civil society. And already the Internet is full of Volk photographs: she is posing in a transparent blouse, in tight jeans with legs wide open, in an open dress with bare shoulders, with her back pressing to the wall, her lips apart, her face framed by long pitch black hair, her eyebrows drawn in as lethal points.
Police have a bad reputation in Russia. According to a poll by VTSIOM last year, almost half of respondents (46 percent) do not trust the Interior Ministry (known as the MVD). In 2012, after a man was brutally raped and killed in police custody in the city of Kazan, scores of other victims came forward to denounce police violence.
To try to change its reputation as a corrupt and brutal institution, the Interior Ministry opened up press services, became active on social networks and started selling itself to the masses with images of attractive women. The sight of a young Russian beauty in a police uniform patrolling the subway has become a part of Moscow life.
“I believe the MVD appointed Volk for this job to attract men to work in law enforcement,” Olga Romanova, the leader of the Russia Behind Bars organization of civil activists told The Daily Beast.
In fact, Volk’s appointment appears to be part of a wider PR trend that does seem to be designed to suit the tastes of men. In Russia, women occupy only 5.7 percent of top management positions. But in the past few years several bright looking young females have accepted key jobs.
The Far East department of the Investigative Committee, a regional branch of federal law enforcement, has posted photographs of comely Aurora Rimskaya, deputy head investigator in the region.
Two years ago, in the middle of the Crimea crisis, fans of the Kremlin’s “Russian World” ideology bragged about the beauty of 33-year-old Natalya Poklonskaya, appointed prosecutor on the annexed peninsula. Russia Today’s headline at the time referred to her in language worthy of The Sun in Britain: “She Annexes Your Heart!”
It was a controversial statement, considering the number of Ukrainian and Tatar residents of Crimea who suffered from violence and human rights abuses by the new authorities.
As it happens, the petite blonde Poklonskaya was wanted by Ukrainian security services, but she was now backed by the Kremlin. As if to stress that her looks were a statement, Poklonskaya posed in a tiny black dress, red shoes, lounging on a red couch.
These tough, sexy women are appearing in high-visibility positions once occupied by drab, forgettable men and the rare, and sometimes rather eccentric, matron. The most influential woman of 2013, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Motviyenko, was known for her Soviet-era hair styles and conservative suits.
Just a few years ago, nobody would imagine a lanky blonde from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs posting a photograph of herself in a short black dress, but, yes, diplomacy’s getting a makeover, too.
Last August, for the first time in the history of the Russian foreign ministry a woman, Maria Zakharova, was appointed as spokesperson. Shortly before that, Zakharova posted a photograph of herself on Facebook from a birthday party for her five-year-old daughter: smiling Zakharova posed in soft sunset light in a suggestive strapless dress.
Since then, Zakharova’s job has been to brief journalists on Ukraine, Syria and other foreign policy issues, and her looks seem to have hardened considerably.
She was steely cold when she addressed the U.S. State Department’s Mark Toner. He had had the temerity to say it was time for Russia to stop bombing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s political opponents (as opposed to the so-called Islamic State), a promise he made but rarely kept, in Toner’s estimation. “I don’t know how to put it any better than saying: ‘It’s put up or shut up time,’” Toner said.
“Mark had better order his own colleagues to shut up, if such an idiomatic style of communication is common among American diplomats,” Zakharova wrote in response.
Conservative Russia’s men have been quick to proclaim their pride in Zakharova. “It would be hard to compete with young, unstoppable and energetic women like sharp-tongued Zakharova, they are perfect in the information war,” pro-Kremlin political analyst Yuriy Krupnov told The Daily Beast. “White House communications director Jen Psaki would definitely lose the appearance competition.”
But Krupnov noted that Russia’s reputation and role in the world would not improve by simply demonstrating that Russian women were more beautiful than some Western female politicians, “Unfortunately, our politics degraded … even attractive women are used to beat the competitor.”
The wonder women of Russian officialdom are, as one might expect, addicted to selfies. The Foreign Ministry’s Zakharova continues to share photographs of herself in sexy dresses. In one of the pictures her short dress, long legs and spike heels strike an interesting contrast with the warm and ragged editor-in-chief of the opposition’s favorite radio station, Echo of Moscow.
Several newly named officials in Ukraine’s and Moldova’s breakaway republics are reminiscent of beauty pageant contestants, leading to all sorts of predictable speculation. “It is very likely that the new appointees are somebody’s mistresses, it has been a well-known practice,” a Russian political analyst, Stanislav Belkovsky, told The Daily Beast.
Police Lt. Col. Volk, before her promotion, worked for the department investigating economic crimes and wrote detective thrillers. State secrets, murders and official corruption were the subjects of the officer’s novels. Volk was also a fan of fashion shows, where she sometimes appeared as a model, fearlessly opening herself to critiques even a bullet-proof vest can’t stop.
“She is tall, has long hair and tattooed eyebrows,” says Maria Makeyeva, the director of information at Rain TV. “In spite of her transparent shirts, she does not reflect lightness, rather you see the core toughness, but policemen might like that.”
Stephanie Yelena Gourbunova, a fashion diva and organizer of VIP events for rich Russians in London concluded Volk “has poor taste when dressing, but her eyes are expressive.”
“When a pretty pulp fiction writer gets appointed to an official position, this is pretty bad,” says Vladimir Khrykov, director of the Nizhny Novgorod Social Development Center, which deals at the street level with drug addicts. “Volk likes to shine at hip fashion shows, but her appointment does not help inspire public trust for the interior ministry.”