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By John Helmer, Moscow

Long before the Christians claimed credit for enunciating the Golden Rule, it was the ancient Greeks who started it off. By all reports, Jesus of Nazareth gave the Rule its positive spin – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Greek spin was negative – don’t do to others if you don’t want them to retaliate.    

The Jewish versions of the Rule are a bit guarded. That’s  because they distinguish between neighbours and brothers on the one hand; to them the Golden Rule applies. But enemies on the other hand – they get whatever is coming.

That’s also the Ukrainian version of the Rule. This explains why Chrystia Freeland, Ukrainian by blood, homeowner in Kiev,  and Foreign Minister of Canada (lead image, centre), thinks the Golden Rule in its Christian version applies between Canada and the United States, but not between Canada and Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Libya, and when she thinks circumstances call for it, Japan and other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) —  Australia, Brunei, Chile,  Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The British state broadcasting authority BBC reported  on Saturday morning that people who shit in public places are suffering from several different pathologies. That was before Saturday afternoon, followed by all day Sunday, when US President Donald Trump (lead image, left), his national security advisor John Bolton, his economic advisor Lawrence Kudlow, and his trade advisor Peter Navarro coordinated their movements to crap publicly on Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

“I always ask the police whether it’s soft or hard,” the BBC quoted its expert, Professor Mike Berry, a clinical forensic psychologist at Birmingham City University. “They look at me like I’m absolutely mad. And I say, if it’s soft, then it’s somebody who’s anxious, so you get a kid who goes and craps on the bed. And if it’s really hard stool then it’s an indication of somebody who’s angry and bitter about what he’s doing.”

To Canadian political analysts, the weekend attacks on Prime Minister Trudeau are the worst insults from the US Government in remembered history. They aren’t sure whether they are soft, because Trump is anxious; or hard because the Americans want to destroy Trudeau politically.

Canadian analysts agree that Trudeau and his Liberal Party government have been weakening in the Canadian polls for the election due on October 21, 2019.  The analysts are divided, however, on whether the impact of the American attacks on Trudeau will trigger a patriotic rally in support of the prime minister, or steady erosion of his party support and a gain in Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland’s (lead image, right) ambition to replace Trudeau.  One of Freeland’s backers, a veteran Canadian official, claims “the Trump people hate Chrystia before any and all.” He was unable to provide any evidence for this.” Other Canadian sources say that in the American government’s attitude towards Freeland, there is “nothing of the kind.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Dmitry Peskov’s (lead image, right) future has still not been decided by President Vladimir Putin (left) after weeks of delay in which every other major figure in the Kremlin administration has been confirmed either as staying or as departing.  This morning Andrei Tsybulin, currently titled “Chief of the Presidential Press and Information Office”, was asked by telephone if the President has officially appointed Peskov to a post in the new presidential administration — yes or no?  He replied: “We don’t give any comments. Please — wait for the official announcement on our website or in the media.”

A week ago, a Kremlin press office source claimed that Peskov would be visibly in charge at Putin’s Direct Line national television show on June 7. That was yesterday – but Peskov was neither mentioned by Putin, nor picked out by the cameras during the four-hour broadcast.

Tsybulin’s reference this morning to media reports as an alternative to a Kremlin announcement is a hint that Peskov has not been reappointed, and that Putin has not found a replacement for him yet. This is because the Moscow media have reported the fate of everybody on the senior Kremlin staff – except Peskov.   (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

One shadow hanging over the Russian art market was dispelled in London this week when the British Government’s media campaign against wealthy Russians failed to deter record sales of Russian artworks at the leading London auction houses.

Together, sales by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, MacDougall’s, and Bonhams fetched £21.7 million. That is three percent better than they achieved in June of last year. MacDougall’s set a house record, with an increase in value of its sales by 49% over a year ago. Christie’s also sold 35% more in value of Russian artworks.

Sotheby’s, however, recorded that its auction of Russian paintings fell to £6.9 million,  down from £9.9 million in June of 2017, a drop of 30%. And this is a new shadow in the Russian art market which leading European art dealers are reluctant to discuss openly.

Russian collectors, buyers and sellers of artworks say they are well aware that Sotheby’s is accused of colluding with the Swiss dealer, Yves Bouvier, to rig art prices and defraud buyers. A London High Court claim, seeking hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation and penalties, brought by Dmitry Rybolovlev, former owner of Uralkali, Russia’s leading potash producer, is due to start shortly. At the same time in Geneva, a criminal court proceeding is underway against Bouvier and his associates for price rigging and fraud against the Kaliningrad auto manufacturer, Vladimir Scherbakov. A third Russian art collector, real estate developer Boris Mints, is under investigation by Central Bank regulators and the General Prosecutor in Moscow; Mints has allegedly diverted bank loans into personal assets, and fled for refuge to London. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The collapse of stock market confidence in Magnit, the largest and most valuable Russian retailer in the domestic and London stock markets, has triggered widespread speculation that Sergei Galitsky, 50, the founder and control shareholder of Magnit since 1998, was attacked by corporate raiders led by Andrei Kostin, head of the state VTB Bank, and Alexander Vinokurov (lead image, above), son-in-law of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (below) and business associate of Mikhail Fridman, owner of X5, the second supermarket retailer in Russia and Magnit’s biggest competitor.

As a two-step plan of takeover, the exit of Galitsky (born Arutyunian) and the takeover by VTB and Vinokurov, have been reported in the Russian press as the business deal of the year. But they are  unable to agree on why it has happened. A half-dozen reporters from Russia’s leading business media, who have covered the deal, and sixteen of the analysts they have quoted in their coverage, were asked to say if they knew of business conflicts Galitsky had been having; whether there was reason to believe that Kostin and Vinokurov had been acting in concert to oust Galitsky, drive the share price of Magnit down, and re-sell the asset to a potential competitor in the Russian retail market. Had there had been non-market reasons – asset raid in Russian — they were asked?

More than twenty sources in all, but not one of them agreed to answer the questions on the telephone or by email, notwithstanding promises of strict confidentiality. Their fear is infectious; their reaction is the strongest confirmation so far that Magnit is the target of an ongoing asset raid, which will hold down the value of the company’s shares no matter how much Russian consumer income and  market demand recover to lift Magnit’s financial results.   (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

To the Tuileries Palace in Paris on Saturday, January 28, 1809, Napoleon Bonaparte, then France’s Emperor, summoned five of his closest advisors.  He had just raced back from the war front in Spain, and wanted to discuss the course of the war and the growing discontent among the French with Napoleon himself.  

Accusing Charles-Maurice Talleyrand-Périgord of betrayal, Napoleon launched at him the most famous line of contempt a politician has ever publicly issued to a subordinate.  At the time Talleyrand, the foreign minister, was secretly selling his intelligence on Napoleon to the Russian ambassador in Paris. Four years later, in March 1814, when Tsar Alexander I entered Paris with his troops and Napoleon was in temporary retreat on the island of Elba, Talleyrand hosted the tsar overnight at his Paris mansion. They were together as the instrument of the city’s capitulation was being drawn up. Aside, Talleyrand told the tsar’s intelligence chief he was ready to switch sides if paid a much larger stipend than he had taken for his spying to date.

 “What are you planning? What do you want?” Napoleon had shouted earlier at Talleyrand. “Tell me, I dare you! I should break you like a piece of glass; you deserve it. I have the power, only I despise you too much to take the trouble. Why haven’t I had you hanged from the Carousel railings? There’s still time. You are a…a…a shit in a silk stocking.”

It’s that last phrase which, more than two hundred years later, still sticks to the name of Talleyrand.

The question still not answered, despite all the evidence of Talleyrand’s career as a betrayer of everyone and everything (except his bank balance) is Napoleon’s own: why did he keep Talleyrand on for so long?

That’s for historians. For today in Moscow the question is:  why does President Vladimir Putin keep employing spokesman Dmitry Peskov (lead image, right*) when out of the latter’s negligence, miscalculation and his Talleyrand-sized desire to collect and display wealth, he has caused damage to Russia’s state interests? (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has announced that Yulia Skripal is not being held incommunicado, against her will, and in violation of her legal rights “if she consents to any assistance provided”. Last week’s videotape of Skripal signing a paper and making a brief speech was arranged within four days of the Commissioner’s announcement in an attempt by British officials to remove the Commissioner’s “if”, and demonstrate publicly that Skripal “consents to any assistance provided”.

British human rights lawyers challenge the legality of the videotaped “consent”. They say Skripal remains incommunicado, her whereabouts secret, prevented from access to her family and friends in Moscow, unrepresented by a lawyer, and unable to apply to a British court. Such restrictions, the lawyers believe a British judge would rule,  amount to secret incommunicado detention and enforced disappearance in violation of her rights under the British Human Rights Act of 1998. 

Skripal’s brief scripted references last week to “privacy”, “time to recover”, and “all the people who gave me support and help in this difficult period of my life” do not meet Commissioner Dick’s standard of consent, the lawyers believe.

(more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Yulia Skripal’s appearance in a British garden and her speech for one minute fifty-five seconds provides fresh evidence, less of what is happening to her in British custody, and more of what is not happening.

What is happening is that Skripal gave a memorised speech in front of a camera and teleprompter, but did not say in Russian what the English broadcast transcript, and also the English-language document she signed, claim she said.

Two script pages were visible on a side table during the filming; the one on top Skripal was filmed signing. The two papers appear to be in a different handwriting from Skripal’s signature and in a different pen from the pen she is seen to use. On the top page, apparently the Russian language text, Skripal added words after her signature; these are her first and family names in Russian, but without her patronymic, as Russians usually record their names in official documents. The handwriting of that name and the handwriting of the Russian statement are not the same. Nor the pen and ink used. 

In construction, the Russian version followed after the English; several important English expressions are not repeated in the Russian paper, nor in Skripal’s speech.  The most obvious is the English text in which she purportedly referred to “offers of assistance from the Russian Embassy but at the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services.” Skripal’s Russian text speaks of “help” from the Russian Embassy: “now I don’t want and [I am] not ready to use it.”

“The Russian version of Yulia’s speech is soft, simple, and balanced,” a professional translator comments. “There is no hint or innuendo suggesting hostility towards anything Russian. The English version is sharper and more complicated than the Russian. The meaning is different.”

In the Reuters release,   Skripal made two crossings-out on her script, and two substitutions. Her corrections of the text imply that she has been obliged to change the time period she planned to stay with her father. In the original Russian, Skripal wrote that she intended to “help my father until the time of his discharge from hospital.” That line was changed to extend the period of her stay “until his full recovery”. Yulia Skripal was released from Salisbury Hospital on April 9;   Sergei Skripal, the hospital reported, was discharged on May 18.  If Yulia had been hoping or planning to return to Moscow then, her intention has been altered. The English text and the corrected Russian one mean Yulia Skripal will be staying in the UK indefinitely. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The State Duma voted on Tuesday to approve the nomination of Alexei Kudrin as Chairman of the Accounting Chamber, the state auditor and budget watchdog. The vote was 264 in favour; 86 opposed. No presidential nominee for the post has been elected over so much parliamentary opposition.

Forty-three deputies voted against Kudrin, all members of the Communist Party. Forty-three cast abstentions, including the 40 members of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party.  Despite Kremlin efforts to whip the 339-member United Russia block to vote in Kudrin’s favour, one in five refused to go along, and stayed out of the chamber at the roll-call*.  

Although Kudrin had President Vladimir Putin’s nomination and the endorsement of United Russia, the government’s party in the Duma, Kudrin gave a speech to the deputies ahead of the balloting in which he repudiated the pro-American, anti-military policies he has been advocating for years. Kudrin’s reversal reveals the degree to which the balance of power in Russian politics has changed decisively against the party of capitulation, and in favour of the Stavka, the combined forces of the Defence Ministry, General Staff, the intelligence services, and the military-industrial complex. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Under pressure from the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC),  an accused Swiss art fraudster, Yves Bouvier (lead image, right),  has become the target of new  money-laundering investigations of art dealings involving Russian businessmen.

Oleg Deripaska and Suleiman Kerimov (1st left) were hit by US sanctions announced by OFAC on April 6. In the announcement by the US Treasury, Deripaska was accused of money-laundering, bribery, extortion and racketeering. Kerimov was accused of money-laundering through the purchase of villas in the south of France, and failing to pay French tax on the deals. 

Weeks earlier, Deripaska and Kerimov were reported by the US Treasury on a list of Russian oligarchs, published by OFAC on January 29.   They are known to collect palatial residences, not artworks. Also listed with them by OFAC were two other Russians, Vyacheslav Kantor and Boris Mints. They have established well-known European art collections in Moscow, buying through dealers whom this week they decline to identify. Kantor says he started his collection on the advice of a neighbour in Geneva.

Not included on the OFAC list of January 29 is Vladimir Scherbakov (lead image, centre).  He has accumulated his wealth from an Russian auto-assembly plant based in Kaliningrad. Also a resident of Geneva, Scherbakov has launched a lawsuit there against Bouvier as the dealer he accuses of defrauding him in the purchase of forty artworks.  Asked this week to clarify the value of the alleged fraud and other details of the case, Scherbakov refuses to say. 

The OFAC publication of January 29 did not accuse the Russians on the list of wrongdoing nor proscribe them. Today’s list of individuals sanctioned by OFAC, the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List,   shows Kantor, Mints, and Scherbakov are not sanctioned. (more…)