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By John Helmer, Moscow

“When people die, especially in such unfortunate circumstances,” President Vladimir Putin said at a Kremlin press conference  on Tuesday afternoon, “it is always a tragedy”. The president was responding to the destruction of a Russian reconnaissance aircraft and the deaths of fifteen crew members during an Israeli Air Force attack on Syria on Monday evening. The Israeli operation was coordinated with British and French commands to spoof, confuse and overwhelm Russian and Syrian air defences.

“It is always a tragedy,” Putin went on – “a tragedy for all of us, for the nation and for the families of our people who lost their lives… In this case, it is more a chain of tragic circumstances because an Israeli fighter did not down our aircraft. It goes without saying that we must get to the bottom of this. Our attitude towards this tragedy is set forth in a statement by our Defence Ministry, and has been fully coordinated with me. As for reciprocal action, this will be primarily aimed at ensuring additional security for our military and our facilities in the Syrian Arab Republic. These steps will be seen by everyone.”

What will be seen by everyone has already been registered. According to Turkey, Putin has conceded Turkish military occupation of the Idlib governorate of northwest Syria, allowing Turkish Army  reinforcements from the west and north,  but preventing Syrian Army operations in defence of Syrian territory. According to Israel, Putin has accepted the Israel Defence Force’s (IDF) air superiority over central as well as southern Syria and a free-fire zone for any target in Syria which Israel regards as hostile, including Russian military operations.  According to the Russian military command, Putin has forfeited his defence of Russian forces in Syria to the combination of Israel, France and the UK, which coordinated the combat against Syria on Monday evening. (more…)

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By Max van der Werff, Amsterdam*

Today was a remarkable day. For the first time the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation held a press conference about the MH17 case in which it took a pro-active stance, instead of  responding, as it has before,  to challenges from its “partners” in the west. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Greek investigative journalist Michalis Ignatiou revealed on Sunday the classified White House document of August 13, 1974, in which Henry Kissinger persuaded then-US President Gerald Ford that Turkey should be supported by the US in their two-wave invasion of Cyprus, seizing and occupying over a third of the island, deterring the Greek defence of Cyprus, and encouraging the Turks to ignore United Nations (UN) condemnation. According to Kissinger, “the Turkish tactics are right — grab what they want and then negotiate on the basis of possession. But if the Turks run loose on Cyprus, the Greeks could come unglued. We certainly do not want a war between the two, but if it came to that, Turkey is more important to us and they have a political structure which could produce a Qadhafi.”

This month the Kissinger scheme is being revived by the US, with support from Germany, France and the UK, to support Turkey in its seizure of the city and governorate of Idlib, in northwest Syria. Threats of US and NATO missile attacks have deterred the Syrian Army from attempting to reclaim its own territory. President Vladimir Putin has been pressured by the Turks, the US and NATO to delay Russian military support for the recovery of Idlib.

“There is no American reason why the Turks should not have one-third of Cyprus,” Kissinger told Ford in the Oval Office forty-four years ago.  Substitute Idlib for Cyprus today, and there is no American reason why the Turks should not have Idlib, no matter what UN resolutions on Syrian sovereignty require and the Kremlin supports.  Today, as Putin meets the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, the question to be decided is whether the Kissinger scheme will prevail again. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Truth, like eating boots, can be funny to watch.  This is because truth and boots are equally easy to cook and just as unappetising,  unless you are starving. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Falling for a honey trap of their own imagining is what over-educated fools do.

There is nothing new about the present American belief in the malevolent power of Russia to have penetrated the American mind; that’s to say, American bedrooms, smartphones, chat networks, voting machines, power grids, and most intimate of all, American gun clubs.  It’s an old, familiar phantom – the projection of exceptionalists who are being outclassed in their heads and beaten on the ground. Americans believe they will only be desirable if they are over-powering. That’s their honey trap.  

Between 1968 and 1973, when the American infantry were pinned down by the Vietnamese forces, failing to defeat them with what the US Army and US Air Force thought was their overwhelming superiority of firepower, the ordinary American soldier believed the reason was the inverse of US military capacity. The Vietnamese were  winning, the soldier thought, because of their superiority, not only in fighting spirit, but in arms – ghost tanks, ghost helicopter gunships,  etc.

Since the end of Soviet rule, it was to be expected that Russians would abandon their own exceptionalist ideology and become infatuated by American and European things of every description, including things to spend money on, and safe havens to luxuriate among those things. It’s also to be expected that time is required before Russian things can be valued for their own sake by Russians. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The newest type of American bunker-busting bomb is expensive. So it’s understandable that the United States Air Force (USAF) doesn’t want a Russian to sabotage the bomb by installing steel casings which break apart before landing, or fuzes which detonate prematurely, or tail kits flying off- target, or warheads which bounce instead of bust.

On April 6, the US Treasury dropped a bunker-buster on the Russian oligarch Victor Vekselberg (lead picture, top) in an attempt to destroy the worldwide business of his Renova group of companies. The US Treasury declared  Vekselberg had been targeted “for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.  Vekselberg is the founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Renova Group.  The Renova Group is comprised of asset management companies and investment funds that own and manage assets in several sectors of the Russian economy, including energy.”

Vekselberg has also owned 26.8% of the Swiss steelmaker Schmolz+Bickenbach (aka Swiss Steel, S+B), which in turn owns all of the US steel forgings specialist, A. Finkl & Sons (aka Finkl Steel) of Chicago. Because the loss-making Swiss group was counting on the USAF bomb contract to boost revenues and profits from Finkl — it accounts for about 10% of S+B’s annual revenues — it was a sore point for the loser of the bomb contract, Ellwood National Forge Company of Ellwood, Pennsylvania,  that a Russian under sanctions might get his hands on the bomb deal, and even on the bomb itself. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The records of the relationship between President Boris Yeltsin and President Bill Clinton, declassified for public reading since July, are revolutionary, but not for the reasons the Russian and US state media, journalists and academics on both sides chose to report last week.

That Yeltsin was ingratiating, wheedling, sycophantic towards Clinton is no surprise. In  desperation to survive politically in  the first half of 1996 and cardiologically in the second half of that year  Yeltsin begged Clinton for billions of dollars and the best American heart surgeons   — this too is well-known. It was just as well-known then, and again now, that the two of them schemed for a degree of American intervention in Russian domestic politics much greater, and far more potent, than the Hillary Clinton allegations of Russian intervention in the US since 2016.

It is also no secret that Yeltsin was more fearful of Yevgeny Primakov, foreign minister (1996-98) and then prime minister (September 1998-May 1999)  than any other Russian politician of the time;  and that Yeltsin picked Sergei Kirienko to be prime minister in 1978  and Vladimir Putin prime minister in 1999 because he regarded them as obedient ciphers who would follow his orders without questioning. About Primakov to Clinton, Yeltsin had nothing good to say. By contrast, Kirienko, Yeltsin told Clinton on the telephone on April 6, 1998, was “a very vigorous politician, a very skilful politician, and I think he’ll build good rapport with [Vice President Albert] Gore.”  

Putin, Yeltsin said in a telephone call on September 9, 1999, was dependable. He is “a solid man…thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners.” In another telephone call on November 9, 1999,  Yeltsin described Putin to Clinton as “a democrat and he knows the west… He’s tough internally, and I will do everything possible for him to win, legally of course. And he will win. You’ll do business together. He will continue the Yeltsin line on democracy and economics and widen Russia’s contacts.”

The revolutionary secret to have tumbled out is that no Russian position of any importance was ever acceptable to the US; that negotiations between the presidents and their subordinates achieved nothing but Russian concessions and the American conviction that reciprocation wasn’t necessary; that this was the decade-long US strategy; and that then — and still today — negotiations between Russia and the US can never be settled except on Russian capitulation to US terms. This is revolutionary because until now the Kremlin refuses to acknowledge it.

That war is the only alternative to capitulation has obvious revolutionary implications — and not only for Russia and the US.

The second revolutionary secret to have been revealed is that these records have been eligible for declassification and public release by the Clinton Presidential Library at the ten-year mark from the record date; this means from 2006 to 2009.  The additional decade of blackout for these records has been accepted by ex-president Clinton himself and the Obama Administration, not because they favoured it, but because they asked the Russians to agree, and the Kremlin  refused. Last week  Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman,  made the point that the president was unhappy at the disclosure.     This time the Americans, according to Peskov, “did not coordinate it or hold any consultations. These [records] are not always liable to declassifying.”

The secret in the Yeltsin-Clinton archive revealed for the first time is the secret President Putin didn’t want anyone to know. Anyone Russian, that is. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

For the discussion with Chris Cook, listen to today’s interview  on Gorilla Radio from Victoria, British Columbia, commencing at Minute 34:50.

Gorilla Radio is broadcast every Thursday by Chris Cook on CFUV 101.9 FM from the University of Victoria.  The radio station can be heard here.  The Gorilla Radio transcripts are also published by the Pacific Free Press. For Chris Cook’s broadcast archive, click to open.

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The idea that a picture is worth a thousand words is only a century old. As old, that is, as publishing newspapers profitably has depended on selling advertisements to catch the eye of credulous readers.  Released in London yesterday, pictures of two Russians suspected of poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal on March 4 are advertising. If being credulous makes you uncomfortable, try applying the burden of proof as British law requires in cases of murder. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Botanists can’t say for certain how many hoary old chestnuts, if planted in the right conditions, will turn into a stand of castanea sativa; that’s the botanical name for chestnut trees.

It’s more certain that when Oxford University recently published a book of interviews with eighty wealthy Russians, conducted by a sociologist from Aston University in Birmingham, the outcome, entitled Rich Russians – From Oligarchs to Bourgeoisie,   is a “unique inside-look at the history and soul of the fabulously rich Russians…a must-read”. That is according to Derk Sauer on the book wrapper. Half of this certainty comes from the fact that for the past twenty-five years Sauer has been the paid mouthpiece for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then Vladimir Potanin, and finally Mikhail Prokhorov whose wealth is oligarch sized.  A small fraction of their money made big sums in Sauer’s pocket and in his judgement,  of course.   

The other half of the certainty comes from the fact that the new book’s author, Elisabeth Schimpfossl, is the first in modern sociology to replace standard sampling procedure according to which researcher selects subjects by a random or representational method.   In this case it was the reverse — the sample of 80 rich Russians picked Schimpfossl and told her what they wanted to read about themselves. Their reason was equally certain. Schimpfossl was their public relations opportunity. PR agents for some of the sample subjects were instrumental in setting up the interviews and the ground rules; some of the PR agents were interviewees themselves.

The ground rule Schimpfossl accepted as the precondition for her research was that she would never question her rich Russians about their business or their assets — where their money came from; how much of it was stolen by Russian or international legal standards; how much of it is owed to Russian or international banks, or to partners of the silent type who don’t give interviews, not even if promised, as Schimpfossl proposed, to disguise them with false names.  Just how false the disguise turns out to be starts with this conclusion of Schimpfossl’s on Russian politics in her introduction: “the oligarchs’ capture of the state in the 1990s was short-lived.” After that, the 75 rich Russians whom she quotes from her sample of 80 feed her their hoary old chestnuts — what they want everyone to think.

(more…)