MOSCOW – It is the 300th anniversary of the Grande Chaconne, the dance which Louis XIV, the sun king of France and creator of the splendor of Versailles, regarded as his favorite. Its composer was Marin Marais, the son of a shoemaker in a family of roofers.

By the time Marais first came to Louis’s notice, more than a decade had passed since the king had decided never again to dance himself in the ballets staged by his court musicians and choreographers. Marais’s dances were therefore written to be played to the king, occasionally to be performed in front of him by professional dancers and most often to be played and danced, by the music-reading public in their own homes, outside the royal court. Thus, the Chaconne is intimate and personal on the one hand, stately and majestic on the other. The combination doesn’t appear again in European music or home entertainment until the waltz of the 19th century. As he sank towards his death, Louis asked more and more for the Chaconne to be played to him. (more…)


Russia’s oil majors are going, going… but nowhere near gone.

In February, there were six major companies. In terms of oil revenues, the largest was LUKoil, followed by Yukos, Surgutneftegas, Sibneft, Tyumen Oil Co. (TNK) and Tatneft. Measured according to market capitalization at the time, their order of precedence was a little different. Yukos came first, followed by Surgutneftegas, LUKoil, Sibneft, TNK and Tatneft. Measured by growth of oil production, Sibneft somersaulted to the front, followed by Yukos. Sibneft also led all the others by turning over its entire profit to its shareholders in dividends, which was an obvious sign that the shareholders suspected their fate was imminent. Surgutneftegas led the others in massive retention of its earnings, concealing the shareholder structure by which this was decided, and this made the indubitably rich pickings appear an alluring and easy mark. (more…)


MOSCOW – When the announcement came last Friday that Roman Abramovich had decided to put a temporary stop, possibly a permanent one, to the merger between his Siberian Oil Company (Sibneft), and Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos, Abramovich’s lawyer, Andrei De Cort, took ill, and stopped taking calls. He then left the country. Yukos board member and lawyer Sarah Carey participated in the Yukos board meeting on Friday. Her state of health isn’t known, but she didn’t return calls either.

Senior Yukos managers, who had been in the pink of condition on Friday morning, switched off their cellphones for fear of being overheard. The company spokesman, Hugo Erikssen, announced that ” you will be kept informed as appropriate”, but nothing was appropriate, so Yukos had no more to add. In a Moscow prison, Khodorkovsky was incommunicado, to say the least; and in one of his offshore palatial retreats, so was Abramovich.

In other words, when the single most important piece of news affecting the Russian stock market, Russia’s largest oil company, Russian oil exports, and two of the wealthiest men in the country, was announced, not a single person could be found in Moscow to confirm what exactly had happened. If ever there was an argument for relieving the country’s dependence on oil and the oligarchs, this, finally, should be it.

The merger between the two companies was to be finalized on Saturday, creating the world’s fourth-largest energy company. Yukos is the largest Russian oil company. But it has also been under investigation from prosecutors over the past six months, eventually leading to the arrest of its chief executive Khodorkovsky.

Soviet satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko has explained the difficulty of simple Russian remedies, back in 1925. An ordinary citizen, traveling on an overnight train, is warned to beware of thieves so desperate that they will steal the boots off a man’s feet. Finland had eliminated the problem, he is told, because there the law cut off a thief s hand. During the journey, the citizen foils a boot thief, but in his exertion he doesn’t notice that his suitcase has been snatched. When he reports the theft at the militia office, he proposes the Finnish remedy. The policeman agrees, but adds: “Put that pencil back where it was.” Zoshchenko’s victim admits he’d unwittingly taken the policeman’s pencil. “Yes,” he decides, “If we start cutting off hands, there’ll be a hell of a lot of invalids.”

Since it now appears that Abramovich couldn’t manage to discuss with Khodorkovsky any of the shareholding or management concerns he reportedly has, and since none of their subordinates in either company was authorized to speak on their behalf, the simple way to avoid the kind of nationally destabilizing action that was taken would have been to put Abramovich in the same accommodation with Khodorkovsky.

Of course, face to face negotiations could have obviated the impression that Russia’s model corporations are still the playthings of their core shareholders, and are nothing resembling transparent Western-style institutions. Even before Sibneft’s announcement, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the Yukos management cannot operate in the normal oil company fashion – cannot trade and ship oil; pay bills and bonuses; make acquisitions and disposals-when a handful of shareholders are in prison, or on the run. But as Zoshchenko’s percipient citizen complained, a simple remedy might go too far, and fill Russia’s jails to overflowing. The last public official who said as much, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, famously didn’t last long in office. This time, the only public official to say anything at all was Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, who has so far managed only two words – “nothing dramatic”. They are too cautious to be knowledgeable. Most other officials, who rely on the Kremlin for their employment, are following suit.

In short, the ground on which the Russian economy stands is shaking. But ministers, bureaucrats, advisors, consultants, executives, lawyers, corporate accountants and elected politicians alike do not know enough to breathe a word.

All the breath that can be interpreted adds up to one reported telephone conversation between two core shareholders – Leonid Nevzlin, a 3.56 percent stakeholder in Yukos now in exile in Israel; with Mikhail Shvidler, a bigger stakeholder in Sibneft, currently residing in Moscow. According to Nevzlin’s version of what was said – reported by Kommersant newspaper – the conversation was “in general terms, reasonably calm”, although he concedes he put the receiver down on Shvidler. Nevzlin said he asked Shvidler why the “initiative of the Sibneft shareholders” was announced unilaterally, and in such a hurry, without waiting for Yukos shareholders to discuss it at their joint board meeting on Friday. Shvidler’s answer, Nevzlin says, “was unclear for me”.

That indicates that Nevzlin didn’t quite believe what he was told. Shvidler reportedly said that Sibneft’s haste was instigated by “the leadership of the presidential administration”. “We must announce the stopping of the deal, and it must be known before Tuesday,” is what Nevzlin claims he heard Shvidler say was “the point of view of the leadership of the presidential administration -that it is necessary to do it urgently.” When Shvidler added that the presidential administration viewed Tuesday (December 2) as a deadline connected to the following Sunday elections, Nevzlin asked what possible connection the business had to do with the poll. Shvidler, he claims, then replied: “I don’t know. I’m not involved in politics.” That was when Nevzlin terminated the telephone call.

Nevzlin leaves little doubt that he, and other Yukos shareholders, were desperate to delay Abramovich’s move, if they heard of it in advance. Nevzlin wasn’t sure what Khodorkovsky knew, or when. If Nevzlin’s record of his telephone chat is accurate, it also appears that Shvidler was desperate – at least to execute Abramovich’s instruction as soon as it was dispatched. If there is any truth to Shvidler’s claim about the presidential administration, then it could only refer to Abramovich talking to President Vladimir Putin. For the time being, neither man’s subordinates have the authority to deal.

That contact, if it happened, must have been made a day or two before Friday’s announcement. Is it thus a coincidence that on Thursday morning (November 27), in Khabarovsk, a senior police official, Deputy Interior Minister Lieutenant-General Sergei Veryovkin-Rokhalsky, announced at a conference of law enforcement officials: “We have no evidence that Roman Abramovich made his fortune by dishonest means.”

The substance and the timing of the remark, and the speed at which it was moved on the Russian newswires, suggested the very opposite of the general’s assurance. Could it be that Abramovich is under investigation, and that, for the moment, one member of one investigative branch hasn’t come up with evidence of wrongdoing? When asked on Friday to say what the federal prosecutor general’s office knew, a spokesman told this correspondent that Veryovkin-Rokhalsky was not speaking for the prosecutor general. But as to what the latter is doing on the subject, the spokesman for the prosecutor general says it will be necessary to wait for an answer.

It may be Putin’s idea that we should all, Abramovich included, wait for the answer. If so, it is fear, not business acumen, that has driven Abramovich to make the break with Khodorkovsky, and appear to position himself to do the Kremlin a big favor. For Shvidlerto admit that he is “not involved in politics” is another way of saying that this business isn’t business either. Neither Shvidler on Abramovich’s side, nor Simon Kukes, Khodorkovsky’s chief executive, can be said to be involved in either the politics or the business that counts right now. When Russian corporations misbehave, it may not be possible to cut off their hands. But a credible fear of amputation, simple remedy though it may be, may work wonders in the direction Westerners like to call reform.


One of the benefits the restoration of Christianity has brought Russia is that almost all Russian politicians can say that God is on their side,

The Church hasn’t been especially helpful, however, in inculcating the lesson that, for more than a thousand years of European history, the real fight hasn’t been between God and the Devil, but between those on earth – crusaders or infidels – who wield the bigger guns; God never backed the losers, nor the Devil the winners. (more…)


By John Helmer, Moscow

The Ukraine war is splitting the communist parties of Europe between those taking the US side, and those on the Russian side.

In an unusual public criticism of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and of smaller communist parties in Europe which have endorsed the Greek criticism of Russia for waging an “imperialist” war against the Ukraine, the Russian Communist Party (KPRF) has responded this week with a 3,300-word declaration:  “The military conflict in Ukraine,” the party said, “cannot be described as an imperialist war, as our comrades would argue. It is essentially a national liberation war of the people of Donbass. From Russia’s point of view it is a struggle against an external threat to national security and against Fascism.”

By contrast, the Russian communists have not bothered to send advice, or air public criticism of the Cypriot communists and their party, the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL). On March 2, AKEL issued a communiqué “condemn[ing] Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calls for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Ukrainian territories….[and] stresses that the Russian Federation’s action in recognising the Donetsk and Luhansk regions constitutes a violation of the principle of the territorial integrity of states.”

 To the KPRF in Moscow the Cypriots are below contempt; the Greeks are a fraction above it.

A Greek-Cypriot veteran of Cypriot politics and unaffiliated academic explains: “The Cypriot communists do not allow themselves to suffer for what they profess to believe. Actually, they are a misnomer. They are the American party of the left in Cyprus, just as [President Nikos] Anastasiades is the American party of the right.” As for the Greek left, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza – with 85 seats of the Greek parliament’s 300, the leading party of the opposition – the KKE (with 15 seats), and Yanis Varoufakis of MeRA25 (9 seats), the source adds: “The communists are irrelevant in Europe and in the US, except in the very narrow context of Greek party politics.”



By John Helmer, Moscow

The war plan of the US and the European allies is destroying the Russian market for traditional French perfumes, the profits of the French and American conglomerates which own the best-known brands, the bonuses of their managers, and the dividends of their shareholders. The odour  of these losses is too strong for artificial fresheners.

Givaudan, the Swiss-based world leader in production and supply of fragrances, oils and other beauty product ingredients, has long regarded the Russian market as potentially its largest in Europe; it is one of the fastest growing contributors to Givaudan’s profit worldwide. In the recovery from the pandemic of Givaudan’s Fragrance and Beauty division – it accounts for almost half the company’s total sales — the group reported “excellent double-digit growth in 2021, demonstrating strong consumer demand for these product categories.”    Until this year, Givaudan reveals in its latest financial report, the growth rate for Russian demand was double-digit – much faster than the  6.3% sales growth in Europe overall; faster growth than in Germany, Belgium and Spain.    

Between February 2014, when the coup in Kiev started the US war against Russia, and last December, when the Russian non-aggression treaties with the US and NATO were rejected,   Givaudan’s share price jumped three and a half times – from 1,380 Swiss francs to 4,792 francs; from a company with a market capitalisation of 12.7 billion francs ($12.7 billion) to a value of 44.2 billion francs ($44.2 billion). Since the fighting began in eastern Ukraine this year until now, Givaudan has lost 24% of that value – that’s $10 billion.  

The largest of Givaudan’s shareholders is Bill Gates. With his 14%, plus the 10% controlled by Black Rock of New York and MFS of Boston, the US has effective control over the company.

Now, according to the US war sanctions, trade with Russia and the required payment systems have been closed down, alongside the bans on the importation of the leading European perfumes. So in place of the French perfumers, instead of Givaudan, the Russian industry is reorganizing for its future growth with its own perfume brands manufactured from raw materials produced in Crimea and other regions, or supplied by India and China. Givaudan, L’Oréal (Lancome, Yves Saint Laurent), Kering (Balenciaga, Gucci), LVMH (Dior, Guerlain, Givenchy), Chanel, Estée Lauder, Clarins – they have all cut off their noses to spite the Russian face.



By Nikolai Storozhenko, introduced and translated by John Helmer, Moscow

This week President Joseph Biden stopped at an Illinois farm to say he’s going to help the  Ukraine ship 20 million tonnes of wheat and corn out of storage into export, thereby relieving  grain shortages in the international markets and lowering bread prices around the world.  Biden was trying to play a hand in which his cards have already been clipped. By Biden.  

The first Washington-Kiev war plan for eastern Ukraine has already lost about 40% of the Ukrainian wheat fields, 50% of the barley, and all of the grain export ports. Their second war plan to hold the western region defence lines with mobile armour, tanks, and artillery  now risks the loss of the corn and rapeseed crop as well as the export route for trucks to Romania and Moldova. What will be saved in western Ukraine will be unable to grow enough to feed its own people. They will be forced to import US wheat, as well as US guns and the money to pay for both.

Biden told his audience that on the Delaware farms he used to represent in the US Senate “there are more chickens than there are Americans.”  Blaming the Russians is the other card Biden has left.  



By John Helmer, Moscow

The problem with living in exile is the meaning of the word. If you’re in exile, you mean you are forever looking backwards, in geography as well as in time. You’re not only out of place; you’re out of time — yesterday’s man.

Ovid, the Roman poet who was sent into exile from Rome by Caesar Augustus, for offences neither Augustus nor Ovid revealed, never stopped looking back to Rome. His exile, as Ovid described it, was “a barbarous coast, inured to rapine/stalked ever by bloodshed, murder, war.” In such a place or state, he said, “writing a poem you can read to no one is like dancing in the dark.”

The word itself, exsilium in Roman law, was the sentence of loss of citizenship as an alternative to loss of life, capital punishment. It meant being compelled to live outside Rome at a location decided by the emperor. The penalty took several degrees of isolation and severity. In Ovid’s case, he was ordered by Augustus to be shipped to the northeastern limit of the Roman empire,  the Black Sea town called Tomis; it is now Constanta, Romania. Ovid’s last books, Tristia (“Sorrows”) and Epistulae ex Ponto (“Black Sea Letters”), were written from this exile, which began when he was 50 years old, in 8 AD, and ended when he died in Tomis nine years year later, in 17 AD.  

In my case I’ve been driven into exile more than once. The current one is lasting the longest. This is the one from Moscow, which began with my expulsion by the Foreign Ministry on September 28, 2010.  The official sentence is Article 27(1) of the law No. 114-FZ — “necessary for the purposes of defence capability or security of the state, or public order, or protection of health of the population.” The reason, a foreign ministry official told an immigration service official when they didn’t know they were being overheard, was: “Helmer writes bad things about Russia.”



By John Helmer, Moscow

Antonio Guterres is the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), who attempted last month  to arrange the escape from Russian capture of Ukrainian soldiers and NATO commanders,  knowing they had committed war crimes. He was asked to explain; he refuses.   

Trevor Cadieu is a Canadian lieutenant-general who was appointed the chief of staff and head of the Canadian Armed Forces last August; was stopped in September; retired from the Army this past April, and went to the Ukraine, where he is in hiding. From whom he is hiding – Canadians or Russians – where he is hiding, and what he will say to explain are questions Cadieu isn’t answering, yet.



By John Helmer, Moscow

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, is refusing this week to answer questions on the role he played in the recent attempt by US, British, Canadian and other foreign combatants to escape the bunkers under the Azovstal plant, using the human shield of civilians trying to evacuate.

In Guterres’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on April 26 (lead image), Putin warned Guterres he had been “misled” in his efforts. “The simplest thing”, Putin told Guterres in the recorded part of their meeting, “for military personnel or members of the nationalist battalions is to release the civilians. It is a crime to keep civilians, if there are any there, as human shields.”  

This war crime has been recognized since 1977 by the UN in Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention.  In US law for US soldiers and state officials, planning to employ or actually using human shields is a war crime to be prosecuted under 10 US Code Section 950t.  

Instead, Guterres ignored the Kremlin warning and the war crime law, and authorized UN officials, together with Red Cross officials,  to conceal what Guterres himself knew of the foreign military group trying to escape. Overnight from New York, Guterres has refused to say what he knew of the military escape operation, and what he had done to distinguish, or conceal the differences between the civilians and combatants in the evacuation plan over the weekend of April 30-May 1.May.



By Vlad Shlepchenko, introduced & translated by John Helmer, Moscow

The more western politicians announce pledges of fresh weapons for the Ukraine, the more Russian military analysts explain what options their official sources are considering to destroy the arms before they reach the eastern front, and to neutralize Poland’s role as the NATO  hub for resupply and reinforcement of the last-ditch holdout of western Ukraine.

“I would like to note,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, repeated yesterday, “that any transport of the North Atlantic Alliance that arrived on the territory of the country with weapons or material means for the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces is considered by us as a legitimate target for destruction”.  He means the Ukraine border is the red line.



By Lucy Komisar,  New York*

Here’s a story the New York Times has just missed.

US politicians and media pundits are promoting the targeting of “enablers” of Russian oligarchs who stash their money in offshore accounts. A Times article of March 11   highlighted Michael Matlin, CEO of Concord Management as such an “enabler.” But the newspaper missed serious corruption Matlin was involved in. Maybe that’s because Matlin cheated Russia, and also because the Matlin story exposes the William Browder/Sergei Magnitsky hoax aimed at Russia.



By John Helmer, Moscow

In 1939 a little known writer in Moscow named Sigizmund Khrzhizhanovsky published his idea that the Americans, then the Germans would convert human hatred into a new source of energy powering everything which had been dependent until then on coal, gas, and oil.

Called yellow coal, this invention originated with Professor Leker at Harvard University. It was applied, first to running municipal trams, then to army weapons, and finally to cheap electrification of everything from domestic homes and office buildings to factory production lines. In Russian leker means a quack doctor.

The Harvard professor’s idea was to concentrate the neuro-muscular energy people produce when they hate each other.  Generated as bile (yellow), accumulated and concentrated into kinetic spite in machines called myeloabsorberators, Krzhizhanovsky called this globalization process the bilification of society.



By John Helmer, Moscow

In imperial history there is nothing new in cases of dementia in rulers attracting homicidal psychopaths to replace them.  It’s as natural as honey attracts bees.

When US President Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke on October 19, 1919, he was partially paralysed and blinded, and was no longer able to feed himself, sign his name, or speak normally; he was not demented.

While his wife and the Navy officer  who was his personal physician concealed his condition, there is no evidence that either Edith Wilson or Admiral Cary Grayson were themselves clinical cases of disability, delusion,  or derangement. They were simply liars driven by the ambition to hold on to the power of the president’s office and deceive everyone who got in their way.  

The White House is always full of people like that. The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution is meant to put a damper on their homicidal tendencies.

What is unusual, probably exceptional in the current case of President Joseph Biden, not to mention the history of the United States,  is the extent of the president’s personal incapacitation; combined with the clinical evidence of psychopathology in his Secretary of State Antony Blinken;  and the delusional condition of the rivals to replace Biden, including Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Like Rome during the first century AD, Washington is now in the ailing emperor-homicidal legionary phase.  But give it another century or two, and the madness, bloodshed, and lies of the characters of the moment won’t matter quite as much as their images on display in the museums of their successors craving legitimacy, or of successor powers celebrating their superiority.  

Exactly this has happened to the original Caesars, as a new book by Mary Beard, a Cambridge University professor of classics, explains. The biggest point of her book, she says, is “dynastic succession” – not only of the original Romans but of those modern rulers who acquired the Roman portraits in marble and later copies in paint, and the copies of those copies, with the idea of communicating “the idea of the direct transfer of power from ancient Romans to Franks and on to later German rulers.”

In the case she narrates of the most famous English owner of a series of the “Twelve Caesars”, King Charles I — instigator of the civil war of 1642-51 and the loser of both the war and his head – the display of his Caesars was intended to demonstrate the king’s self-serving “missing link” between his one-man rule and the ancient Romans who murdered their way to rule, and then apotheosized into immortal gods in what they hoped would be a natural death on a comfortable bed.

With the American and Russian successions due to take place in Washington and Moscow in two years’ time, Beard’s “Twelve Caesars, Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern”,  is just the ticket from now to then.


Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

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