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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
When it came to ingratiating American presidents, no Russian leader tried harder than Mikhail Gorbachev followed by Boris Yeltsin. Vladimir Putin did his best to match their examples with Bill Clinton. Putin was slow to learn, slower to anger. That began in 2008 when Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, broke a promise after taking a bribe to allow the Kremlin to buy the Opel car division in Germany from General Motors.
Investigations by US government officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), of Christopher Steele’s (lead image, right) Russiagate dossier have identified Catherine Belton (left) as one of the targets for his fabrications. Belton was herself investigated as one of the journalists Steele recruited to plant his allegations of Russian interference days before the 2016 presidential election.
In her book Putin’s People, Belton repeats many of Steele’s allegations but she does not cite him or his consulting company Orbis as her source. Belton adds at the end of the book: “I’ll always be grateful to Chris [Steele] for his moral support.” After Belton’s book appeared in April 2020, Steele admitted to lawyers engaged in a London High Court lawsuit against him that Belton is “a friend, yes, she’s a friend”.
Fresh evidence revealed in the indictment issued by the US Department of Justice on September 16, shows that the FBI has concluded Steele was lying when he and his American accomplices planted false allegations of Russian election interference through several named intermediaries, including a Russian bank and Russian émigrés in the US,. The New York Times and The Atlantic were identified in last month’s US court papers as willing outlets for the fabrications. Earlier litigation by the Alfa Bank group in the US has identified five New York Times reporters and David Corn of Mother Jones as collaborators in the scheme.
Belton’s name, tagged with the note “London meeting”, has also surfaced in meeting notes taken at the State Department on October 11, 2016, when Steele met with Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland and a deputy, Kathleen Kavalec. Kavalec’s meeting notes, partially declassified, reveal that Steele’s allegations of Russian election interference followed a briefing of the same allegations at the FBI a month earlier, on September 19, 2016, by Michael Sussmann, a lawyer working in secret for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Sussmann is now charged with lying then to the FBI.
The Justice Department’s indictment says Sussmann was one of the plotters with Steele and others, including journalists, university academics, and IT experts in publishing false stories of Russian election interference; their plot aimed at hurting the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, by making it appear he was in cahoots with the Kremlin to hurt the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.
“In or about late October 2016 – approximately one week before the 2016 U.S. Presidential election – multiple media outlets reported that U.S. government authorities had received and were investigating allegations concerning a purported secret channel of communications between the Trump Organization, owned by Donald J. Trump, and a particular Russian bank (‘Russian Bank-I’).”
The Kavalec notebook also reveals that Steele claimed there were “3 distinct channels” for this Russian operation “run by Kremlin, not FSB, Ivanov, Peskov, Putin.” In addition to accusing Alfa Bank as the first channel “Alfa-Trump-Kremlin-comms”, Steele told Nuland that Serge Millian, a Russian émigré businessman in the US, was the second; Carter Page, a wannabe Trump campaign adviser, was the third.
In the sequence of Kavalec’s notes. Steele told Nuland there were “hackers out of R[ussia] – acting in US – [payments out of the state] pension fund Miami consulate payments – implants. Operations Paige [sic], Millian (émigrés?), Manafort.” Steele then mentioned the London meeting with Belton whom he identified as “FT [Financial Times]”.
Reporting by Belton in the Financial Timesfollowed days after her meeting was mentioned by Steele to Nuland. In Belton’s published report, she named Serge Millian as the channel Steele had alleged at State and the FBI. “Now, “ Belton claimed on November 1, one week before Election Day, “the US administration has formally accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the US electoral process through the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email servers, Mr Millian’s activities — and his ties to the Republican presidential nominee — are coming under increasing scrutiny.” Belton did not identify her sources for her allegations against Millian. She implied, however, that they were US intelligence agents and the FBI. “Mr Millian came on to the FBI’s radar”, Belton reported. “The FBI probe was part of a wake-up call for US intelligence over suspicions that Russia was activating networks long thought defunct after the end of the cold war.”
Millian avoided Belton for an interview and she reported. “He declined repeated requests for an interview and left the US for Asia on a business trip in early October.” Two weeks before, Steele had told Nuland, according to Kavalec’s transcript, Millian was “now in China.”
According to Belton, Millian had been a real estate broker for Trump, selling Trump organisation properties to Russians. Steele had told Nuland “real estate entities used for massive set of purchases by Russians. Set up espionage network in FL[orida] – to buy a lot of properties for POTUS [Trump’s] businesses through a R[ussian] brokage. 100’s of real estate transactions.”
Two months ago, on July 28, Belton was exposed as a liar and fabricator of her source material by her British publisher, HarperCollins. Settling the High Court case brought against them both by Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven of Alfa Bank, the publisher said there was “no significant evidence” for Belton’s allegations of KGB connections in the early careers of Fridman and Aven; and that she had failed to check her claims with Fridman and Aven before publishing them. The publisher agreed to delete Belton’s allegations from the book.
The terms of that settlement, and the ongoing High Court case in London, have stopped Macmillan, the US publisher of the book, from issuing the paperback edition, according to industry sources.
By Liane Theuerkauf, Munich, with introduction & illustrations by John Helmer, Moscow @bears_with
On September 22, 2021, Dame Heather Hallett, the coroner appointed by the British government to conduct an inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess, held a second hearing in court in London. Sturgess died in Salisbury District Hospital on July 8, 2018, from what Hallett has already announced to be Novichok poisoning from a Russian military attack.
The full transcript of what Hallett said can be read here. Analysis of the proceedings recommended skepticism towards the veracity and intentions of Hallett and the lawyers testifying in court. Read for more detail.
Hallett has proposed putting an end to the proceeding under the Coroners and Justice Act of 2009 and the British legal rules which apply to an inquest in a coronial court. These require a jury, in addition to the coroner, when “the death was caused by a notifiable accident, poisoning or disease”. The rules also require that evidence should be presented and witnesses testify in open court for cross-examination by lawyers and for public accountability. Instead of this, Hallett decided last month that a public inquiry will be substituted in which she alone will decide what evidence and witnesses to take in secret, and what secrets to keep out of the public record.
Hallett and the lawyers for the British government and police say this inquiry isn’t likely to open for another two years. In the meantime, the police say they will be assembling the evidence which they believe may be open to public scrutiny, and the evidence which may not. After three years of investigation of the Sturgess case, and also of the cases of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, allegedly poisoned by Novichok fifteen weeks before Sturgess; and following police announcements of criminal indictments of three Russian military intelligence agents, this new police effort is code-named Operation VERBASCO.
In the meantime, Hallett’s statements and those of Michael Mansfield, Sturgess’s advocate in court, invite a series of questions. Not a single policeman, prosecutor, pathologist, lawyer, member of parliament, or forensic expert in the United Kingdom has thought to ask them, at least not yet and not in public. To anticipate and to assist them, therefore, read Hallett’s statements in italics; the questions follow in bold.
The Polish government in Warsaw, facing re-election in less than a year, wants all the credit from Washington for their joint operation to sabotage the Nord Stream gas pipelines on the Baltic seabed.
It also wants to intimidate the German chancellor in Berlin, and deter both American and German officials from plotting a takeover by the Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, next year.
Blaming the Russians for the attack is their cover story. Attacking anyone who doesn’t believe it, including Poles and Germans, Warsaw officials and their supporting media claim they are dupes or agents of Russian disinformation.
Their rivals, Civic Platform (PO) politicians trailing the PiS in the polls by seven percentage points, want Polish voters to think that no credit for the Nord Stream attack should be earned by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. They also want to divert the Russian counter-attack from Warsaw to Washington.
“Thank you USA” was the first Polish political declaration tweeted hours after the blasts by Radoslaw Sikorski (lead image, left), the PO’s former defence and foreign minister, now a European Parliament deputy. In support and justification, his old friend and PO ministerial colleague, Roman Giertych, warned Sikorski’s critics: “Would you nutters prefer that the Russians find us guilty?”
The military operation on Monday night which fired munitions to blow holes in the Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor, near Bornholm Island, was executed by the Polish Navy and special forces.
It was aided by the Danish and Swedish military; planned and coordinated with US intelligence and technical support; and approved by the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
The operation is a repeat of the Bornholm Bash operation of April 2021, which attempted to sabotage Russian vessels laying the gas pipes, but ended in ignominious retreat by the Polish forces. That was a direct attack on Russia. This time the attack is targeting the Germans, especially the business and union lobby and the East German voters, with a scheme to blame Moscow for the troubles they already have — and their troubles to come with winter.
Morawiecki is bluffing. “It is a very strange coincidence,” he has announced, “that on the same day that the Baltic Gas Pipeline opens, someone is most likely committing an act of sabotage. This shows what means the Russians can resort to in order to destabilize Europe. They are to blame for the very high gas prices”. The truth bubbling up from the seabed at Bornholm is the opposite of what Morawiecki says.
But the political value to Morawiecki, already running for the Polish election in eleven months’ time, is his government’s claim to have solved all of Poland’s needs for gas and electricity through the winter — when he knows that won’t come true.
Inaugurating the 21-year old Baltic Pipe project from the Norwegian and Danish gas networks, Morawiecki announced: “This gas pipeline is the end of the era of dependence on Russian gas. It is also a gas pipeline of security, sovereignty and freedom not only for Polish, but in the future, also for others…[Opposition Civic Platform leader Donald] Tusk’s government preferred Russian gas. They wanted to conclude a deal with the Russians even by 2045…thanks to the Baltic Pipe, extraction from Polish deposits, LNG supply from the USA and Qatar, as well as interconnection with its neighbours, Poland is now secured in terms of gas supplies.”
Civic Platform’s former defence and foreign minister Radek Sikorski also celebrated the Bornholm Blow-up. “As we say in Polish, a small thing, but so much joy”. “Thank you USA,” Sikorski added, diverting the credit for the operation, away from domestic rival Morawiecki to President Joseph Biden; he had publicly threatened to sabotage the line in February. Biden’s ambassador in Warsaw is also backing Sikorski’s Civic Platform party to replace Morawiecki next year.
The attack not only escalates the Polish election campaign. It also continues the Morawiecki government’s plan to attack Germany, first by reviving the reparations claim for the invasion and occupation of 1939-45; and second, by targeting alleged German complicity, corruption, and appeasement in the Russian scheme to rule Europe at Poland’s expense. .
“The appeasement policy towards Putin”, announced PISM, the official government think tank in Warsaw in June, “is part of an American attempt to free itself from its obligations of maintaining peace in Europe. The bargain is that Americans will allow Putin to finish building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in exchange for Putin’s commitment not use it to blackmail Eastern Europe. Sounds convincing? Sounds like something you heard before? It’s not without reason that Winston Churchill commented on the American decision-making process: ‘Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.’ However, by pursuing such a policy now, the Biden administration takes even more responsibility for the security of Europe, including Ukraine, which is the stake for subsequent American mistakes.”
“Where does this place Poland? Almost 18 years ago the Federal Republic of Germany, our European ally, decided to prioritize its own business interests with Putin’s Russia over solidarity and cooperation with allies in Central Europe. It was a wrong decision to make and all Polish governments – regardless of political differences – communicated this clearly and forcefully to Berlin. But since Putin succeeded in corrupting the German elite and already decided to pay the price of infamy, ignoring the Polish objections was the only strategy Germany was left with.”
The explosions at Bornholm are the new Polish strike for war in Europe against Chancellor Olaf Scholz. So far the Chancellery in Berlin is silent, tellingly.
The only Russian leader in a thousand years who was a genuine gardener and who allowed himself to be recorded with a shovel in his hand was Joseph Stalin (lead image, mid-1930s). Compared to Stalin, the honouring of the new British king Charles III as a gardener pales into imitativeness and pretension.
Stalin cultivated lemon trees and flowering mimosas at his Gagra dacha by the Black Sea in Abkhazia. Growing mimosas (acacias) is tricky. No plantsman serving the monarchs in London or at Versailles has made a go of it in four hundred years. Even in the most favourable climates, mimosas – there are almost six hundred varieties of them — are short-lived. They can revive after bushfires; they can go into sudden death for no apparent reason. Russians know nothing of this – they love them for their blossom and scent, and give bouquets of them to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Stalin didn’t attempt the near-impossible, to grow lemons and other fruit in the Moscow climate. That was the sort of thing which the Kremlin noblemen did to impress the tsar and compete in conspicuous affluence with each other. At Kuskovo, now in the eastern district of Moscow, Count Pyotr Sheremetyev built a heated orangerie between 1761 and 1762, where he protected his lemons, pomegranates, peaches, olives, and almonds, baskets of which he would present in mid-winter to the Empress Catherine the Great and many others. The spade work was done by serfs. Sheremetyev beat the French king Louis XIV to the punch – his first orangerie at Versailles wasn’t built until 1763.
Stalin also had a dacha at Kuskovo But he cultivated his lemons and mimosas seventeen hundred kilometres to the south where they reminded him of home in Georgia. Doing his own spade work wasn’t Stalin showing off, as Charles III does in his gardens, like Louis XIV before him. Stalin’s spade work was what he had done in his youth. It also illustrated his message – “I’m showing you how to work”, he would tell visitors surprised to see him with the shovel. As to his mimosas, Stalin’s Abkhazian confidante, Akaki Mgeladze, claimed in his memoirs that Stalin intended them as another lesson. “How Muscovites love mimosas, they stand in queues for them” he reportedly told him. “Think how to grow more to make the Muscovites happy!”
In the new war with the US and its allies in Europe, Stalin’s lessons of the shovel and the mimosas are being re-learned in conditions which Stalin never knew – how to fight the war for survival and at the same time keep everyone happy with flowers on the dining table.
Agatha Christie’s whodunit entitled And Then There Were None – the concluding words of the children’s counting rhyme — is reputed to be the world’s best-selling mystery story.
There’s no mystery now about the war of Europe and North America against Russia; it is the continuation of Germany’s war of 1939-45 and the war aims of the General Staff in Washington since 1943. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and President Vladimir Putin (right) both said it plainly enough this week.
There is also no mystery in the decision-making in Moscow of the President and the Defense Minister, the General Staff, and the others; it is the continuation of the Stavka of 1941-45.
Just because there is no mystery about this, it doesn’t follow that it should be reported publicly, debated in the State Duma, speculated and advertised by bloggers, podcasters, and twitterers. In war what should not be said cannot be said. When the war ends, then there will be none.
Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.
How little the Germans have changed.
But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.” By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”
So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.
Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors voted to go to war with Russia by a vote of 26 member countries against 9.
China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa voted against war with Russia.
The IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi (lead image, left) has refused to tell the press whether a simple majority of votes (18) or a super-majority of two-thirds (23) was required by the agency charter for the vote; he also wouldn’t say which countries voted for or against. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then covered up for what had happened by telling the press: “I believe that [IAEA’s] independence that exists and must be preserved is essential. The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties.” The IAEA vote for war made a liar of Guterres.
In the IAEA’s 65-year history, Resolution Number 58, the war vote of September 15, 2022, is the first time the agency has taken one side in a war between member countries when nuclear reactors have either been attacked or threatened with attack. It is also the first time the IAEA has attacked one of its member states, Russia, when its military were attempting to protect and secure a nuclear reactor from attack by another member state, the Ukraine, and its war allies, the US, NATO and the European Union states. The vote followed the first-ever IAEA inspection of a nuclear reactor while it was under active artillery fire and troop assault.
There is a first time for everything but this is the end of the IAEA. On to the scrap heap of good intentions and international treaties, the IAEA is following the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the UN Secretary-General himself. Listen to this discussion of the past history when the IAEA responded quite differently following the Iranian and Israeli air-bombing attacks on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Osirak, and later, the attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sites.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided this week to take the side of Ukraine in the current war; blame Russia for the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP); and issue a demand for Russia to surrender the plant to the Kiev regime “to regain full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”
This is the most dramatic shift by the United Nations (UN) nuclear power regulator in the 65-year history of the organisation based in Vienna.
The terms of the IAEA Resolution Number 58, which were proposed early this week by the Polish and Canadian governors on the agency board, were known in advance by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin in the late afternoon of September 14, before the vote was taken. Guterres did not reveal what he already knew would be the IAEA action the next day.
Never mind that King Solomon said proverbially three thousand years ago, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
With seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, Solomon realized he was the inventor of the situation comedy. If not for the sitcom as his medicine, the bodily and psychological stress Old Solly had to endure in the bedroom would have killed him long before he made it to his death bed at eighty years of age, after ruling his kingdom for forty of them.
After the British sitcom died in the 1990s, the subsequent stress has not only killed very large numbers of ordinary people. It has culminated today in a system of rule according to which a comic king in Buckingham Palace must now manage the first prime minister in Westminster history to be her own joke.
Even the Norwegians, the unfunniest people in Europe, have acknowledged that the only way to attract the British as tourists, was to pay John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers to make them laugh at Norway itself. This has been a bigger success for the locals than for the visitors, boosting the fjord boatman’s life expectancy several years ahead of the British tourist’s.
In fact, Norwegian scientists studying a sample of 54,000 of their countrymen have proved that spending the state budget on public health and social welfare will only work effectively if the population is laughing all the way to the grave. “The cognitive component of the sense of humour is positively associated with survival from mortality related to CVD [cardio-vascular disease] and infections in women and with infection-related mortality in men” – Norwegian doctors reported in 2016. Never mind the Viking English: the Norwegian point is the same as Solomon’s that “a sense of humour is a health-protecting cognitive coping resource” – especially if you’ve got cancer.
The Russians understand this better than the Norwegians or the British. Laughter is an antidote to the war propaganda coming from abroad, as Lexus and Vovan have been demonstrating. The Russian sitcom is also surviving in its classic form to match the best of the British sitcoms, all now dead – Fawlty Towers (d. 1975), Black Adder (d. 1989), You Rang M’Lord? (d. 1988), Jeeves and Wooster (d. 1990), Oh Dr Beeching! (d.1995), and Thin BlueLine (d. 1996).
The Russian situation comedies, alive and well on TV screens and internet streaming devices across the country, are also increasingly profitable business for their production and broadcast companies – not despite the war but because of it. This has transformed the Russian media industry’s calculation of profitability by removing US and European-made films and television series, as well as advertising revenues from Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mars, and Bayer. In their place powerful Russian video-on-demand (VOD) streaming platform companies like Yandex (KinoPoisk), MTS (Kion), Mail.ru (VK), and Ivi (Leonid Boguslavsky, ProfMedia, Baring Vostok) are now intensifying the competition for audience with traditional television channels and film studios for domestic audiences. The revenue base of the VOD platforms is less vulnerable to advertisers, more dependent on telecommunications subscriptions.
Russian script writers, cameramen, actors, designers, and directors are now in shorter supply than ever before, and earning more money. “It’s the Russian New Wave,” claims Olga Filipuk, head of media content for Yandex, the powerful leader of the new film production platforms; its controlling shareholder and chief executive were sanctioned last year.
By Olga Samofalova, translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow @bears_with
It was the American humourist Mark Twain who didn’t die in 1897 when it was reported that he had. Twain had thirteen more lively years to go.
The death of the Russian aerospace and aviation industry in the present war is proving to be an even greater exaggeration – and the life to come will be much longer. From the Russian point of view, the death which the sanctions have inflicted is that of the US, European and British offensive against the Soviet-era industry which President Boris Yeltsin (lead image, left) and his advisers encouraged from 1991.
Since 2014, when the sanctions war began, the question of what Moscow would do when the supply of original aircraft components was first threatened, then prohibited, has been answered. The answer began at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1947 when the first Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) or Parts Manufacturing Approval (PMA) was issued by Washington officials for aircraft parts or components meeting the airworthiness standards but manufactured by sources which were not the original suppliers.
China has been quicker to implement this practice; Chinese state and commercial enterprises have been producing PMA components for Boeing and Airbus aircraft in the Chinese airline fleets for many years. The Russian Transport Ministry has followed suit; in its certification process and airworthiness regulations it has used the abbreviation RMA, Cyrillic for PMA. This process has been accelerating as the sanctions war has escalated.
So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.
The weakest link in the British government’s four-year long story of Russian Novichok assassination operations in the UK – prelude to the current war – is an English medical expert by the name of Guy Rutty (lead image, standing).
A government-appointed pathologist advising the Home Office, police, and county coroners, Rutty is the head of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit in Leicester, he is the author of a post-mortem report, dated November 29, 2018, claiming that the only fatality in the history of the Novichok nerve agent (lead image, document), Dawn Sturgess, had died of Novichok poisoning on July 8, 2018. Rutty’s finding was added four months after initial post-mortem results and a coroner’s cremation certificate stopped short of confirming that Novichok had been the cause of her death.
Rutty’s Novichok finding was a state secret for more than two years. It was revealed publicly by the second government coroner to investigate Sturgess’s death, Dame Heather Hallett, at a public hearing in London on March 30, 2021. In written evidence it was reported that “on 17th July 2018, Professor Guy Rutty MBE, a Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist conducted an independent post-mortem examination. He was accompanied by Dr Phillip Lumb, also an independent Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist. Professor Rutty’s Post-Mortem Report of 29th November 2018 records the cause of death as Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity.”
Hallett, Rutty, Lumb, and others engaged by the government to work on the Novichok case have refused to answer questions about the post-mortem investigations which followed immediately after Sturgess’s death was reported at Salisbury District Hospital; and a cause of death report signed by the Wiltshire Country coroner David Ridley, when Sturgess’s body was released to her family for funeral and cremation on July 30, 2018.
After another three years, Ridley was replaced as coroner in the case by Hallett in March 2021. Hallett was replaced by Lord Anthony Hughes (lead image, sitting) in March 2022.
The cause-of-death documents remain state secrets. “As you have no formal role in the inquest proceedings,” Hallett’s and Rutty’s spokesman Martin Smith said on May 17, 2021, “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.”
Since then official leaks have revealed that Rutty had been despatched by the Home Office in London to take charge of the Sturgess post-mortem, and Lumb ordered not to undertake an autopsy or draw conclusions on the cause of Sturgess’s death until Rutty arrived. Why? The sources are not saying whether the two forensic professors differed in their interpretation of the evidence; and if so, whether the published excerpt of Rutty’s report of Novichok poisoning is the full story.
New developments in the official investigation of Sturgess’s death, now directed by Hughes, have removed the state secrecy cover for Rutty, Lumb, and other medical specialists who attended the post-mortem on July 17, 2018. The appointment by Hughes of a London lawyer, Adam Chapman, to represent Sergei and Yulia Skripal, opens these post-mortem documents to the Skripals, along with the cremation certificate, and related hospital, ambulance and laboratory records. Chapman’s role is “appropriate” – Smith’s term – for the Skripals to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb and add independent expert evidence.
Hughes’s appointment of another lawyer, Emilie Pottle (lead image, top left), to act on behalf of the three Russian military officers accused of the Novichok attack exposes this evidence to testing at the same forensic standard. According to Hughes, it is Pottle’s “responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry takes all reasonable steps to test the evidence connecting those Russian nationals to Ms Sturgess’s death.” Pottle’s responsibility is to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb.