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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The Russian intelligentsia, their hangers-on, oligarchs, and Navalnyites have always suffered from a cultural cringe. The grass is greener on the other side of the Russian border, they think, and for obvious reasons – though they aren’t the same for each of the cringing elites.  

So when the political tide goes out and leaves Russia stranded and isolated – as happened after the Revolution of 1917, the German invasion of 1941, and the NATO sanctions war since 2014 – the market in cultural nostalgia revives. For those trapped by history or money outside, the demand is for interior decoration with paintings of Russia as they like to imagine it. For those inside, they demand views of France – particularly the streets of Paris, the watering holes of Provence, and French ladies en déshabillé.

And so it came about that at the start of this month, MacDougall’s, the leading international auction house for Russian paintings, held its first-ever auction of Franco-Russian nostalgia entitled “École de Paris and Russian Artists in France”. MacDougall’s was the first house to organise a dedicated sale of works by Russian émigré artists in London; that was in 2004, just after the Russian Finance Ministry lifted the 30% tax on art imported to Russia; well before the US started the war in Ukraine in 2014.

On this new occasion, the paintings to be sold – 206 lots in all — had been part of the collection of a single European collector living in Monaco. Russian Art+Culture,  reports that  “over several decades, the collector managed to acquire almost a complete anthology of the Ecole de Paris.”

The outcome of the October 6 sale was total proceeds of £524,512, and the sale of 87 of the works on offer – 42%.

This clearance rate is well behind the 54% MacDougall’s managed at its midsummer Russian art auction.  The clearance rate for nudes, always a sensitive measure of Russian taste, was much lower. A total of 34 full-frontals were auctioned; all but one of them female; one canvas in six on the block. But just 7 were bought – 21%. In the midsummer Russian art week in London, the nude stocks cleared with less inhibition.

However, “Reclining nude” by Boris Chaliapin (lead image*) set close to the show record for beating the house estimate. MacDougall’s had marked the painting down for a maximum of £9,000, but it sold for £21,250 – more than double.

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By Stanislas Balcerac, Warsaw, and John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

When Radosław Sikorski was a Polish government minister, he was obliged to make an annual report to the parliament (Sejm) and a public record of his income and assets.

For Polish  voters to learn whether his wife was being rewarded for influencing her husband in his official duties, and vice versa, the annual disclosure was required to include a line for her takings. Sikorski’s wife, an American named Anne Applebaum, is paid to give public lectures and publish commentaries on foreign policy topics in which Sikorski has played an official role in the Polish government’s decision-making.

The pair are among the most vocal Russia-haters, sanction-boosters, and NATO-promoters in eastern Europe. The New York Times recently reported that Sikorski “managed…secret missions with the United States.”

For a time also, Sikorski campaigned to be Secretary-General of NATO, and High Representative for foreign affairs of the European Commission. But he was rejected by the European members of NATO and by the European Union.

“I’m honest”, Sikorski announced.  “I am not into plotting and don’t steal. I am a double victim.”

Investigation of their financial disclosures by Polish officials, he and Applebaum have tweeted,    “stinks of Russian infowar tactic”. Publication in Warsaw of tape recordings of Sikorski’s political and business scheming was called “info-attacks on West” by his supporters. The Polish prime minister didn’t see it that way and pushed Sikorski out of domestic politics.   Follow the Sicklebaum rise and fall in the comic book just published.  

Even newer, but not so comic, is the report this week in Warsaw of new investigations of Sikorski’s money-making activities while taking the salary of a member of the European Parliament (MEP). According to this report of Stanislas Balcerac,     Sikorski is accepting a large amount of money on the side – and it’s unclear who is paying, what he is doing for the payoff, and what  secret missions Sikorski is running for the US.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

When the German Army invaded Europe in the 1940s, they applied the doctrine of collective guilt against the civilian populations behind the Resistance and the partisans attacking their troops. After the Germans were defeated, the doctrine and the murderous result of it were judged to be a war crime. The London Charter of 1945, creating the legal basis for the Nuremberg prosecutions, introduced a special provision, Article 9, to turn individual associations of Germans into “criminal organisations”.

Collective guilt and guilt by association are hoary old doctrines, and when they reappear these days against blacks, Jews and muslims, for example, they are judged to be crimes of race hatred or hate crimes.

But when the doctrine is advocated in media reports and books about Russia and the Russians running the country since 2000, the doctrine isn’t a hate crime. It’s a war weapon whose detonators are being primed every day. The second handbook for demonstrating how to clean, load, and fire this weapon against Russia was published last year by Catherine Belton (lead image, right). She and Rupert Murdoch’s publishing house HarperCollins call their Russia war-fighting manual Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia, and Then Took on the West.  Belton, HarperCollins and the book are now on trial for lying and libel in the High Court in London.

In operational terms for the Russia war-fighters, Belton’s book was Fat Man, nickname for the US atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. Little Boy, the US bomb dropped on Hiroshima, came first. Before Belton, that was Karen Dawisha’s (left) book called Putin’s Kleptocracy, Who Owns Russia, published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster. Belton doesn’t mention Dawisha’s name or give her the credit for publishing the first manual in the info-war series.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, the most famous English portraitist of the 18th century, have almost nothing to do with Russia at war today.

Almost, but not quite nothing.

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By Marios Evriviades, Cyprus, translated from Greek by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

From time to time we read that Russia will recognize the separatist faits accomplis of Turkey’s occupation in Cyprus, in exchange for Turkey’s recognition of the accession of Crimea to the Russian Federation. And each time the Russian government categorically refutes the existence of such a dubious oriental bargain. The most recent statement of Maria Zakharova, the spokesman of the Russian Foreign Minister. was that this claim is “fake information” being spread by the “Greek and Turkish media”.  

Zakharova went further: “The Republic of Crimea is an integral part, one of the most dynamically developing regions of the Russian Federation. The territory of our country has never been and will not be the subject of bargaining. Stating the opposite is close to provocation. Finding analogies between Russian Crimea and the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is incorrect and I would say, unsafe, even dangerous. Such insinuations confuse international audiences, undermine trust, and generate negative emotions, also with regard to the Cyprus settlement.”

To be clear, there is not one iota of truth in what is reported. The dubiousness that is alleged between Moscow and Ankara and focused supposedly on Cyprus is no more than targeted Turkish propaganda. Its goal is to roil the waters in the Eastern Mediterranean and create among the Cypriots confusion as to what other “mistake” the Cyprus government may be making with Russia that will end up with another calamity for Cyprus.  

Unfortunately, this obvious Turkish propaganda is being reproduced uncritically in Cyprus and Greece. At the same time, however, it is also a good example of the calculating way in which one Turkish regime after another promote their interests over time. And they do this with absolutely no effective response and counter-propaganda from Cyprus. Successive Cyprus governments have been lying prostrate, allowing Ankara to roll over them with their conquest narrative. Against a backward, bullying neighbour what causes this paralysis is beyond any logic.

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Computer programmes used in universities to detect student plagiarism, along with semantic, style, and cognitive tests, reveal that Putin’s People, a book published by HarperCollins and bylined Catherine Belton, has another author or authors.

Comparison testing of the vocabulary of Belton’s book and of transcripts of podcasts when Belton has been interviewed by Russia experts show that her vocabulary shrinks by more than half – 56.2% — when she is asked to explain her story to the experts. The testing also reveals that when requested for evidence and examples from her book, she hesitates, filling the gap with three  phrases repeated many times over — “sort of”, “kind of”, “you know”.  

The machine testing also reveals that Belton fails to pronounce  the name of Mikhail Khodorkovsky,  the Russian oligarch Belton met, interviewed and reported more than any other during her fourteen years in Moscow, with a linguistic consistency which the transcription programme  recognised in more than 24% of her mentions. For three-quarters of the time Belton’s pronunciation of Khodorkovsky  is transcribed by the programme as “Otto Karski”, “Photo Kowski”, and several other variants.

Lawsuits are currently underway in London’s High Court; these charge Belton and her book publisher, Rupert Murdoch’s HarperCollins, with fabricating facts and libelling the Russian oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Igor Sechin, and the Rosneft oil company, which Sechin runs.

The court filings, and now the new evidence, have added to the controversy at the Pushkin House organisation in London. There Belton’s book has been a contender for the annual prize for best non-fiction book on Russia. The faking alleged in the current  lawsuits and admitted by HarperCollins in an out of court settlement with Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven of Alfa Bank,   has already upset some members of the book prize panel, triggering repeated postponements of the book prize short list and the final award decision.  Discovery of the role of Alexei Navalny in giving large sums of money to Pushkin House for promotion of his political campaigns has upset others connected to Pushkin House

According to Russians who heard Belton in a Pushkin House presentation of her book on October 11, “she was continually mispronouncing” the name of Sergei Pugachev, the name of the most frequently cited Russian source for the book’s allegations against President Vladimir Putin. Pugachev has been adjudicated in the British courts to be a serial liar and he is on the run from a British jail sentence. Belton identifies Pugachev 599 times in the 873-page book.

Asked this month at Pushkin House to say why she had relied on such “unreliable narrators”, Belton claimed she had “documentary material” not in the book. “I can’t go into detail of what some of that documentary material,” she claimed, “because we have pending litigation about that.”

Evidence of cribbing and ghosting is now likely to trigger fresh controversy on the prize panel, which has scheduled its announcement of the book winner at a London ceremony on October 28.  

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Translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In official testimony to the European Parliament last week, the European Union Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson, attacked Russia for “exacerbating the tight [supply] balance” and thus causing “the rising prices”.

Responding to allegations against Gazprom, Simson promised an investigation. “We are looking into this claim, through our competition angles…. Better response to any type of speculation and market manipulations is another area where I believe we should assess our options for action.”

Simson is an Estonian politician who has made a public career of drawing votes from Russian-speaking Estonians. She has failed in efforts to replace her party’s leader and former prime minister, Edgar Savisaar.

Simson is a wealthy politician. The current report to the European Union (EU) of Simson’s financial interests,  dated this past January, is a near-total blank,  except for three apartments she owns  in Tallinn, plus a garage, in which she and her family do not live themselves; they live elsewhere, but not with her former husband,  Priit Simson. He is a journalist at an Estonian daily newspaper; he specializes in the study of what he calls “extremist movements in the Russian-speaking population in Estonia.”   

For an expert Russian response to Simson’s report to the EU, Vzglyad, the online Moscow analytical newspaper, published this piece by Olga Samofalova yesterday. Read on.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

On the subject of Russia and the Russians, American exceptionalism pops up in the most unexpected places.

Take the case of a new book from the Russia-warfighting publisher Random House of New York fetchingly sub-titled “In which four Russians give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life”. The Guardian, lead Russia-warfighter in London, managed to review the book as “a delight”, but it avoided mentioning the word “Russia” even once.  The New York Times, perpetrator of every propaganda line the Russiagate plotters and Kremlin regime changers want to see in print, managed  the word “Russian” three times in its review of the new book,  but consigned it to the 19th century, safely locked up by reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s “classic lectures on Russian literature, first delivered at Cornell.”

Now forest rangers may refer to the particular tree in the wood on which their dogs choose to urinate.  But in the history of modern Russian literature the place in upstate New York where Nabokov was paid to deliver himself of his opinions before he fled to Switzerland for life is quite unexceptional — except to the New York Times. In the upstate New York forest, Nabokov’s Cornell tree is just one hour’s driving south of the tree at Syracuse where the author George Saunders (lead image) has produced his book on the four Russian guides to life. No dog, no tree in Saunders’ title, but plenty of relieving liquid – “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain”.

What makes Saunders the master in the “master class” is spelled out in the reviews. His lectures to undergraduates on creative fiction are “top-ranked”; another book of his won a Pulitzer prize for fiction; also a Booker prize; he’s been on a best-seller list; there is a “rack of National Magazine Awards”; and he has been given a “genius grant” by the MacArthur Foundation. In short, this is a master situated squarely in the American marketplace, and advantageously at that. Russia is his latest selling-point, a barker’s come-on.  

About that place and its people far away, Saunders claims on page 6 to know nothing – “I’m not a critic or a literary historian or an expert on Russian literature or any of that.” At the same time – actually two pages earlier, on page 4 – Saunders had already declared he knows quite enough. The lessons from Russia he selected for his story-telling are “resistance literature, written by progressive reformers in a repressive culture under constant threat of censorship, in a time when a writer’s politics could lead to exile, imprisonment, and execution”.

Phew! That relieves Saunders of the Russian pain in his pants as he approached his exceptional upstate New York tree.  But he’s gotten too close — too many dogs, too much liquid in the roots, a gust of wind, and the tree is keeling over. Look out! Timberrr! Exceptionalist American fiction writer has been topped by log of Russian truth.  

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

A stitch in time saves nine. That’s what police and prosecutors used to say when they were in hot pursuit of criminals. Hot pursuit used to mean no waiting.  

However, the Metropolitan Police (lead image, left) took three years before announcing that Denis Sergeyev (alias Sergei Fedotov), a Russian military intelligence officer (right), is the third suspect in the alleged Novichok attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal. That took place on March 4, 2018, allegedly. Six months later, the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) formally announced their indictments of two men, Alexander Petrov (Alexander Mishkin)  and Ruslan Boshirov (Anatoly Chepiga), on September 5,  2018. The police acted simultaneously with the prosecutors; their timing also coincided with the announcement to parliament by Prime Minister Theresa May.

The police evidence, declared May, “has enabled the independent Crown Prosecution Service to conclude they have a sufficient basis on which to bring charges against these two men for the attack in Salisbury.”  

“We have obtained a European Arrest Warrant and will shortly issue an Interpol red notice,” May added in her speech to the House of Commons.

Sue Hemming, head of the CPS, announced at the same time: “A realistic prospect of conviction means the CPS is satisfied on an objective assessment that the evidence can be used in court and that an objective, impartial and reasonable jury hearing the case, properly directed and acting in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict these two individuals of the charges… We will not be applying to Russia for the extradition of these men as the Russian constitution does not permit extradition of its own nationals… We have, however, obtained a European Arrest Warrant which means that if either man travels to a country where an EAW is valid, they will be arrested and face extradition on these charges for which there is no statute of limitations.”

Hemming said nothing about an Interpol Red Notice; Interpol confirms none was issued for either Russian.   

Fast forward – no, wait, make that slow-motion forward, until September 21, 2021, when Dean Haydon, a deputy assistant commissioner at the Met, announced he is charging Sergeyev (Fedotov) with the same attempted murder by Novichok.  The police had delayed for three years. The CPS for longer. In fact, as the CPS has now officially admitted, it hasn’t charged the third man with anything, yet.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

German clinical evidence of Alexei Navalny’s chronic use of lithium and benzodiazepine drugs before his sensational collapse last year is being withheld and covered up by the Berlin doctors who obtained the evidence from testing a sample of Navalny’s hair.

The significance of the hair testing was identified this month by an expert toxicologist employed by the British government.  “[It] would be interesting,” he said, requesting his name not be released, “to see the hair test as this will reflect only the drugs given up to six days and more earlier in Russia.”

Dr Kai-Uwe Eckardt, the head of the team of German doctors treating Navalny in Berlin’s Charité University Hospital, reported publicly last December that “a hair sample obtained on day 4 confirmed the presence of several of the compounds detected in blood and urine.” Day-4 in Berlin meant August 24, four days after Navalny alleges he was poisoned in Tomsk by Novichok on orders of the Kremlin. Navalny’s allegation was endorsed by the German, British and US governments on the evidence, they said at the time, of Navalny’s tests in Germany.

This allegation was repeated last week at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.  According to an October 5 statement by a group of OPCW member governments,  “it is now more than a year since Mr Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent whilst travelling in Russia. The OPCW Technical Secretariat confirmed, following a Technical Assistance Visit to Germany, that Mr Navalny was exposed to a nerve agent from the Novichok group. This is a matter of grave concern.”

Led by Germany, the UK and US, the governments also charged that “the Russian Federation has not yet provided a credible explanation of the incident that took place on its soil.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded two days later, on October 7,  charging the accusers of “inconsistencies, contradictions, misinformation, shady developments that have yet to be clarified, insinuations at the highest political level and outright lies professed by the West… a provocation, crudely planned and coarsely executed by the special services of some Western countries.” 

The significance of the hair sample testing by the German doctors  is that the results corroborate lithium and benzodiazepine drug use in Navalny’s blood and urine found on his arrival in Berlin.

An independent British toxicologist adds that the levels of the drugs in the hair testing would also confirm Navalny’s dependence on these drugs in Russia, well before he arrived in Tomsk and long before the Novichok “incident” alleged at OPCW last week. “Without seeing the actual hair analysis report, we are guessing which specific drugs and compounds were common to the blood and urine and hair. The hair ones are all pre-attack compounds. If ‘several’ drugs were in the hair, as the Berlin report says, then Navalny would be described as a chronic abuser. That,  plus his multiple bacterial infections the Berlin report also identifies,  would make the trained professional clinician looking at the data believe that the patient was a down-at-heel street person with a serious drug problem and mental health issues.”

Medical psychiatrists and toxicologists acknowledge that the “cocktail” combination of drugs Navalny had been taking before he collapsed on August 20 may explain his subsequent symptoms and the cause of his collapse. Lithium, according to the British government  toxicologist reporting last week, “would not be detected by normal drug screening and must have been indicated for some reason to cause them [the Charité hospital doctors] to carry out as a special, targeted test. It would be interesting to know why it was tested for and the blood concentration – were the Russians treating [Navalny] for a bipolar disorder?”

Eckardt was asked to explain his reason for testing Navalny for  lithium and benzodiazepines. He was also asked what specific compounds were detected in the Day-4 hair sample testing he directed. Eckardt refused to answer, or to provide what OPCW called last week “a credible explanation”.

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