Email This Post - Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

Nicolo Machiavelli once called moral philosophy the child of civil war. That also makes moral philosophy after the fact, after the crimes. War winners write histories; losers and martyrs write philosophies.  

Tsar Nicholas II (lead images) was killed, along with his family, because the Romanovs were a dynasty threatening the revolutions which had transformed Russia from the start of the year 1917. They did not just represent their own interest to retake power and fortune. They represented the anti-democratic side among Russians. They also represented the aims of the outside powers, including ally Britain and enemy Germany, whose forces invaded Russia during the sixteen months between Nicholas’s abdication on March 15, 1917, and his death on July 17, 1918.

Dynasts who have relied on the divine right to rule can’t voluntarily resign God’s commission; retire to the Crimean beachside; take a ticket of leave for Paris, London or Berlin. Nicholas believed God had given him power to rule; and that he was above Russian law, too. Because he felt free to overpower the human rights of his mortal subjects, he could hardly claim their human rights.  Not to be executed for crimes one was not tried for nor convicted of was a human right in Russia in 1917 — but Nicholas didn’t qualify for it. If Nicholas had human rights like other Russians, after his death he would no more qualify for sainthood than millions of other Russians, who suffered his fate no less nobly.

As it happened, the records show Nicholas accepted the Russian General Staff’s advice that if he did not give up autocratic power, the war with Germany would be lost, and there would be civil war.  It was the Russian Army, not the government nor the revolutionaries, which toppled Nicholas. But Nicholas tried to break the Romanov law on succession by refusing to allow the General Staff’s candidate, the ailing 12-year old tsarevich Alexei, to succeed him; he tried naming his brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail,  instead.  Mikhail signed his renunciation less than twenty-fours later. “This is the end!” the Grand Duke Sergei was heard to say at Army HQ. And it was. Russia became a democratic republic; it still is. 

Had there been a Russian revolution without civil war and without foreign military invasion,  it’s likely Nicholas would have been indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced to prison, or shot. The rest of the Romanovs might have been spared their lives, but hardly their freedom to attempt a restoration.

Their execution was ordered in Yekaterinburg, and authorized in Moscow, because the Czech Legion, was within miles and hours of capturing the city, with the intention of restoring the Romanov monarchy in a Russia they and their international allies were bent on breaking up. Their plan was to turn the prisoner tsar into a puppet tsar. Through the day and night before the pistol shots which ended Nicholas’s life, the firing of the Czech heavy artillery could be heard in the city. Its citizens were already fleeing, taking as much of their valuables as they could.  Nicholas  understood that the value of himself had dwindled by then to the foreign armies, to domestic counter-revolutionaries, and to God. He ended up with the third variant.

A new history by Robert Service, published a few weeks ago in London, explains what happened, and why.  Service reports from evidence not accessible in Russia for almost a century, and also missed by western researchers. “Copious fresh material” Service reports in his introduction. And yet apart from a couple of interviews in Russian with Service himself, no Russian historian and no Russian book reviewer has mentioned the book, reviewed its evidence, or analysed its lessons. Therein lies a lesson of its own.

Service’s history is being studiously avoided in Russia because to do otherwise can only reignite the  civil war,  at least in debate, and especially between the Kremlin and the Church. President Vladimir Putin has pushed the Kremlin closer to the Church than at any time since the 1917 revolutions. With the presidential election campaign already under way, and the vote due in five months, Putin has dissuaded public debate of the issue of legitimacy to rule and the fate of the last tsar. The Church has encouraged icon worship of Nicholas as a martyr, though that’s explicitly not the status the Church adopted when it decided on sainting him.  (more…)

Email This Post - Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

Oleg Deripaska, Russia’s aluminium oligarch, has lost his campaign to stop negative press reporting of his business conduct. In a judgement issued on October 17, a federal Washington, D.C., judge dismissed in a summary judgement, without trial, Deripaska’s claim to have been defamed by the Associated Press. (more…)

Email This Post - Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

Desperate measures by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma this week sharpened the focus on what the Russian state company Rosgeologia (Rosgeo) and state banks, VTB and Gazprombank, are doing to arrange a $400 million contract for a new gasfield off the South African coast – and pipe promises of billion-dollar royalty payments to a group of the president’s associates, as they prepare for December’s balloting on the presidential succession to Zuma. Keeping themselves in cash from the Kremlin is an interpretation of yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle —  the second this year — which has followed in the South African press from Zuma critics inside the ruling African National Congress (ANC), as well as from opposition parties.

(more…)

Email This Post - Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

Roman Abramovich (lead image) is the leading shareholder of the Russian steel, iron-ore and coal mining group called Evraz. Among Russia’s leading steel groups, it ranks second in output of crude steel; fourth in market value. It is the leader in indebtedness.

By international measures, Evraz also leads its Russian peers in its record of controlling noxious air and water emissions from mill and mine operations. CDP, an international agency for monitoring industrial pollution, reported a year ago its global answer to the question, “who’s ready to get tough on emissions?” Evraz came 12th in CDP’s table of the world steel emission control leaders; no other Russian steelmaker was ranked.  That was  not exactly a commendation in international terms. According to CDP, “Evraz ranks third last. It performs among the bottom companies on our emissions and energy benchmarking, and does not disclose forward-looking reduction targets, or any participation in research toward breakthrough emissions reduction technologies.

If you live in Novokuznetsk city, where Evraz operates two steel plants, the company’s international status is too good to be true. For the past decade, Evraz has been under local court and federal orders to put a stop to its waste water pollution by building a new water treatment plant. The company refuses.  It won’t explain, hoping that its influence with city, regional and federal government officials, will ensure that there will no enforcement, and no news of this either. (more…)

Email This Post - Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

Joseph Alsop (lead image, centre) and George Kennan (right) started the kind of Russia-hating in Washington which,  today, President Vladimir Putin, like the businessmen around him,  think of as a novelty that cannot last for long.

Alsop was a fake news fabricator, and such a narcissist as to give the bow-ties he wore a bad name. Kennan was a psychopath who alternated bouts of aggression to prove himself with bouts of depression over his cowardice. For them, Russia was a suitable target. The Washington Post was the newspaper which gave their lunacy public asylum. This, according to a fresh history by a university professor from California, started in 1947, long before the arrival in Washington of the anti-communist phobia known after the name of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Russia-hating was an American upper-class phenomenon, cultivated in the offices, cocktail parties, clubs, and mansions of the deep state, as it emerged out of World War II. It needed a new enemy to thrive; it fastened on Russia (aka the Soviet Union) as the enemy.

McCarthyism was an American lower-class phenomenon. It focused on the loyalty or disloyalty of the upper-class deep-staters. That wasn’t the same thing as Russia-hating; Wall Street bankers, Boston lawyers, homosexuals, Jews, communists, were all the enemy. As the Senator from Wisconsin characterized it himself in 1952, “McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.” He implied – without a middle-class tie; certainly not an upper-class bow-tie.

Russia was not an enemy which united the two American lunacies, for they hated each other much more than they hated the Russians. The Soviet Politburo understood this better then than the Kremlin does now. (more…)

Email This Post - Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

When you are a Russian oligarch with a 20-year record of settling out of court with friends, partners and investors accusing you of deceit; when you have a 7-year record of failing to sustain your share value in a genuine stock market, what do you do next? You announce to a neophyte Financial Times reporter that you are selling your shares on the London Stock Exchange with the price underwritten by an anchor investor from China. The newspaper provides free advertising. Noone asks the Chinese anchormen why they are spending money on a business combining Russian electricity and Russian aluminium whose separate parts other Chinese investors have nixed many times before.

Answer: the deal is guaranteed by the Chinese and Russian states, with an assured premium in a secret buy-back option.  The Russian state aluminium monopoly Rusal, is now the Chinese-Russian state aluminium monopoly, plus the Siberian electricity utilities, Eurosibenergo and Irkutskenergo.   So long Oleg Deripaska (lead image)! Howdy-doo Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping!  

Hold on, says an insider familiar with the Rusal board deliberations:  “the London IPO which Oleg Vladimirovich is now promoting looks like a test of foreign investor resistance to sanctions, combined with a bet on the rising price of aluminium. Who in his sober mind would now invest into a fully state-controlled company such as Rusal or En+?  Only investors fully backed up or financed by the state. But is Deripaska sharing Kremlin control with Beijng control?  Unlikely — so this is a fake privatization, just like the Rosneft share sale.” (more…)

Email This Post - Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

The first Dance with Bears appeared fifteen years ago.  It began as a short commentary appearing once or twice a week. The title came from Astolphe de Custine, the greatest observer of Russia ever to be obliged to conceal what he was writing inside his hat, as the Russians he was writing about chased him across the frontier. That circumstance made for pithy style, sharp focus.

In 1839 de Custine had written: “Such ill-bred and yet well-informed, well-dressed, clever, and self-confident Russians are trained bears, the sight of which inclines me to regret the wild ones: they have not yet become polished men, and they are already spoiled savages.” His book drew denunciations in the Russian press at the time, and was banned in Russia until 1996.

One of the subtlest – make that most duplicitous and cowardly of Russia-fighters among Americans, the State Department official George Kennan wrote that de Custine had produced “the best guide to Russia ever written”, and then proceeded to argue that when de Custine referred to Tsar Nicholas I, Kennan meant the same judgements to apply to Joseph Stalin and his heirs. Like most of what Kennan wrote for his own circle of spoiled savages, he was half-right, half-wrong – make that, mostly wrong. In 1991, twenty years after Kennan had pontificated about de Custine, the collapse of the communist regime in Moscow released forces which had been under control, more or less, for seventy years. This allowed the savages to revert to the type de Custine had observed. Kennan and his successors called that democracy and did more than applaud.  Look where that has got them now. (more…)

Email This Post - Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

Rosgeologia is a small Russian state company which once held the record for drilling the deepest hole in the Earth’s crust. Its biggest discoveries of oil, gas and hard-rock minerals lie in its Soviet past. Even with current contracts from the state oil and gas companies Rosneft and Gazprom, it holds only a small share of the Russian market for seismic and geophysical services; its margin for profit, according to the state auditor, is just above break-even.

Last month, Rosgeologia (“Russian Geology”, Rosgeo for short) announced what should be a new record for Russian state investment in South Africa, drilling six super-deep wells into the seabed off the South African coast at a cost of almost $400 million, earning the right to sell billions of dollars’ worth of gas. Hours later when they met, President Vladimir Putin and President Jacob Zuma ignored the deal entirely.   Russian experts in Moscow say they haven’t heard of it. The three top officials of Rosgeologia refuse to explain what they have contracted to do.  When one of them, Roman Panov, Rosgeo’s chief executive, advertised his company’s future prospects in a lengthy interview with a Moscow newspaper, the South African offshore oil and gas project wasn’t mentioned at all.

The reason, Moscow sources say, is that they are sceptical Rosgeo has the resources to implement the deal, or that the Russian state banks will accept the risk of South African default.  The reason for that, Russian sources add, is that they believe the Zuma administration is too weak politically, too unstable, and with too little time left in Zuma’s mandate to implement the project. A Russian source is worried that President Zuma aims to  take as much cash from Rosgeo as he can, and run.

South African allegations of involvement in the Rosgeo deal of a Zuma family member, as well as political allies of the president who were at Rosgeo in Moscow recently, threaten to expose the terms of the still secret contract with PetroSA, South Africa’s state oil company, to a High Court challenge for violations of the South African Constitution. That and associated statutes on the management of public money require the Rosgeo-PetroSA deal to be “in accordance with a system which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective.”   Skepticism about this has already been hinted in a ruling by a South African judge in the High Court in Cape Town on September 22.

The blanket refusal of Rosgeo, the Russian state banks, and PetroSA to answer questions about what they have agreed is a sign of their fear the deal will not survive the transparency test. (more…)

Email This Post - Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

The grand house domestic serial which has been one of the staples of British television is quite impossible in Russia. That’s not because pre-revolutionary Russia lacked the aristo palaces and gilded families, or that nostalgia isn’t popular on television. It’s because the gap between the upstairs family and the downstairs servants was always too wide in Russia – and always too cruel.

It’s not different today. The recent promotion in London and republication of the stories and memoirs of Teffi (lead image), the short-story fabulist, memoirist, poet and playwright who left Russia for Paris in 1919, illustrates the point – and not much else. (more…)

Email This Post - Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

Oleg Deripaska (lead image, left) is famous for snatching other people’s money and legging it.

The records of the High Court in London show what he did to Mikhail Chernoy (Cherney), Boris Berezovsky, and Roman Abramovich. Chernoy recovered $200 million in 2012;  click to open

Only two people have ever taken Deripaska’s money and legged it themselves. One was Anthony Louis, owner and editor of the Moscow Tribune,  the first English-language newspaper published in Moscow. Louis took several thousand dollars in exchange for shares to keep his paper afloat but never handed over the shares to Deripaska. The newspaper sank without trace in 2002.

In April 2008 Paul Manafort (lead image, right) took $18,938,400 from Deripaska in return for which he promised to invest up to $100 million in Ukrainian cable television and telecommunications companies. Manafort trousered the cash, or so Deripaska has alleged in court, as he  has been trying to get his money back. 

But Manafort’s hustle has been reported in US newspapers as an attempt to promote Kremlin influence in US elections, especially the one which put Donald Trump into the White House last November.  The evidence for the subversion claim is now being gathered by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and reported publicly by leaks of what his investigation has placed in evidence before a grand jury. These include CIA, NSA and FBI surveillance and wire taps of Manafort during the presidential election campaign – yes, during the presidential campaign — and afterwards. (more…)