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By John Helmer, Moscow

Sergei Skripal, the self-employed entrepeneur, former Russian military explosives specialist and British espionage agent, is “in hospital under heavy sedation,” according to a High Court judgement issued last week in London.   He is “unconscious” but appears not to be on life-support machinery. A Salisbury Hospital doctor testifed in court that Skripal and his daughter Yulia are “unable to communicate in any way” and  “in a physically stable condition which is not expected to change in the immediate or near future.” According to the court, “medical tests indicate that their mental capacity might be compromised to an unknown and so far unascertained degree.” The implication is that they are comatose.

The High Court reported evidence from the doctor treating the Skripals that they have suffered  “injury by a nerve agent” The court also accepted evidence from a government chemical and biological analyst at the Porton Down Laboratory that their injury had been caused by  “exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent.”

Justice David Williams, who presided in court and issued the March 22 ruling, did not identify a source or origin of this nerve agent. The judge also did not say nor did he rule that what happened to the Skripals was a crime.

The only official Russian explanation of what has happened came from Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. He said on March 23 there had been an “accident”; for Peskov’s reference to an accident, click to read

Skripal and his daughter were  represented in court last week by a London lawyer named Vikram Sachdeva QC. He  refuses to answer questions about his role or his clients.  His appointment by the British authorities does not establish his independence; according to last week’s court record, he “supported much that Mr [James] Eadie [lawyer representing the British Government]  submitted.” Sachdeva’s case record shows he has been involved in cases of unconscious people in the past, but Sachdeva appears to take the side of the authorities. “A safe pair of hands [for the government]”, a source familiar with Sachdeva’s record says.

The court record also reveals that Sachdeva refuses to have any contact with his client’s family in Russia or their business associates and contacts there. He testified in court that it is “not…practicable or appropriate to seek the views of others who might be interested in the welfare of Mr Skripal.” The judge acknowledged evidence in court that the Skripals “appear to have some relatives in Russia”, but added: “I accept that it is neither practicable nor appropriate in the special context of this case to consult with any relatives of Mr Skripal.”

Sachdeva’s refusal to open contacts with the Russian family and associates of Sergei Skripal to investigate the possibility that his injury was self-inflicted by accident, has triggered questioning by London and Moscow lawyers.  These sources do not doubt that the British and Russian intelligence and security services  have now gathered considerable evidence of Skripal’s activities before the March 4 incident, and of the contacts Yulia Skripal had with her father’s associates in Moscow before she flew to England on March 3. If no crime was committed, if an accident happened, then the sources point out that the evidence of the nerve agent in the Skripals’ blood amounts to only a small fraction of the evidence the British and Russian governments already hold. The lawyers also say this  is circumstantial, not direct and determinative evidence. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Kremlin insiders report that fear for survival is now sweeping the Kremlin and the ministries of the Russian government, as it is acknowledged by senior officials that President Vladimir Putin (lead image, left)  will make “significant changes” when he announces the new government after his inauguration in six weeks’ time.  

Putin, the sources have disclosed, has been unpleasantly surprised by two results of the Skripal poisoning case, after the intelligence and security services have briefed him on all they now know of the case.   The first surprise for Putin, the sources claim, is the failure of command and control on the part of the civilian arm of government to respond to the British challenges after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal was announced on March 4. The second is the behaviour of the state media and propaganda arm operated by Dmitry Peskov (centre), the presidential spokesman. “The Foreign Ministry hasn’t known how to act in London, whom to employ, whether to open its mouth, or keep it shut. The state propaganda organs have made this worse. Everything the government now says, truth though it may be, now looks unbelievable cover-up.”

The sources are guarded in their predictions. They believe Dmitry Medvedev will be reappointed prime minister. They expect that senior officials regarded as too fond of the west will go.

Watch and read as Dmitry Peskov explains to his boss why he should not be dismissed, and in the process reveals to the British government how the spokesman makes the president look culpable in the Skripal affair — an affair Peskov calls an “accident” six times over. That’s a dramatic news-breaking term;  Peskov fails to explain it. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

British High Court Justice David Williams has issued the first court adjudication of evidence presented by the British Government of what happened to Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal when they succumbed to poisoning in Salisbury on March 4.  Following three days of closed-door hearings this week in London, the judge issued a ruling for publication yesterday.  

This allows the commencement of a process of evidence-gathering and testing by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) under international treaty procedures and rules for the admissibility of evidence. The new court-ordered safeguards  respond to the criticism issued in an official aide-memoire from the Russian Foreign Ministry on  March 21. In that document, the Russian Government criticized the British Government for failing to secure “the chain of custody [of blood sample and poison evidence] up to all the OPCW requirements when evidence was collected”.  

The process ordered by Justice Williams yesterday will not only assure the independence of OPCW evidence-gathering.  By DNA testing of the fresh blood samples to be taken by the OPCW and matched against the original blood samples taken by British investigators to the Porton Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Russian suspicion of evidence tampering will be addressed.

In a dramatic disclosure defying explanation, Williams has now revealed that lawyers representing the Skripals and witnesses from the Salisbury Hospital and the British Government  told the court there has been no approach from any Russian family member, any Russian government agency,  or a lawyer acting for them to seek access to the Skripals or their medical records.

According to the hospital witness, “the hospital has not been approached by anyone known to the patients to enquire of their welfare. The hospital know little about either patient or what they might have wished. Independent Mental Capacity Advocates have been appointed by the Trust to assist with best interests decisions on clinical matters.”

Representing the Skripals, Vikram Sachdeva QC told the judge “that in this case at present it did not appear practicable or appropriate to seek the views of others who might be interested in the welfare of Mr Skripal (his mother perhaps) or Ms Skripal (perhaps a fiancé).” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Sovcomflot (SCF), the Russian state shipping company, has been obliged by its accountants Ernst & Young to declare $75.5 million in costs and expenses from court orders by British judges over a series of lawsuits initiated by Sovcomflot’s chief executive, Sergei Frank (lead image, left) thirteen years ago.  The money must be paid to Yury Nikitin,  a former chartering partner of Sovcomflot.  

The figure was released last week in Sovcomflot’s financial report for 2017. It does not include between $30 million and $50 million, which London sources estimate to have been Sovcomflot’s legal expenses and costs of compensating two other victims of Frank’s London litigation —  Dmitry Skarga, Sovcomflot’s chief executive before Frank’s takeover in 2004; and Tagir Izmaylov (Izmailov), chief executive of Novorossiysk Shipping Company (Novoship) before Frank forced a merger between Sovcomflot and Novoship. The charges,compensation and penalties which Sovcomflot has been ordered to pay stem from the rulings by High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court  judges that Frank was dishonest and vindictive in his claims against Nikitin, Skarga and Izmaylov.

Maritime analyst for Uralsib Bank in Moscow, Denis Vorchik, reported to clients this week the new financial accounting for the London litigation was the main reason for Sovcomflot to report a loss of  $113 million for 2017. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Something dark, something blacked out is happening at TMK (Trubnaya Metallurgicheskaya Kompaniya, Metal Pipe Company),  Russia’s leading manufacturer, and one of the world’s leading manufacturers,  of steel pipes for oil, gas, water,  and construction.

In an unprecedented triple change of mind, TMK owned by Dmitry Pumpyansky announced an initial public offering (IPO) of shares in its American subsidiary IPSCO Tubulars Inc. on January 29.  Just ten days later, on February 8, the company announced to the New York Stock Exchange it was withdrawing the share sale. The official reason was that “the continued market and economic volatility are not optimal conditions for an initial public offering.” In four more weeks, on March 9, TMK issued a new prospectus, reopening the sale of the IPSCO shares.

The company will not explain why it changed its mind,  or what has happened in the volatile New York market to justify restarting the IPO. Not a single London or Moscow-based bank  analyst identified by TMK as specializing in its business will give a reason. Moody’s rating agency, which lifted TMK’s outlook from negative to stable on February 28, has also failed to explain what is happening.

The answer, however, can be found in the small print of the two IPO prospectuses issued by TMK and IPSCO. TMK’s debt has been growing, the two prospectuses report, revealing that TMK’s lenders are increasingly anxious to be repaid. Two of the banks are relatively small lenders, but they have been demanding early repayments in recent days, as TMK’s share price fell after the IPO cancellation.

The biggest of TMK’s lenders is the Russian state bank VTB. It is pressure from VTB which has caused the sudden re-issue of the IPO prospectus — with one important change visible in the small print; that’s to say, invisible in the small print. VTB is insisting Pumpyansky drop the share price target of the first prospectus and sell for whatever price he can get now. VTB’s cash call has led to a share price target  in the new prospectus that is blank. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Prime Minister Theresa May committed a blood libel against Russians in the House of Commons last week. This was the allegation that the Russian state and all Russians are murderers.

May has subsequently asked the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to correct the record by charging that only one Russian, President Vladimir Putin, is a murderer.

The Canadian Government was also requested by the British  to urgently correct the record May has been making in refusing to allow the international rules of the Chemical Weapons Convention to decide what happened in the poison attack in Salisbury on March 4.  According to the new Canadian statement, coordinated with the British, the international convention can be suspended by Prime Minister May in order to make her blood libel stick.

If this is reminding you of Adolph Hitler’s blood libel against the Jews, followed by Austrian support after the Anschluss (union) with Germany of 1938, it should. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Imagine an investigation for attempted homicide by gunshot without the gun, bullet, ballistics match, fingerprints, powder burns, witnesses, shooter, intention, motive.  You can’t imagine? Neither could the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

An application to a British court for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Yulia Skripal is the last chance, British and international lawyers believe, to preserve for public accountability the evidence of the poison attack against her and her father, Sergei Skripal. The attack occurred on Sunday afternoon, March 4, after the poison  had been prepared at the Skripal home in Salisbury. The Skripals themselves were exposed several hours later at a nearby restaurant.  

Bulletins on their medical condition are being issued by the National Health Service. In addition, Salisbury District Hospital has been publishing daily Twitter feed on the public health risks since the attack, along with a notice: “Salisbury Hospital is open and operating normally. We are advising patients to attend for their scheduled appointments as normal.” When hospital officials were asked today what is the condition of the Skripals, they reported  they are “in a critical, but stable condition in intensive care… The police officer, who was also part of the initial response, is conscious in a serious but stable condition.”

The lawyers say it is already impossible for the evidence collected by the police and military investigators at sites around Salisbury to be admissible in a court of  law. This, they add, is because samples of the poison may have been tampered with before or after Prime Minister Theresa May (lead image) announced to the House of Commons the ongoing forensic investigation on March 12, and then announced the government’s conclusions on March 14.

Securing the chain of custody of the evidence required by British courts has been compromised by the state secrecy surrounding the case, legal sources believe.  It stopped altogether with May’s second statement to parliament yesterday.   In that speech, the prime minister implied that no samples of the poison have been despatched to the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OCPW) in The Hague.

The only accessible evidence about the source of the poison, according to the lawyers, is in the bodies and medical records of Yulia Skripal and her father.  Accordingly, the lawyers are now considering an application to a British court for habeas corpus on Yulia Skripal’s behalf, so that the poison and the allegations surrounding the attack on the Skripals can be tested by a judge, according to the British laws of evidence. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

In cases like the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, the only way to proceed is by identifying the evidence which proves with certainty what happened; or failing that, proves with certainty what did not  happen. Perpetrator, co-conspirators, method, motive, intention – all come later, if they come at all.  

At the moment, according to police and government releases and the British state media, the crime scene in Salisbury is being combed by at least 250 police officers; with another 180 military personnel specializing in chemical warfare. Dozens more electronic surveillance and cyber-warfare agents are also engaged. The crime scene locations include the Skripal house; the cemetery graves of Skripal’s wife and son; the Mill public house where Skripal and his daughter had a drink; the Zizzi restaurant where they ate before collapsing; and the public areas where they walked between house, pub, restaurant, the Maltings shopping precinct, and park bench.

At least 240 pieces of evidence have reportedly been identified as such, not counting the Skripal house, and 200 witnesses interviewed, including Wiltshire Police Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey. He developed symptoms  after being despatched to the Skripal house. That is, after the Skripals had been found and hospitalized.

According to Lord Ian Blair, a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, “there are some indications that the police officer who was injured had been to the house, whereas there was a doctor who looked after the patients in the open, who hasn’t been affected at all. So there maybe some clues floating around in here.” Blair said this on the BBC.

His disclosure, also confirmed in several newspapers, provides the first certainty in the case: the Skripals came into contact with the poison for the first time inside their own home. They then went out to the pub and the restaurant. Certainty No. 2 – the poison cannot have been fast-acting for them at home. Certainty No. 3 – the poison was faster-acting for Sgt Bailey because he developed symptoms almost immediately at the Skripal house.

Follow the next eleven certainties. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

It’s novel for a US military institution to publish a report which contradicts its own conclusions, and adds up to evidence instead for the opposite of its proposals. This feat has just been achieved by the Naval Institute Press and Harlan K. Ullman in a book dedicated to the US Naval Academy Class of 1945. The title is Anatomy of Failure, Why America Loses Every War It Starts.

Ullman’s case is that because the US military lacks a “brains-based approach to strategic thinking”, it keeps losing the wars it starts. Ullman isn’t against the US starting wars. What he proposes is that the only brains for winning these wars are his own. Naturally, the London media have clicked their collective heels, saluting Ullman with reviews declaring, among other things, that  “there is not an army in the world that could stand up to the Americans in a fair fight. But winning wars is a different matter”.

In short, the adversaries of the US don’t fight fair. They win by fighting dirty. Americans need to use their brains, er Ullman’s brains, to compensate.

What those brains propose  is a combination of  “extensive knowledge and understanding of the enemy at all levels, brilliance in execution, rapidity, and sufficient control of the environment in all dimensions to impose our will.”

Ullman expands the IMPOSE-OUR-WILL phrase into a warfighting doctrine he claims to have invented himself in 1994. He was sitting, he claims, on a Pentagon committee of retired generals and admirals  he calls by their diminutives – Bud, Fred, Chuck, Tom, Jim and Snuffy.  Ullman says he first called the doctrine “shock and awe”.  But this is Ullman’s selfie, as fake as the photograph on the book’s dust jacket (lead image, left). This is also Ullman’s recapitulation of the old force concentration and mobility doctrines of Julius Caesar, Richard the Lionheart, Napoleon, German blitzkrieg, and Georgy Zhukov

It’s a battlefield idea which,  as the Germans learned on the Soviet Front, doesn’t win wars. The Americans are also learning the same these days on the Syrian,  Ukrainian, Korean and South China Sea fronts where they lack air superiority and on the ground have no better than parity of firepower  with the other side. Ullman and the US Navy have produced this book revealing they still don’t comprehend.   

Ullman is better known in Washington for boots on his own ground, according to the testimony of a local brothel madam who identified him publicly as her client before she was prosecuted and committed suicide. That’s a doctrine of schlock and whore.