MOSCOW – The colors of the Russian flag change under pressure.

Czar Alexei Mikhailovich, father of Peter the Great, is believed to have been the author of the first white-blue-and-red tricolor in 1668. An English captain, engaged to command the first naval protection vessel in the Russian fleet, asked the czar to choose a flag, because, he told Alexei, all states have flags, and if Russia, which wasn’t flying anything at the time, was a state, it had to have one. Alexei studied the flags of other countries; picked a variation by changing the order of the colors; and hoisted it on what was then a tiny navy for the Volga River and the Caspian Sea.

Peter issued a fresh decree in 1705, ordering this flag to be flown on all Russian merchant ships. One hundred and fifty years later, Alexander II changed the colors to black, yellow and white. These lasted only 25 years, until 1883, when they were eliminated with another change of czars, and the tricolor restored. The communist revolution pulled it down and replaced it with the red flag in 1918. By the end of the 1980s, the old tricolor had become a symbol of the anti-communist opposition. Boris Yeltsin wrapped himself in it during the Kremlin putsch of August 1991. Two years on, after he destroyed parliament in 1993 and rewrote the constitution, Yeltsin issued a decree making the tricolor Russia’s lawful flag. It took the Duma another seven years to adopt this in a constitutional law.

These days, Russians tell an anecdote about a request from Coca-Cola to President Vladimir Putin to change the flag back to red. “We aren’t opposed to the idea that Russia will have the red flag again,” Coke’s chief executive officer telephones Putin from Atlanta to say, “but can you write ‘Coca-Cola’ on it?” “Wait a minute,” Putin says, and puts the American on hold. On another telephone, the Russian president then calls his prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov. “What is the termination date of our contract with Aquafresh?” he asks.

If the Russian revolution that has been simmering since 1991 is about to start redistributing power and wealth once more, then watch the colors on the flags. The slow transformation, which began under the red during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, was halted by Yeltsin. He introduced two forces unconnected at the time to the Russian people – a foreign power determined to destroy the Soviet military-industrial complex; and a group of concessionaires, whom Yeltsin licensed to rob the country blind on two conditions – that they should pay him a modest commission, and that they should not turn against his foreign protector. Like the insignia on the front of every Russian officer’s hat, Yeltsin tried placing one state symbol on top of another.

The symbols went awkwardly with one another, as Putin himself acknowledged when he spoke shortly after the tricolor was signed into law. He was against abandoning the old (red) symbols, he said, otherwise “a whole generation of our citizens, our mothers and fathers, lived a useless, senseless life and lived it in vain. I cannot agree with this in my heart or my mind.”

Indubitably, the Yeltsin period accelerated the rate at which the red generation would disappear, to be replaced by the white-and-blue one. According to the Russian heraldic website, the white on the current flag stands for virginity and cleanliness; blue for faith, fidelity and stability. In order to find out what those who control Russia think of these symbols, I asked the oligarchs to say what colors they prefer in their suits, shirts and ties.

They, or their spokesmen, are reluctant to say. LUKoil said the question was a personal one, and Vagit Alekperov, who heads the company, the largest oil producer in Russia, wouldn’t respond. The spokesman for Vladimir Potanin at Interros, through which Potanin controls Russia’s largest mining company, said he couldn’t tell. At the office of Severstal, one of Russia’s most powerful steelmakers, no one would venture a guess about the color preferences of Alexei Mordashov, the controlling shareholder; nor would anyone dare to ask him. At the office of Oleg Deripaska, the aluminum oligarch, there was another case of color-blindness. For Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the controlling shareholder of Yukos oil company, a source hinted secretively that his color preference was blue for suits, red for ties.

In ancient times, red was the favorite, combined with white and black. There is even evidence that the Greeks and Romans didn’t see blue at all, not as we know it; not even in the rainbow. Blue became a revolutionary color, starting in the Middle Ages. And it was the American Revolution of the 18th century that began the fashion for wearing the three colors in combination. The American flag was an anti-flag; maybe if the British flag hadn’t been red, white and blue since 1603, the Americans would have picked another set of colors. And then the French officers, who fought in the American independence war against the British, might have taken a different combination back to Paris, in time for the French revolutionists to adopt the tricolor for themselves.

But Khodorkovsky isn’t a revolutionary. He is doing no more than continuing what Yeltsin started, and trading the Russian wealth he picked up for a US guarantee of protection. You might say that the white in his tricolor stands for surrender. Khodorkovsky, after all, along with the controlling shareholders of the other major private oil companies, Sibneft and Tyumen Oil Co, are alone in the Russian oil sector in seeking to sell out to foreign buyers. LUKoil, Rosneft and Surgutneftegas are arguably as valuable, but their controlling shareholders haven’t rushed for the exit.

That the US oil companies to whom Khodorkovsky has applied cannot contemplate paying the Yukos price without the protection of both Putin and US President George W Bush is already obvious. That Khodorkovsky claimed to have Putin’s permission earlier in the year is something Khodorkovsky told his associates on the board of Yukos. That he no longer has Putin’s permission was clear when Putin briefed US media correspondents at the Kremlin, ahead of his trip to the United States this week.

And so, when Bush asks Putin what he thinks of cooperation in the Russian oil sector, Putin should pull out his coloring book, and hand Bush a crayon – a blue one – and show him where the map has already been colored red. And if Bush isn’t to confuse white, the color of virginity and cleanliness, for a blank waiting for Bush to color in with his pencil, Putin can remind him gently that not everything in Russia is open to US takeover.


La Fontaine told a fable of two donkeys who came to misfortune.

The first, the vain one, was carrying a load of cash; the other, a load of oats, On a lonely road, they and their masters were suddenly surrounded by thieves who weren’t interested in the oats. After making off with bearer for dead, the dying ass said to his companion that his end was unfair. Replied the humbler of the two:

“Wealth cannot always at the poor man scoff.

If you had been content to do as I,

You’d not at present be so badly off,”

In China this week, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov could do worse than hum that little jingle. It might help him face up to a conflict his Chinese hosts appear to understand better than he does and are becoming impatient at Kasyanov’s apparent inability to solve it. This is the conflict between Russia’s oligarchs and their supporters who dominate the export of resources and those who favor heavy taxes on the resource industries to fuel capital investment in diversified Russian industry,

The policy conflict has immediate implications for the Chinese government and for Japan and South Korea as well, because their interest in expanding imports of Russian oil, gas, metals and other resources is running into stumbling blocks that start with Kasyanov’s inability to make decisions between the warring lobbies in Moscow,

A fresh statement of the oligarchs’ point of view has just been issued by Moscow-based investment bank Brunswick UBS, In a report titled “Russia: One Foot in Europe, One in Asia,” analyst Al Breach argues there is “an impending shift” in the direction of Russia’s export growth toward Asia, especially the “Confucian trio” of China, Japan and South Korea. “The important point for Russia,” Breach writes, “is that the economies to its eastern borders are likely to become bigger than its Western neighbors in the next couple of decades, Since they are each big importers — and expected to become more so — of many of the raw and semi-processed materials that form the backbone of Russia’s exports, Russia is looking at a huge and ready market just beyond its borders.”

While the report stops short of recommending government backing for the resource exporters to Asia, it implies that the Russian corporations best-positioned to take advantage of the predicted expansion of Chinese demand are the oligarch-owned oil, metals and mining companies, Tellingly, there is no reference to the prospects for Russian arms and heavy-machinery exports in Asia, nor to the concerns that Russian manufacturers have towards the competitive pressure of low-priced Asian imports. From diamonds to electricity, copper concentrate to gas, the resource exporters °argue that they should be free to export without limitation. Their critics argue that, if the current approach is not modified, the domestic industries will be starved of raw materials, and driven out of business,

At the moment, according to Russian trade data, 68 percent of Russian exports go to Europe and 8 percent to the Americas. China accounts for just 7 percent, Japan 2 percent, South Korea 1 percent and other Asian destinations 9 percent, Asian exports are still a minor part of the Russian trade picture, although the precise dollar values are skewed because Russian exporters undervalue their exports when they clear Russian customs and move their profits offshore to avoid Russian taxation. In the six months to June 30, for example, Russian statistics value exports to mainland China at $3,6 billion. Chinese import data show the figure to be 31 percent higher, at $4,7 billion.

According to Breach, the growth of China’s oil consumption will be massive, at an average of around 600,000 barrels per day (that’s a growth rate of 25 percent per annum), while growth in Russia’s annual production will kick off from 8.5 million Barrels per day (bd) of present output to 10 million bd by the end of the decade. That’s a Russian growth rate of about 215,000 bd per annum, or 3 percent per annum.

Breach believes the fit is obvious. Russia’s eastern Siberian, offshore Sakhalin and eastern Arctic oil reserves need substantial capital to come onstream, which the major Russian oil companies have refused to provide. They have concentrated instead on lifting Soviet-discovered oil from the western Siberian basin, exporting it to Europe and taking their trade profits and huge cash dividends offshore to the private accounts of their shareholders. Breach implies that Russia can afford to meet China’s demand and, also, Japan’s need to diversify its oil sourcing away from the Middle East; but only if the Kremlin gives way to the current demands of the oil company oligarchs. These include the demand to allow construction of pipelines by private investors to the Asian markets — principally China and Japan. A more fundamental and controversial demand is for the Kremlin to allow the oligarchs to cash out of their shareholdings and allow foreign oil companies to take over the task of raising capital and developing new fields.

The fight over the cash-out option is the impetus behind the Kremlin’s crackdown on Yukos shareholders, led by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev — the latter has been imprisoned on fraud and embezzlement charges since July. Sources close to Yukos have told The Russia Journal that Khodorkovsky has told his board of directors that in two meetings with President Vladimir Putin, he got an O.K. to proceed with a cash-out and share-swap deal with ChevronTexaco or another U.S. oil company. That is Khodorkovsky’s interpretation and it referred to meetings before Lebedev’s arrest. The Kremlin then made its view clear when Lebedev was arrested. Lebedev is now telling associates that he expects to be in prison for another year or more, indirectly confirming that Putin has made up his mind, or changed it. His chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, usually an open advocate for the oligarchs, has been caught wrong-footed, promising to deliver Lebedev, but unable to do so or to anticipate what will happen next.

In the heat of this fight, independent Russian economists have been urging the government to remove the distortion in the domestic economy — between the rich asses and the poor ones — by applying capital gains, foreign remittance and super-profit taxes to the oligarchs and then channeling the funds back into the economy as capital investment for a balanced industrial approach.

Although the election campaign has already begun for the national parliamentary poll on Dec. 7 and presidential ballot next March, not a single political party has issued a clear campaign position on this fundamental economic policy choice. Not even the Communist Party, which has assigned two slots on its ballot to former Yukos executives, who still represent their company’s interests.

Meanwhile, ahead of Kasyanov’s talks in Beijing, Yukos has leaked a warning that, unless Kasyanov stops delaying Russian government approval for the pipeline to deliver crude to Daqing, new oil pipeline deliveries to China could not begin before 2006, a year later than scheduled,

An industry source in Moscow noted that the Yukos leak “must be interpreted as encouragement for the bureaucrats to get a move on. Any delay, should It be confirmed, is doubly frustrating, because the government had already decided in May to build a pipeline to China first and leverage this to the Far Eastern port of Nakhodka at a later stage. A delay would also force wholesale revisions to the country’s (and the companies’) crude-output forecasts, which are primarily dependent on constrained market access.”

According to Transneft, the state pipeline agency, the delay reflects indecision on the part of the Russian government on whether to give priority to a rival proposal from the Japanese Government to build a pipeline to the port of Nakhodka and, from there, ship the crude by tanker.

Sergei Grigoriev, vice president of Transneft, told The Russia Journal that “Transneft, like everybody else, simply waits for the government to pronounce its decision on the route. We do not lobby for anything. We have made our proposals concerning the route. After the government decided to merge the two projects — that of a pipeline to Nakhodka and the pipeline to China — we provided a modified proposal. Until the government makes its final decision, nobody can say what route will be chosen.”

In April, the government announced it would authorize construction of the pipeline between Angarsk, in southeastern Siberia, and Daqing, with capacity for 400,000 bd. Then it announced the intention to study a second 970,000 bd-pipeline to Nakhodka. Then, after lobbying from Tokyo, government officials opted to build the Nakhodka leg first and add the China pipeline later.

The Nakhodka option not only pits the Japanese lobby against the Chinese; it forces the government in Moscow to address the fundamental question of how and when it can expect to see the oilfields of eastern Siberia come onstream. And that in turn pushes Kasyanov and his ministerial colleagues towards a fork in the economic-policy road they feel unable to pick right now. Of course, as La Fontaine warns, they may not survive in time to get there.


You can always tell when an American politician is well and truly washed up, a has-been.

He comes to Russia to meet the tsar so that he can go back to Washington and get the Marine salute at the White House before he divulges the very latest on what the big, bad Russian had to say. Since wash-ups and has-beens are mean with folding-money, their expenses have to be paid for by somebody. Sometimes it’s companies that make airplanes, sometimes soda pop. Ex-Senator Gary Hart used to come when he was still in his prime; ex-President Richard Nixon when he was in his dodders. Now it’s the turn of ex-President George Bush Sr. and ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. So long as Boris Yeltsin was in the Kremlin, he could manage to disguise how washed up his guests were, by comparison with himself. President Vladimir Putin is a different kettle offish. (more…)


When Philip Marlowe, the famous fictional American private eye, read the gossip columns of big-city newspapers, he explained that “I don’t read them often, only when I run out of things I dislike.” If Marlowe were able to read the Moscow papers and savor their meretriciousness, he’d never make it off the front page.

Take last week’s big news story, for example: That there is an opposition movement afoot inside Moscow that is proposing to redistribute economic power in Russia and change the elites that pull the levers. At the start of campaigning for national parliamentary elections in three months’ time, to be followed by the presidential election next March, a little cheap socialism shouldn’t surprise anyone. What really would be a scoop is if there is no opposition in Russia seeking votes on such a platform. (more…)


When Russians gather to drink, they often offer each other a traditional rhyming toast that can be roughly translated as: “May we have more pies and doughnuts, fewer black eyes and bruises!” It’s a formula that Russia’s most powerful businessmen have been quietly offering the advertising-starved managements of some of the world’s leading newspapers in order to play down, if not deter altogether, investigative reporting of Russia’s corporate malpractice.

The formula usually begins with a black eye or a bruise in the form of a defamation writ served up in London, Paris, New York or Frankfurt am Main by a well-known local law firm. The pattern began with a suit by the discredited media oligarch, Vladimir Gusinsky, against the Wall Street Journal. Gusinsky is currently under arrest and on bail in Athens awaiting a hearing on an extradition request from Moscow. That media support for his plight has been muted indicates how little attention he has been paying to the media since he was forced into exile.

In the Gusinsky case, it appears that the pressure to raise security standards at the Athens Airport has produced a serious embarrassment. The Gusinsky warrant, which apparently flashed on the screen as he passed through immigration last week, was obsolete, at least in Western Europe and the United States. But, to the literal-minded policeman on duty, it was nonetheless a warrant for arrest.

That this tale won’t be reported in the non-Greek, non-Russian media testifies to what is left of Gusinsky’s sway.

Gusinsky’s ploy against the Wall Street Journal was followed by Boris Berezovsky’s against Forbes. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the principal shareholder in Yukos, Russia’s leading oil company, then sued the Times of London. Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch who is waging hotly contested takeover battles in several sectors at once, including paper and pulp and insurance, is currently suing Le Monde in Paris and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Frankfurt am Main. Mikhail Fridman, a banking and oil oligarch, some of whose companies are currently being sold to British Petroleum, is suing Les Echos, France’s leading financial daily, and Le Parisien.

None of these cases has gone to a final judgement and almost none to trial. That’s because, once the lawsuit is launched, the pies and doughnuts are put on the table.

A European lawyer involved in one of the current cases explains there are a variety of inducements, aimed primarily at the revenue management of the newspaper, especially its advertising executives and, sometimes, also at the law firms that are engaged. In one case, the source said, it was discreetly suggested to his law firm that a lucrative piece of legal due diligence might be placed in the firm’s way if it either pulled out of the newspaper’s defense or recommended an out-of-court settlement to the client. In other cases, the investigative reporters whose stories incurred Russian wrath concede the concern that their editors may be pressured by management to abandon the defense of what they reported, notwithstanding the management’s belief in its truthfulness.

Editors profess that their reputation for independence is as valued by their advertisers as by their readers and is supported by a strict separation of editorial staff from advertising. But they aren’t present when their admen make their deals. And they are in the dark about the private relationships of their reporters in Russia. They can hardly ban unmarried correspondents from sleeping with PR agents of the firms they write about. Nor do they always know what benefits may flow from their reporters’ dispatches to their spouses’ businesses. Such ignorance or naivete in the United States or Europe is viewed as an asset by Moscow’s PR professionals.

In most of the international media cases that have been started to date, relatively mild, even generous, out-of-court settlement terms have been proffered on the basis of an understanding that, in the future, the Russian oligarch and his companies in the loan, bond and stock markets can be counted on to be generous with advertising and promotional contracts so long as the newspaper’s reporting avoids the type of investigation that leads to reputational problems for them. While the media budgets of the major Russian companies are estimated in the double-digit millions of dollars per annum at the moment, the calculation in Moscow is that, if the result is a raising of credit ratings and a lowering of charges to hedge against Russian risk, then the money is a good investment and litigating against media good business. When settlements are protected by confidentiality agreements of the type Khodorkovsky struck with the London Times, nothing but positive coverage is visible. You can’t see the chilling effect on what isn’t published. This has enabled Khodorkovsky to deflect much of the force of the current prosecutorial attack on his imprisoned partner, Platon Lebedev, and his Menatep holding by having the Western media endlessly sing the tune that what is happening is a political conspiracy against the blameless, not a criminal case against the culpable.

The spread of oligarch lawsuits across Europe and the distribution of their largesse have produced a serious problem of divided loyalty for English-language and other international editors. On the one hand, the charges against the Russian oligarchs are serious, and, if they succumb to them, the media should welcome the chance to be free to report the impact on Russia’s economic welfare as they see fit. On the other hand, if the oligarchs survive, there is the risk that they will take their revenge on those who bit the hands that fed them.

One way out was suggested by recent coverage from The Moscow Times, a newspaper controlled by mining and banking oligarch Vladimir Potanin. After promoting Potanin’s latest ventures in its news columns, the Times ran a commentary by Lilia Shevtsova, a Moscow political scientist who claims that the oligarchs really don’t exist, that their power is a figment of a policeman’s imagination that and the downfall of Khodorkovsky is threatened simply because his was “the first Russian company that started to look for legitimacy, not through maintaining cozy relations with the [government] apparatus, but by making the switch to transparency and legality.” If this Washington-funded commentator is to be believed, nothing more or less than “a cornered and exasperated” President Vladimir Putin is to blame for getting in the way of such benign pro-Western standards.

Inside Russia, domestic journalists have fewer illusions about the reality of the oligarchs. That is because they have been on the receiving end of attacks that are less discreet and more ruthless, mainly because the local courts can be easily bought by the plaintiffs and the evidence just as easily corrupted. An experienced Russian trial attorney explains that, when he deals with judges, he makes them an offer he believes they won’t refuse. If bribes are to be paid, he counsels, the judge should decide which side to be on. “Take from us, or not at all,” the attorney claims he says. When undercapitalized and uninsured Russian newspapers find themselves up against the deep pockets of the oligarchs, they reckon they have no defense, Deripaska, for example, has threatened legal action against several Russian publications, including Expert, a business magazine, Novaya Gazeta, an investigative journal, and The Russia Journal.

Recently, Sberbank, the state-owned savings and investment bank, went to a Moscow court claiming that one of its board directors had defamed the bank by statements that were published in several local newspapers. The court found in favor of the bank. The bank declared that it “will not tolerate unjustified criticism, and in the future will firmly and consistently defend its interests by all means, including legal actions.” Not for Russia is the doctrine, enshrined in most legal codes abroad, that public officials cannot resort to the defamation law when their public performance is the subject of public criticism.

At his annual open press conference, Putin defended his record of handling the oligarchs by saying that “probably everyone involved in business always looks for ways to earn more money, and to do this as effectively and cheaply as possible. Society’s task, our common task — because both the state and the media should keep a very close eye on this — is to make sure this situation does not arise in the country.”

For the Russian oligarchs, the cheapest way of neutralizing the local and international media is not to buy them — that costly exercise was abandoned in the financial collapse of 1998 — but to frighten them and, then, to make them an offer they are only too relieved to accept. For Western and Russian reporters and commentators on the short leash, it is fanciful to claim that no one is pulling at the other end.


By John Helmer, Moscow

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.  



By John Helmer, Moscow

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.  



By John Helmer, Moscow

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.



By John Helmer, Moscow

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.  



By John Helmer, Moscow

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.  



By Olga Samofalova, translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow

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.



By John Helmer, Moscow

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.



By John Helmer, Moscow

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.



By John Helmer, Moscow

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.


Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

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