SAVE THE LAST DANCE

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…)

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

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…)

FEAR DRIVING YUKOS AND SIBNEFT

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.

THE DEMONOLOGY OF MODERN RUSSIA

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…)

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.  

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RUSSIANS RAISE THEIR GLASSES – THE TOAST IS TO BEATING THE BLOCKADE OF MOSCOW



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.  

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THE INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY GOES TO WAR — GORILLA RADIO GOES NUCLEAR

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY TAKES UKRAINE SIDE IN WAR IN SEPTEMBER 15 VOTE, MAKING UN SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES EITHER A LIAR OR A FOOL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.  

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THE RUSSIAN SITUATION COMEDY IS NO LYING MATTER – THE JOKE IS ON THE OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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 Blue Line (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.  

(more…)

RUSSIAN AVIATION INDUSTRY CORRECTS YELTSIN YAW – BOEING, AIRBUS DITCHED



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.

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FOR WANT OF A NAIL THE KINGDOM WAS LOST – ENGLISH PATHOLOGIST GUY RUTTY FACES CHALLENGE TO THE RELIABILITY OF HIS NOVICHOK EVIDENCE



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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KILLING IS CHEAPER — THE US ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND WEAPONIZES TWITTER, FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, WHATSAPP, TELEGRAM

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The US Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been firing several hundred million dollars’ worth of cyber warheads at Russian targets from its headquarters at MacDill Airforce Base in Florida. They have all been duds.

The weapons, the source, and their failure to strike effectively have been exposed in a new report, published on August 24, by the Cyber Policy Center of the Stanford Internet Observatory.  The title of the 54-page study is “Unheard Voice: Evaluating Five Years of Pro-Western Covert Influence Operations”.

“We believe”, the report concludes, “this activity represents the most extensive case of covert pro-Western IO [influence operations] on social media to be reviewed and analyzed by open-source researchers to date… the data also shows the limitations of using inauthentic tactics to generate engagement and build influence online. The vast majority of posts and tweets we reviewed received no more than a handful of likes or retweets, and only 19% of the covert assets we identified had more than 1,000 followers. The average tweet received 0.49 likes and 0.02 retweets.”

“Tellingly,” according to the Stanford report, “the two most followed assets in the data provided by Twitter were overt accounts that publicly declared a connection to the U.S. military.”

The report comes from a branch of Stanford University, and is funded by the Stanford Law School and the Spogli Institute for Institutional Studies, headed by Michael McFaul (lead image).   McFaul, once a US ambassador to Moscow, has been a career advocate of war against Russia. The new report exposes many of McFaul’s allegations to be crude fabrications and propaganda which the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been paying contractors to fire at Russia for a decade.

Strangely, there is no mention in the report of the US Army, Pentagon, the Special Operations Command, or its principal cyberwar contractor, the Rendon Group.

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MARIA YUDINA OUT OF THE DARK – THE RUSSIAN CLASSICAL PIANIST PLAYS AGAIN

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Maria Yudina (lead image) is one of the great Russian pianists. She was not, however, one who appealed to all tastes in her lifetime, 1899 to 1970.

In a new biography of her by Elizabeth Wilson, Yudina’s belief that music represents Orthodox Christian faith is made out to be so heroic, the art of the piano is diminished — and Yudina’s reputation consigned again to minority and obscurity. Russian classical music and its performers, who have not recovered from the Yeltsin period and now from the renewal of the German-American war, deserve better than Wilson’s propaganda tune.

(more…)
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