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By John Helmer, Moscow

The three types of power which decide the fate of regimes are force, fraud and subversion; that’s to say, arms, money, media.

The Roman Empire was good at using small armies to take on much bigger ones;  by adeptly concentrating their force they managed to rule much larger large territories than the legions could cover. The Byzantine Empire excelled at using bribery of locals to stay loyal;  the pre-requisite for that was  the intelligence to identify who to pay, how much, and how often.  The British Empire used subversion to divide and rule most of their colonial targets, but if the British were matched for firepower and intelligence, they failed and were defeated – by the American colonists, the Maoris, the Boers, the Germans, the Japanese.

The American Empire excels at subversion on the home front.  But abroad it usually combines fraud with  subversion. When these two fail to preserve or topple regimes, US-made wars have been a consistent failure. The Russians are better than Americans at force and fraud. Schemes of subversion like the US plots to promote Boris Yeltsin, Anatoly Chubais, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Alexei Navalny to rule the Kremlin, are not winners with Russians; they are judged successful only by foreigners who read  the  Washington Post and London  Times.

The Kremlin official responsible for Russian media involvement in the US presidential election of 2016 was Dmitry Peskov (2nd image, left); he doubles as spokesman for President Vladimir Putin. For Peskov’s intention to employ social media he has not been indicted nor identified as a co-conspirator by Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III ( right). For the evidence Mueller has revealed of incompetence in the Russian campaign, the waste of money expended, and the failure of the campaign’s objectives, there are calls in Moscow for Peskov to be sacked.

He has so far avoided responding. “We have not yet familiarized ourselves [with the Mueller indictment], ” he told Reuters.     (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Oleg Deripaska (left) has issued a statement decrying a text and YouTube broadcast  published last week which allege improprieties on a fishing trip off the Norwegian coast when Deripaska hosted Sergei Prikhodko  (right). The trip occurred in August 2016. At the time, Prikhodko was Deputy Prime Minister and head of the government staff under Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.  

Prikhodko, 61, started a career in the Soviet Foreign Ministry in 1981. He then transferred to the Kremlin where he has been a Kremlin staff assistant to Presidents Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Medvedev.  Prikhodko remains in his post until a new government is appointed following the presidential election on March 18. 

 “I will severely suppress any attempts to create and disseminate false information flow,” Deripaska has announced.

The broadcast about Prikhodko’s fishing trip with Deripaska first appeared on February 8. Since then it has drawn to date 4.8 million views. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

What is more alluring than a Swiss smile – and I don’t mean the ones displayed by the girls around Cornavin railway station in Geneva.  

The question which Russian visitors, residents, and hopeful residents are asking is whether the Swiss have decided to abjure the smile and impose an informal sanction on Russians of wealth, and notable Ukrainians as well.

Sources who have been in social contact with Russians in January at the well-known ski resorts, as well as at elite boarding schools like Le Rosey, say large inter-bank transfers are being delayed or halted abruptly; longstanding bank accounts summarily closed; and applications to open new ones rejected.

The Swiss case of Roman Abramovich became a matter of public record on February 4, when Le Matin of Geneva reported  that the oligarch with residences in the UK, US, and the Caribbean had his application for Swiss residency rejected in the Swiss manner – with an invitation to withdraw and to re-apply later. The case has become notorious because a  judge in Zurich accepted an application from Abramovich to suppress publication in the Swiss media of the details of Abramovich’s case. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Dmitry Pumpyansky’s (lead images) TMK, Russia’s largest steel pipemaking company, has announced that it is withdrawing its initial public offering (IPO) of shares in its US subsidiary, which had been planned for later this month on the New York Stock Exchange.  The announcement has appeared in the western media, but not yet on the TMK website. TMK planned to retain 62% of the US company after the IPO; Pumpyansky controls 65% of TMK through a Cyprus offshore entity called TMK Steel Holding Ltd.  

TMK’s Houston-based subsidiary known as IPSCO issued this release on Thursday, Texas time. “IPSCO Tubulars Inc. (“IPSCO”) today announced that it has decided to postpone its proposed initial public offering of its shares of common stock due to adverse market conditions. ‘While we received significant interest from potential investors, the continued market and economic volatility are not optimal conditions for an initial public offering,’ said Piotr Galitzine, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer of IPSCO. ‘As a company, we’ve consistently made decisions in the best interests of our stockholders, employees and customers, and we will continue to do so.’”

Pumpyansky had been attempting to double his money. The attempt to spin off his American steel and pipemaking operations to American investors for a price approximately equal to the TMK group’s  market capitalization was promoted by US banks seeking to recover loans they had extended; and by Anatoly Chubais, long one of the US Government’s candidates to rule Russia instead of the Kremlin incumbents since 1999. Chubais runs the state holding Rusnano, which bought a 5.5% stake in TMK in 2015. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

‘All politics is local’ was something Tip O’Neill, the late Massachusetts congressman and Speaker of the US House of Representatives, used to say. ‘A week is a long time in politics’ was something Harold Wilson, the late British Prime Minister, said at about the same time. 

This week,  you have several illustrations of putting the two together on battlefields in Syria, Russia’s southern front,  and in the international financial  markets. There, officials of the Trump Administration in Washington have pulled off attacks on Russian targets  – some visible and direct, some indirect and camouflaged. These have caused serious casualties and costs on the Russian side, and produced military and financial gains on the American  side. Plus hand-rubbing among Russia’s adversaries;  denial talk in Washington and New York.

(more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Steven (Steve) Mnuchin (lead image, right), a New York banker who has spent a year being Secretary of the US Treasury, is worse at dissembling his racket than his better-known American peers at racketeering,  Alphonse (Al) Capone of the Chicago Outfit (left) and Charles (Lucky) Luciano of the New York Commission (centre).  Mnuchin’s racket is billions of dollars bigger, but in legal principle and method, the fraud and extortion are much the same as the Outfit’s and the Commission’s. Mnuchin’s muscle is bigger too, though that requires warfare, which  the Outfit and the Commission were established to do without.  

Last week  Mnuchin  issued a Treasury report to Congress on the impact of US sanctions on Russian sovereign debt, which isn’t a report at all. It’s a leak to a news wire,  so sloppily arranged that one of the seven pages is a duplicate of the first, though the leaker didn’t notice he had slapped the same page on to the copier screen twice.  The US Treasury didn’t realize, Bloomberg, the newswire, didn’t check.  In the 228-year history of US Government reports to the US Congress, such a goof has never happened before.

The fraud in Mnuchin’s report is to claim in public that he is attacking Russian financial operations and the future of the Russian economy when he is doing something quite different in private, protecting advantages for the leading US investment banks in which Mnuchin has had a life-long family interest. The extortion is what Mnuchin’s agents abroad are privately saying to persuade  major foreign institutions competing with American ones not to buy or trade in Russian sovereign debt, when in public there is no legal authority for the US to do this.  

At the same time, Mnuchin is threatening  to do to Russian sovereign debt what the US has never done to a country with which it was in a Congressionally-declared war – not Spain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy,  Japan. He also omits to identify what the consequences would be when China, the leading foreign holder of US sovereign debt, understands it will be next.  China (including Hong Kong) currently holds $1.37 trillion in US sovereign debt, and the figure has been relatively stable since 2010. Russia holds one-tenth of that amount — just $105.7 billion;  and it has been declining steadily over the same time. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Dmitry Pumpyansky (lead image, left), the 53-year old oligarch who dominates the Russian steel pipes business, knows how to pay for protection.

Last week the US Treasury listed him as an oligarch whose corruption record and closeness to the Kremlin may qualify him for sanctions, according to Section 241 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Pumpyansky is vulnerable to US asset freeze and credit cut-off because he owns steelmills, pipemills, bank accounts, and other assets in the US; about one-quarter of his sales revenues, profits and earnings are produced in the US. So why is he proposing to sell shares in his American business on the New York Stock Exchange in a few weeks’ time?

There are three answers. One is that Pumpyansky’s American business is the only loss-maker in his group, so he is selling the Americans a pup.  The second is that the American banks underwriting the initial public offering (IPO) of what is titled IPSCO Tubulars Inc. are also large lenders to the business;  so they are recovering their money, and reducing the risk that sanctions against Pumpyansky would hurt them in future. Finally, Pumpyansky is paying Anatoly Chubais (lead image, right) to influence US Government officials not to penalize Pumpyansky. Chubais, a board director of Pumpyansky’s parent company in Moscow, has been the American candidate for ruling Russia since he ran the state privatization programme from 1992; President Boris Yeltsin’s Kremlin; and then the breakup and selloff of the Russian electricity system. Chubais is the only powerful Russian state company official not to be named on last week’s US Treasury list. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

As midnight tolled in Washington, DC, and January 29 slid into January 30, the deadline for the US Government to produce a report to the Congress listing Russian oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin slipped by in the darkness. No dog barked.*

Required by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), enacted with President Donald Trump’s signature last August, the oligarch report was not produced on time. Nor were three other reports – one on sanctions for Russian sovereign debt issues, one on sanctions for business with the Russian defense sector, and one on the extent to which Russian state banks and state asset holdings have re-nationalized key sectors of the Russian economy, such as banking, insurance, real estate, and ports.     

There was no press release from the White House, the US Treasury, or the State Department. The  House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which are responsible for administering CAATSA, made no announcement of  what had happened, and  not happened. Despite a media blitz in advance of the deadline, anticipating the release of dozens of Russian oligarch names as potential targets for fresh US sanctions, not a single mainstream US newspaper or broadcaster reported the failure of the list to materialize.

(more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

No matter how intelligent elephants are, they won’t learn not to defecate when performing at the circus. Generations of circus managers and animal trainers have wrestled with the problem, but the elephant sphincter has forced them to bow to the inevitable

The solution they have come up with is to employ clowns walking behind the elephants with scoops,  buckets, and brooms. Their job is to divert attention when the inevitable occurs, and make the audience laugh. Yury Nikulin, the greatest of Russian clowns and director of the Old Circus in Moscow, once told me that if the clowns he assigned to the elephant’s rear guard failed to get the crowd laughing, they wouldn’t get promoted until it did.  

Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich (lead image, left) is trying to preserve his job when President Vladimir Putin appoints the new Russian government after the election of March 18.  A US-educated chess adept and protégé of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Dvorkovich is thinking several moves ahead in his game. That game, Dvorkovich calculates, must survive the possible replacement  of Medvedev as prime minister. So when Dvorkovich said in Davos there are no oligarchs in Russia, only “good businessmen”, he wasn’t trying to make the Russian audience laugh. He was trying to save his job — with support from oligarchs who haven’t backed him before. (more…)