Veronika Khilchevskaya, a consultant working on the campaign by the Moscow mayor's office to boost the Russian capital's image, said: "After all, Mickey Mouse is just a mouse with good publicity."

Yury Luzhkov, the city's mayor, said "we should present Moscow as a confident, comfortable and interesting city" after it was ranked as the most expensive in the world for expatriates in a recent survey.

Quality-of-life reports frequently slam Moscow for high prices, traffic and pollution.

The mayor, however, accuses the media of focusing on "negative information" about Moscow, such as frequent building collapses and attacks on dark-skinned foreigners.

Grigory Antyufeyev, head of the Moscow tourism committee, said: "It pays to make a good impression. Every foreign tourist brings 900 dollars to the city."

Antyufeyev said that only 3.5million foreigners have passed through "the intersection of Europe and Asia" in the past year - seven times fewer than Paris.

Moscow has changed radically since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In addition to a flourishing of Western-style shopping centres and chain stores, old hotel facades have been repainted, cathedral cupolas restored, bridges and monuments spruced up.

Vladimir Beketov, who returned to Moscow after 12 years, said: "There are new restaurants every 100 metres, the shops are full and there are flowers everywhere."