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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Wine, and the money to spend on drinking it, are growing at an unprecedented pace in Russia. For a country at war in Europe this has not happened in modern times, and probably not since the ancient Roman emperors and medieval English kings arranged for their city fountains to flow with wine in celebration of military victories and coronations.

The surge in wine consumption signals the growing confidence of Russian consumers in their future. A parallel surge in wine imports since April is also a signal that the Russian Finance Ministry aims to raise taxes on this good cheer.

In 2023, 320 million litres of still and fortified wine were imported to Russia, which was 4.4% more than in 2022, according to a study by the large Moscow importer, distributor, and retailer, the Luding group.   According to other market reports, by the end of last year the  largest supermarket groups had increased their imports of wine by 7% compared to the year before. The X5 group, for example, which operates the Pyaterochka and Perekrestok stores, reported an 18% annual increase; the Magnit chain was up 83%.

This year the rate of increase in wine imports has been accelerating.  Through April, the Russian Customs figures show a 20% rate of increase in the volume of wine imports compared to the first four months of 2023. The most noticeable surge was observed in April, when twice as much wine was imported as a year ago.

Part of the reason is that the Russian war economy is now generating significantly faster growth in consumer income than the rate of inflation. Adjusted for that, real wages grew 0.3% between March 2022 and March 2023. This is after a prolonged decline in real wages between 2013 and 2021.   In the first quarter of this year, January through March, real disposable income – a slightly different metric measured by the state statistics agency Rosstat — jumped 5.8% compared to the year before. This was a relative slowdown compared to the last quarter of 2023, when real disposable income was up 7% year on year.  Rosstat is reporting also that real wages grew by a record 13.3% in May 2023. The agency’s measurement reflected the jump in war-related civilian sector wages and in payments to military personnel. Pensions, by contrast, were shrinking slightly in real terms.

The government is now estimating the full-year 2023 rate of real income growth at 5.4%; in 2024 at 2.8%, and next year at 2.8%.  Consumer demand is predicted to rise in step.

Despite Russian casualties at the front already running ahead of the ten-year Soviet Afghanistan War,  the Russian war economy, and the impact of the NATO sanctions war, are paying a large domestic dividend – and not only at the wine shop.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

June 12 marks the anniversary of Boris Yeltsin’s election as President of Russia.

It is no moment for celebration.

The government which he led successfully over the attempted putsch of last August and through the disintegration of the Soviet Union now lacks credible authority in the Russian federation and among its people.

There is no agreement on a constitution to hold the federation together, or to divide the power granted by Russian votes for
president and parliament.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

As the Ukraine’s peak summer electricity season approaches, the list of the Russian General Staff’s Electric War targets is shrinking. This is because almost all the Ukrainian electricity generating plants have been stopped. What remains for destruction are the connecting lines and distribution grids for the Ukraine’s imported electricity from Poland and other European Union neighbours. The microwave and cell telephone towers, and the diesel fuel stocks which are powering the back-up generating sets are next.

 “There’s no keeping the Ukrainian cell network up any more than there is keeping up the electrical grid,” comments a close military observer.  “The General Staff have set the flow of Ukrainian refugees west  as inversely proportional to the flow of data and electrons over Ukrainian airwaves and transmission lines. We can expect that relationship to be set to highly inverse before the summer is out. What calculations have been made regarding things further west are just beginning to become evident.”

The Electric War is now accelerating faster to the Polish border than the Russian army advance along the line east of the Dnieper River.  

In the very long history of siege warfare, there has never been a case of letting the enemy’s civilian population run safely away from his castles and cities until the fortifications and army which remain must choose between surrender and destruction.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

A newly released national poll reveals that Russian public support for the Army and for President Vladimir Putin is growing. At the same time, the proportion of Russians in favour of expanded military operations is rising at the expense of those who favour negotiations. The  outcomes for negotiations acceptable to the Russians who support them are rapidly shrinking, too.

This Russian conviction is strengthening in the face of the battlefield casualty rate which, unusually, Putin acknowledged this week to be ten thousand a month.

Putin’s told a press conference on June 5 : “our losses, especially as concerns irreparable losses, unfortunately, then they are several times less than on the Ukrainian side. If we talk about approximate irretrievable losses, then the ratio is the same: one to about five… According to our calculations, the Ukrainian army loses 50,000 people per month as sanitary and irretrievable losses both, although their irretrievable and sanitary losses are approximately 50/50.”  

Since the Russian rate of casualty survival for troops at the front is substantially better than the Ukrainian rate because of superior evacuation, front-line and rear medical care, Putin’s numbers suggest that the Russian killed-in-action (KIA) number is at least 3,000 per month.

According to a nationwide survey by face-to-face interview in Russian homes between May 23 and 29,   the Levada Centre in Moscow, an independent polling organisation, reports: “Half of the respondents believe it is necessary to move on to peace negotiations — 43% are in favour of continuing military operations, their share has been growing in recent months. However, the majority is not ready to make concessions regarding Ukraine and this share is growing. Russians consider the exchange of prisoners of war and a ceasefire to be acceptable conditions for signing a peace agreement, while the return of new regions and Ukraine’s accession to NATO are completely unacceptable. If there was an opportunity to go back in time and cancel the start of Special Military Operation, slightly more than a third of respondents would reverse this decision — their share has decreased slightly in recent months.”

This also means that Ukrainian missile, artillery, and drone attacks on civilians, refinery and other targets on Russian territory are having no impact on the nationwide commitment to the war and its strategic objectives. On the contrary, threats by NATO leaders to intensify these attacks and extend their range into Russia are increasing public Russian support for lifting Kremlin  restrictions on the General Staff’s operational  plans for finishing the war at and over the Polish border.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Right now the Russian Electric War campaign in the Ukraine is targeting the last operating power generation plants and the transmission lines from the European Union replacing electricity which the Ukrainians can no longer generate for themselves. Microwave and mobile  telephone towers are being struck so that the country’s cell network is collapsing in parallel with the electricity network.

“This is Russian deep battle”, a US military source comments, “being fought in fact by the General Staff while its operations continue to be restricted in Moscow for political reasons. Soon the impact will be impossible to cover up. For now, we know how bad it’s getting by the lack of discussion about how bad it’s getting.”

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

It was the English writer G.K. Chesterton who remarked that “compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.”

In the current war against Russian grain, less than half a loaf is what the European Union (EU) will get from its announcement last Thursday, May 30, of a prohibitive new import duty of €95 per tonne of cereals in order to ban Russian (and Belarusian) grain from entering the European market. Imports of oilseeds and derived products, as well as beet-pulp pellets and dried peas,  have also been barred.

In its official announcement,  the EU declared trade protection for the EU’s grain producers to be the main reason for the new sanction, not the Ukraine war.  France leads the EU grain producers, followed by Germany and Poland.

“The EU’s imports of grain products from Russia have significantly increased since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022,” the EU announcement said. “While the Russian Federation remains a relatively small supplier of those products to the EU market, it is a leading world-wide producer and exporter of those products. Given its current volumes of exports to the world, the Russian Federation could reorient significant volumes of supplies of those products to the EU, causing a sudden inflow from its large existing stocks, thereby disrupting the EU market.”  

For “disrupting the EU market”, read commercial threat to French, German and Polish growers.

The EU statement added “there is evidence that the Russian Federation is currently illegally appropriating large volumes of such products in territories of Ukraine, which it illegally occupies, and routing them to its export markets as allegedly Russian products. These measures will therefore prevent the EU market from being destabilised, halt Russian exports of illegally appropriated grain produced in the territories of Ukraine and prevent Russia from using revenues from exports to the EU to fund its war of aggression against Ukraine.”

In 2023 Russia exported 4.2 million tonnes of cereals and related agricultural products to the EU worth €1.3 billion. In volume, there had been a surge of 56% in Russian grain shipments to the EU from 2022 to 2023.  Notwithstanding, the proportion of Russian grain in the European market has remained less than 1%.  

The Kiev regime – currently barred from exporting its dumping-price grain to Poland and other neighbouring EU states  – has been complaining that Russian grain should not have an advantage in the market. The Defense Ministry in Kiev and the state-funded think tank of the Kiev School of Economics are the sources of the Russian grain theft allegation, which was first broadcast by CNN in March 2022.  US satellite and other intelligence was then used by CNN to repeat the Ukrainian allegation in May 2022. Just before, Reuters, the US propaganda agency based in New York, repeated the allegation, adding “the Kremlin denied Ukraine’s allegations, saying it did not know where the information was coming from.”  

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) repeated the allegation with additional state-supplied intelligence in June 2022, but the propaganda organ acknowledged that an uncounted tonnage of the allegedly stolen grain had come from Donetsk and Lugansk, after they had seceded from the Ukraine but before they changed their status from people’s republics to Russian regions.

The BBC also claimed that “part of the grain that ended up in these territories directly belongs to the Ukrainian state. These are the grain of state-owned enterprises and strategic reserves in case, for example, of a war that has actually begun.”  

After the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General’s office took over supervision of grain shipments from the Ukraine and Russia through the Black Sea in what was called the Black Sea Grain Initiative Joint Coordination Centre in the third quarter of 2022,  the grain theft narrative from Kiev stopped.

With Russian grain harvests running at record levels of 158 million tonnes in 2022 and 143 million tonnes in 2023, the volume of exports to the EU amounts to less than 1% of the harvest;  less than 3% of total exports.

This harvest boom has made Russia the western world’s leading grain producer;  globally, it comes third after China and India.  The Russian farm success has also been forcing down global grain prices. This, according to a western grain broker, amounts to “Russian wheat strangling global market.”     “Rising Russian exports,” the broker adds, “increasingly aggressive [lower] Black Sea export pricing, surplus global stocks, waning international demand and the prospect of another massive crop in Russia this year drive global wheat values to their lowest level since the second half of 2020.” Strangling the global profits of wheat exporters in competition with Russia is what this means – Australia, Canada, France and the US. In short, the Ukraine war allies.

At the weekly Moscow briefing which followed the EU announcement in Moscow on May 30,  Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova attacked the EU for hypocrisy in reducing market supplies and raising prices when it has been claiming its priority has been food security for the neediest grain-consuming states. “When the West begins to talk about prohibitive duties on Russian grain, I advise them to reconsider their own statements about food security, which they were insisting on two years ago,” Zakharova said. “From their point of view, everything was at stake in order to feed the countries in need. Are the same people, or is it their twins at the microphones, who are now saying exactly the opposite?”

“The Westerners lied two years ago. They had no interest in global food security. They just wanted to help fill the pockets of the major global players – mostly American, Anglo-Saxon companies – who were engaged in resale and made a huge fortune on margin. They used the situation of the moment, the political crisis in Europe, the world, and the situation in Ukraine in order to create opportunities for enrichment. It wasn’t just illegal. It was bloodthirsty. Now they’ve moved on to the next phase…The Westerners want to squeeze out Russia from everywhere. They hoped that our country end up destroying  its agriculture by joining the WTO and playing by their rules. That didn’t happen. Agriculture has been restored and feeds the world, fulfilling the capabilities of the Russian Federation and its natural wealth, responding to the call and obvious needs of various countries.”

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

It was a frustrated Sherlock Holmes who told Dr Watson: “You will not apply my precept,” he said, shaking his head. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

That was in 1890 in the Arthur Conan Doyle story, “The Sign of Four”.

Application of this Holmes rule of detection and deduction to the circumstances of the crash of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter on May 19 is now producing the inescapable conclusion that Raisi, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian,  and the six others  on board their aircraft were killed by the actions of one or both of the pilots, who intended their own suicide and the killing of their passengers.

This appears not to have been the conclusion of the Iranian Air Force commanders who paid a condolence visit to the families of the pilots on May 21, two days after their deaths.  

But with the release last week by the Iranian Army’s General Staff of its second report on the fatal crash, the elimination of weather, machine failure, external missile attack, on-board bomb, electronic sabotage, and pilot navigational error is now complete. Together with the first General Staff report,    the detailed Teheran television interview of Raisi’s chief of staff, Gholam-Hossein Esmaeili,  and the eyewitness testimony by telephone from the crash scene by the Tabriz ayatollah,  Mohammad Ali Al-Hashem,  the evidence remaining is that the highly experienced chief pilot, Colonel Seyed Taher Mostafavi (lead image, right) made three mistakes — the first, to fly into the cloud bank after he ordered the others to climb above; the second, not to detect on his radar and other instruments the sharp mountain peaks in close proximity to his flight course at 2,200 metres; and the third, to crash in horizontal orientation, not vertically nose first.

Hattricks are rare, but they are never mistakes, never accidental.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte (right, centre) was the first leader of a NATO state to try to send his soldiers on to the Ukrainian battlefield to fight Russian forces directly.  That was in July 2014, in the aftermath of the Ukrainian shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. That Rutte scheme failed after it was vetoed by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel; she insisted on more time to prepare the NATO forces in the Ukraine to fight Russia. Now that they are, Rutte is the US candidate to become the new secretary-general of NATO.

For the first time, however, his appointment is being vetoed by a NATO member, Hungary, which has proposed an alternative candidate – the ethnic German Klaus Iohannis, who is  President of Romania. Because NATO rules require unanimity on the secretary-general, the Hungarian objection puts the Rutte nomination in the soup — make that goulash.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

In war, exaggeration is a killer. In the media, exaggeration is a bestseller. In the current war there is a dearth of military and political analysts who for truth or money will tell the difference.

Instead, when the mentality of the war fighters is a combination of racial superiority and spetsnaz derring-do, what you get is the conviction that with one more brilliant operation and one more super-weapon, victory can be snatched from every indicator of defeat because the adversary will be persuaded to accept negotiations as he loses his nerve.

This is the meaning of the Anglo-American publicity which burst over the long Bank Holiday and Memorial Day weekend, as summer campaigning began in earnest for the July and November elections in the UK and US — with the incumbent in the former running 21 points behind,  and the incumbent in the latter trailing on an approval margin of minus-16 points.  

The Reuters propaganda agency, based in New York, is claiming to have found four Russians from “a senior level in the political and business worlds” to be talkative about what they say they know of the Kremlin’s end-of-war plans. “[President Vladimir] Putin can fight for as long as it takes, but Putin is also ready for a ceasefire – to freeze the war… Putin would, however, be ready to settle for what land he has now and freeze the conflict at the current front lines, four of the sources said. ‘Putin will say that we won, that NATO attacked us and we kept our sovereignty, that we have a land corridor to Crimea, which is true,’ one of them said, giving their own analysis.”

With just one more successful push from the Ukrainian side, Reuters and its four Russians believe, Putin will agree to give up his war.  This push,  which the western media have been amplifying this week,  is the drone attacks on Russian radar stations for early warning of nuclear missile attack at Armavir, Krasnodar, and Orsk, Orenburg.

  Although Russian military sources claim these attacks were pinpricks, and the second of them was shot out of the sky before detonation, western media are reporting that it is now the battle strategy of the US, the British, and the Ukrainians to provoke Putin into retaliation, crossing the red line of tactical nuclear warfare. That’s a red line, the allies are calculating, which Putin would rather negotiate end-of-war terms than cross.

A retired Moscow military analyst warns against the exaggeration, not of the attacks themselves, but of Putin’s power to decide end-of-war terms over the opposition of the General Staff and the new Defense Ministry. “It is obvious the Ukrainians have had a string of successful breakthroughs,” the source acknowledges, “– against ships, airfields, refineries, and now this radar site. We also understand it is not the Ukrainians: all target selection, identification, guidance, and the hardware are American or European. Where the command control of these launch sites is, we do not know but it might well not be in Ukraine.”

“But the Russian response will not be nuclear. That is impossible. There are a thousand options between doing nothing and going nuclear, and we can be sure the General Staff are working on all of them. So when people say this is provocation for a nuclear strike and that [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky is provoking it, we understand that, first, NATO planners know Putin will not go nuclear because he and his generals are too rational and sane. And second, Zelensky is not the one making the provocations. So the real red line now is not the nuclear arms provocations from the NATO side. That’s a fantasy of theirs. Just so, in response, I think it’s time Putin stops making threats and strikes at the source of these operations.”

When desperate weakness triggers battlefield fantasies, call this the Popski Syndrome.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The release of fresh details of the fatal helicopter flight on May 19 which killed Iran’s President, Ebrahim Raisi, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is ruling out bad weather, machine failure, signals interference, on-board bomb or ground-fired missile as the cause of the crash. Iranian civilian, military and clerical officials are also excluding Israeli or US involvement.

Instead, Raisi’s chief of staff, Gholam-Hossein Esmaeili, a civilian lawyer and Raisi loyalist for many years,  has described a sequence of details, preceding and following the incident, which hint at suicide murder by one of the pilots of the presidential aircraft.

Esmaeili made his remarks on Tehran television on the evening of May 21.  He revealed that Raisi’s helicopter was flying second in a convoy of three aircraft, while Esmaeili was flying third, behind Raisi, when his helicopter “suddenly disappeared”.  The pilot of the third helicopter then “decided to circle and return to search for the President’s helicopter”.

Esmaeili also said that attempted calls to Raisi, Amir-Abdollahian, and the pilot of their aircraft,  Colonel Seyed Taher Mostafavi, all failed to produce a response. However, two calls were answered by Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Al-Hashem, the only passenger who appeared to survive the impact and fire of the crash,  but died soon after. Al-Hashem represents the clerical power in East Azerbaijan province. According to Esmaeili, Al-Hashem said “our situation is not good,  the copter has crashed into the valley”.

Al-Hashem’s remark appears to rule out a missile strike or bomb explosion.

Esmaeili’s statements rule out adverse weather conditions and the sight or sound of mid-air explosion.

An Iranian Army General Staff statement, issued last Friday May 24, after investigation of radar, radio, other telecommunications, and the aircraft debris, has confirmed normal navigation and  communications between the helicopter pilots and with ground controllers. “Gunshot wounds or similar ones have not been seen in the remaining parts of the helicopter,” the report claims, “in the conversations of the control tower with the flight crew, no suspicious cases have been observed.”   

The implication is also that there were no sudden machine failures triggering loss of pilot control and indicated by either pilot or automatic instrument distress signals.

Because the Raisi aircraft disappeared into clouds ahead of Esmaeili, and there was no heat burst from missile or bomb strike, satellite images by Russian, US, or Chinese satellites are unlikely to have recorded what happened. The signals intelligence collected by Russia and the US is also unlikely to have recorded more than Esmaeili has admitted.

That leaves the Russian hint published by Konstantin Malofeyev, owner and editor-in-chief of Tsargrad, citing a retired Russian Air Force general. According to Major General Vladimir Popov (retired), “the main threat to top officials during air travel comes from themselves”.    

The mainstream Russian press, the Moscow military bloggers, and RT, the state propaganda organ, have all avoided analysis of the incident forensics and speculation of motive; they have stuck to repeating official Iranian news releases. RT’s version  of Esmaeili’s statements is significantly shorter and less comprehending than the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) report  and the Times of India video.  

“Esmaeili’s statement points to Raisi’s pilot making the decision to crash,” comments a western military source. “Why order the other two aircraft to ascend and get above the clouds, and then not do so himself?”

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