In “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”, the 18th century French expose of the way vicious people plot to undermine virtue, it is allowed to a manservant to point out to the villain, the Vicomte de Valmont, that “going to bed with a girl only means getting her to do something she wants to do; but from that to getting her to what we want is often quite another story.”

For many years now, first as a deputy finance minister, then as finance minister, and finally as ex-President Boris Yeltsin’s choice of prime minister to succeed Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Kasyanov has played everyone’s choice of the willing girl. It has been a lucrative and pleasurable run for him. There was even a time last October, just before President Putin had Yukos oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky arrested and jailed, that Kasyanov imagined that he could invite ExxonMobil into the bed he was sleeping in. And that has ultimately proved to be a problem for Putin: getting Kasyanov to do what Putin wanted was quite another story.

Until Tuesday in Moscow, Russian politicians, including some close to President Vladimir Putin’s St. Petersburg circle, believed that Premier Kasyanov had a 50 percent chance of being reappointed to the post, after Putin wins reelection. The poll, scheduled for March 14, looks likely to be a walkover for Putin. Until now, he had not been expected to do anything to his ministers except oblige them to curry favour, and hold their breath.

Putin’s unexpected announcement that he is relieving Kasyanov of his duties, and dismissing the entire cabinet, not only ends Kasyanov’s chances. It also clears the slate of all the remaining Yeltsin appointees, and those ministers who have been closest to the oligarchs, the half dozen or so wealthy individuals who control most of Russia’s oil, mining and metals companies.

Putin has explained the surprise move as “not connected the evaluation of the Cabinet’s activity, which in my opinion have been satisfactory.” Rather, he said in a brief television announcement, the change reflects “my desire to show once more my position in the course of events which will develop after the presidential election slated for March 14, 2004.”

Removing Kasyanov, and putting an apolitical caretaker, deputy prime minister Victor Khristenko, in his place allows Putin to campaign as the sole candidate in the presidential race committed to a radical reorganization of Russia’s wealth. He said as much in his television statement. “Russian citizens have the right to know the proposals in stock, including the composition of the highest executive arm of government, in case I am reelected president of the Russian Federation.” That’s a nice way of saying that a vote for Putin will bury the unpopular past; interring Kasyanov & Co. is a politically adept way of demonstrating who is to blame. If Russian voters were entertaining the thought of staying home on election day, voting against all, or casting a protest vote for one of the minor runners, then Putin’s announcement demonstrates again, as he did last autumn, that he should be the popular choice by acclamation.

Putin’s decision to fire both Kasyanov and the cabinet together — while leaving the latter to act as caretakers until the new lineup is named — appears to have had no particular political trigger, although Putin is known to feel personally frustrated by what he views as the loyalty to the oligarchs of cabinet ministers who profess to be loyal to him.

His moves last autumn to charge the Yukos oil company shareholders with tax evasion, fraud, embezzlement, and forgery are well-known, and were one reason for the sweep in the December parliamentary elections of the pro-Putin movement, United Russia.

Less well-known is the move at the start of this month by Sergei Stepashin, a Putin ally from St.Petersburg, and possible candidate to be the new prime minister. Stepashin has ordered the state Accounting Chamber, which he heads, to investigate another oil oligarch, Roman Abramovich, for possible corruption in his administration of the Chukotka region, which he has headed since 2000.

Last Thursday, in another surprise move, Putin’s legal staff intervened to block oligarch, Vladimir Potanin, the controlling shareholder of Norilsk Nickel, Russia’s largest mining company, from releasing hitherto secret data on his company’s production, sale, reserves, and stockpiles of platinum group metals. Declassification of these secrets had been lobbied by Potanin last October, and backed by Alexei Kudrin, the finance minister, and another contender to be the new prime minister. Kudrin pushed the legislation through parliament at record speed, and Putin signed it into law last November.

The President appears to have woken up to the implications of the legislation only now. Potanin’s hopes for cashing out part of his multi-billion dollar stake in Norilsk Nickel have depended on the declassification measure, and on backing from ministers like Kasyanov and Kudrin. Now that they are gone, Potanin is stymied. A source close to the Kremlin has told me that Potanin has “reason to be a nervous man. Redivision of Norilsk Nickel is inevitable.”

The same source also told me that he believes Putin will continue playing one oligarch off against another, and that he expects aluminium boss, Oleg Deripaska, to run into Kremlin trouble later in the year. Deripaska, who controls Russian Aluminium (Rusal), one of the largest producers of aluminium in the world, is also the most active of the Russian oligarchs in Africa. He controls bauxite mines and an alumina refinery in Guinea, and is publicly said to be bidding for a Nigerian aluminium plant, due to be awarded in April. An English High Court judge recently issued a tough ruling criticizing Rusal’s political and commercial tactics in Guinea.

At home Deripaska’s attempt to cash out some of Rusal’s downstream aluminium plants is now likely to attract much keener attention from the Kremlin than it would have, under the outgoing government. According to local government sources, Deripaska is trying to persuade US aluminium giant Alcoa to buy him out of the Samara Metallurgical Plant in the Samara region, and the Belaya Kalitva Metallurgical Plant in Rostov.

An outsider who has been advising Putin on policy reform in the oil and mineral resource sector, Vladimir Litvinenko, was not given much chance of winning a seat in the new cabinet — until now. Litvinenko, Rector of the St.Petersburg Mining Institute, has been a strong advocate of blocking foreign corporation takeovers of strategic Russian mineral assets. He has also told me he favours the use or lose rules that were recently invoked by the government to cancel ExxonMobil’s licence for the Sakhalin-3 offshore project in the Fareast. The big American had held on to the licence for years, without doing anything to upset Prime Minister Kasyanov. But by doing nothing at all he and ExxonMobil have invited a veritable revolution in Russian resource policy – and Putin now appears to be committed to that direction.

By putting his prime minister to bed, Putin has sent a wake-up call to Russian policymakers, and the oligarchs, that is unmistakable.


For a decade Washington has been backing the Turkish and Azerbaihan governments to steer the export of Caspian region crude oil away from Russia, Russia’s newest riposte has been to ally the Russian and Iranian oil industries, and open up the shortest, cheapest, and most lucrative oil route of all, southwards out of the Caspian to Iran,

The economics of the southward route are the latest blow for the Bush Administration, as it tries to redraw the geography of the Caucasus on an anti-Russian map. But for oil exporters and shippers in the Caspian, President George Bush’s jawboning looks to be as futile as King Canute telling the sea to roll backwards.

Early oil from Azerbaijan’s newest offshore oilfields has been piped northwestwards through the Russian pipeline system to Novorossiysk port, on the Black Sea, along with crude from the Caspian shoreline of Kazakhstan, But there have been frequent arguments with the Azeris over volumes and transit fees, and these have led to frequent oil stoppages. Azeri oil for transit across Georgia to Supsa port is a costly trickle, by comparison.

In parallel, Turkey has been steadily tightening restrictions on tanker movement out of the Black Sea, through the Bosphorus Straits. The latest rules ban lengthy and large-capacity tankers — those which are most cost-effective for charterers and cargo-owners — from moving through the straits at night. The delay adds to the transport charges, creating an expensive chokepoint that has multiplied the costs of routing oil through the Black Sea for US allies, and Russia, alike.

As new Caspian oilfields come onstream, and the volumes of crude lifted grow beyond the capacities of the Russian pipeline system to absorb, the American strategy has been to press hard to redirect these exports across land towards Turkey. The pipeline route chosen is known by its origin and destination as Baku-Ceyhan.

The Russian government has always understood that the this pipeline was part of the broader US strategy to cut all links with Moscow of the former Soviet states in the Caucasus, building new economic infrastructure that would dissuade the Caucasus group from ever renewing these ties. These efforts have proved to be a colossal boomerang.

A Ukrainian pipeline, designed to attract Caspian oil into Odessa port, on the Black Sea, and then pump it northwards to Brody, and thence into Poland and other central European destinations, has lain empty for almost a year. Despite US government prodding, even the major US oil companies in the Caspian cannot quite absorb the commercial disadvantages of the route. Nor can US a allies in the Polish government overrule their colleagues with demands to buy this anti-Russian, but higher-priced oil.

The Russian government, together the Russian oil exporters, have countered with a proposal for the Ukrainian government to reverse the oil flow in the pipeline, and pipe Russian crude southwards to Odessa, for tankering out of the Black Sea.

The conflict in Kiev over the strategic pros and cons of these alternative oil routes has damaged another US ally in the region. Late last year, the Ukrainian parliament voted to block the Adria pipeline reversal project. This is aimed at delivering Russian crude to the deep-water port of Omishalj in Croatia, on the Adriatic Sea. The Ukrainian veto was retaliation by the anti-Russian oil lobby in Kiev for the failure of its Odessa-Brody project.

The irony of this outcome is that the Omishalj project was first proposed in 2002, and agreed by Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, and Croatia as a way of despatching Russian crude in large tankers to Bush constituents who own the refineries on the Texas coast of the United States. Initial capacity, according to the Omishalj plan, was 5 million tonnes per year, rising eventually to 15 million tonnes. The Ukrainian deputies justified their no-vote because, they said, it would be the final blow to the proposed Odessa-Brody pipeline, should the Druzhba line be filled up west of Ukraine. “This is true,” says Adam Landes, an oil analyst in Moscow, “but Odessa-Brody is doomed regardless. It offers no competitive advantage to potential Caspian shippers, or buyers of crude, and this is why it has been idle for two years now, since it was essentially completed. The longer Ukraine takes to face up to these rather obvious facts, the longer that this ill-fated pipeline will lie dormant.”

Another US ally to be caught in the cross-fire has been Latvia. As the anti-Russian pressure has mounted against Russian oil shipments in the south, Moscow accelerated the completion of a new oil outlet on the Gulf of Finland and Baltic Sea. This is Primorsk, which opened two years ago.

Controlled by Transneft, the state pipeline agency, Primorsk receives its crude from the Baltic Pipeline System — a network of pipelines linking Russia’s new Arctic oilwells and expanding northwest Siberian fields to the sea lanes to Western Europe’s markets. Once the Primorsk outlet was established, the Russian government ordered Transneft to turn off the supply of oil to Ventspils in Latvia.

At one time the Soviet Union’s northern gateway for oil exports, in 1990 Ventspils almost matched Novorossiysk in capacity and throughput. But no longer. The Latvians have appealed to Washington for help, but Moscow will not listen. The opening of Primorsk was the deathknell for Ventspils.

The Americans responded in 2003 by pressing the Russian government to end Transneft’s monopoly over pipelines, and allow the Russian oil majors to build a pipeline of their own to Murmansk. That, Washington energy officials claimed, would open a new, commercially effective route for crude deliveries to US East Coast refineries. Transneft has responded by accelerating the expansion of the Baltic Pipeline System, while the Kremlin has started prosecutions of Yukos, the oil company which was closest to Washington. The speed of this pipeline expansion effort will overtake the growth of Russian export volumes by 2005, Transneft officials have told me. The Murmansk project will wither, they believe, for lack of oil to ship.

Until Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, Russian oil policy was dictated by a corrupt alliance of the Russian oil producers and the US government, Putin’s campaign against Yukos has put a stop to that. Even during the Yeltsin period, however, Russian public policy was not to attack the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline on strategic grounds. Rather, Russian tactics were to play for time, and wait for the economics of oil transportation to tell against the US plan. So long as crude oil prices remained low, time encouraged delay in starting Baku-Ceyhan. The US war against Iraq threatened the pipeline plan too, by raising the prospect of a gusher of Iraqi crude on the market, cutting prices.

But now that Bush is proving that he cannot lift Iraqi oil, and prices remain firm for the foreseeable future, a new counter to Baku-Ceyhan has been needed by Moscow to retain the upper hand.

Russian exporters have responded with a new export route — southwards through the Caspian to Iran. Russian oil producers and shippers say they are expecting the volume of crude oil and petroleum products shipped from the Russian Caspian port of Astrakhan to Iran to more than double this year. A spokesman for Volgotanker, the leading tanker operator in the Caspian, said it is expecting growth of its oi! volume to jump 150 percent over the 2003 level of 800,000 tonnes.

Russian industry sources claim the expansion of the Iranian port of Neka, and the construction of a 120,000-barrels/day pipeline from Neka to Rey, is one of the new options for oil movement southwards. The Russian shipments of Caspian oil are paid for by swap arrangements with Iranian oil shipped out of Persian Gulf ports. Enzeli, the only Iranian Caspian port able to receive deep-draught vessels, is also being considered for receiving oil aboard railcars shipped by ferry from Astrakhan. LUKoil’s new oil terminal at Ilyinka, on the Astrakhan shore, will reach transshipment capacity of 3 million tonnes annual capacity (60,000 barrels per day) next year; this year capacity is 1 million tonnes (20,000 bd).


By John Helmer, Moscow

The Polish government in Warsaw, facing re-election in less than a year, wants all the credit from Washington for their joint operation to sabotage the Nord Stream gas pipelines on the Baltic seabed.

It also wants to intimidate the German chancellor in Berlin, and deter both American and German officials from plotting a takeover by the Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, next year.

Blaming the Russians for the attack is their cover story. Attacking anyone who doesn’t believe it, including Poles and Germans, Warsaw officials and their supporting media claim they are dupes or agents of Russian disinformation.

Their rivals, Civic Platform (PO) politicians trailing the PiS in the polls by seven percentage points,   want Polish voters to think that no credit for the Nord Stream attack should be earned by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. They also want to divert  the Russian counter-attack from Warsaw to Washington.

“Thank you USA” was the first Polish political declaration tweeted hours after the blasts by Radoslaw Sikorski (lead image, left), the PO’s former defence and foreign minister, now a European Parliament deputy. In support and justification,  his old friend and PO ministerial colleague, Roman Giertych, warned Sikorski’s critics: “Would you nutters prefer that the Russians find us guilty?”



By John Helmer, Moscow

The military operation on Monday night which fired munitions to blow holes in the Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor, near Bornholm Island,  was executed by the Polish Navy and special forces.

It was aided by the Danish and Swedish military; planned and coordinated with US intelligence and technical support; and approved by the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

The operation is a repeat of the Bornholm Bash operation of April 2021, which attempted to sabotage Russian vessels laying the gas pipes, but ended in ignominious retreat by the Polish forces. That was a direct attack on Russia. This time the attack is targeting the Germans, especially the business and union lobby and the East German voters, with a scheme to blame Moscow for the troubles they already have — and their troubles to come with winter.

Morawiecki is bluffing. “It is a very strange coincidence,” he has announced, “that on the same day that the Baltic Gas Pipeline  opens, someone is most likely committing an act of sabotage. This shows what means the Russians can resort to in order to destabilize Europe. They are to blame for the very high gas prices”.   The truth bubbling up from the seabed at Bornholm is the opposite of what Morawiecki says.

But the political value to Morawiecki, already running for the Polish election in eleven months’ time, is his government’s claim to have solved all of Poland’s needs for gas and electricity through the winter — when he knows that won’t come true.  

Inaugurating the 21-year old Baltic Pipe project from the Norwegian and Danish gas networks, Morawiecki announced: “This gas pipeline is the end of the era of dependence on Russian gas. It is also a gas pipeline of security, sovereignty and freedom not only for Polish, but in the future, also for others…[Opposition Civic Platform leader Donald] Tusk’s government preferred Russian gas. They wanted to conclude a deal with the Russians even by 2045…thanks to the Baltic Pipe, extraction from Polish deposits,  LNG supply from the USA and Qatar, as well as interconnection with its neighbours, Poland is now secured in terms of gas supplies.”

Civic Platform’s former defence and foreign minister Radek Sikorski also celebrated the Bornholm Blow-up. “As we say in Polish, a small thing, but so much joy”.  “Thank you USA,” Sikorski added,   diverting the credit for the operation, away from domestic rival Morawiecki to President Joseph Biden; he had publicly threatened to sabotage the line in February.  Biden’s ambassador in Warsaw is also backing Sikorski’s Civic Platform party to replace  Morawiecki next year.  

The attack not only escalates the Polish election campaign. It also continues the Morawiecki government’s plan to attack Germany, first by reviving the reparations claim for the invasion and occupation of 1939-45;  and second, by targeting alleged German complicity, corruption,  and appeasement in the Russian scheme to rule Europe at Poland’s expense. .

“The appeasement policy towards Putin”, announced PISM, the official government think tank in Warsaw in June,  “is part of an American attempt to free itself from its obligations of maintaining peace in Europe. The bargain is that Americans will allow Putin to finish building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in exchange for Putin’s commitment not use it to blackmail Eastern Europe. Sounds convincing? Sounds like something you heard before? It’s not without reason that Winston Churchill commented on the American decision-making process: ‘Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.’ However, by pursuing such a policy now, the Biden administration takes even more responsibility for the security of Europe, including Ukraine, which is the stake for subsequent American mistakes.”

“Where does this place Poland? Almost 18 years ago the Federal Republic of Germany, our European ally, decided to prioritize its own business interests with Putin’s Russia over solidarity and cooperation with allies in Central Europe. It was a wrong decision to make and all Polish governments – regardless of political differences – communicated this clearly and forcefully to Berlin. But since Putin succeeded in corrupting the German elite and already decided to pay the price of infamy, ignoring the Polish objections was the only strategy Germany was left with.”

The explosions at Bornholm are the new Polish strike for war in Europe against Chancellor Olaf Scholz. So far the Chancellery in Berlin is silent, tellingly.



By John Helmer, Moscow

The only Russian leader in a thousand years who was a genuine gardener and who allowed himself to be recorded with a shovel in his hand was Joseph Stalin (lead image, mid-1930s). Compared to Stalin, the honouring of the new British king Charles III as a gardener pales into imitativeness and pretension.   

Stalin cultivated lemon trees and flowering mimosas at his Gagra dacha  by the Black Sea in Abkhazia.  Growing mimosas (acacias) is tricky. No plantsman serving the monarchs in London or at Versailles has made a go of it in four hundred years. Even in the most favourable climates, mimosas – there are almost six hundred varieties of them — are short-lived. They can revive after bushfires; they can go into sudden death for no apparent reason. Russians know nothing of this – they love them for their blossom and scent, and give bouquets of them to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Stalin didn’t attempt the near-impossible, to grow lemons and other fruit in the Moscow climate. That was the sort of thing which the Kremlin noblemen did to impress the tsar and compete in conspicuous affluence with each other. At Kuskovo, now in the eastern district of Moscow, Count Pyotr Sheremetyev built a heated orangerie between 1761 and 1762, where he protected his lemons, pomegranates, peaches, olives, and almonds, baskets of which he would present in mid-winter to the Empress Catherine the Great and many others. The spade work was done by serfs. Sheremetyev beat the French king Louis XIV to the punch – his first orangerie at Versailles wasn’t built until 1763.

Stalin also had a dacha at Kuskovo But he cultivated his lemons and mimosas seventeen hundred  kilometres to the south where they reminded him of home in Georgia. Doing his own spade work wasn’t Stalin showing off, as Charles III does in his gardens, like Louis XIV before him. Stalin’s spade work was what he had done in his youth. It also illustrated his message – “I’m showing you how to work”, he would tell visitors surprised to see him with the shovel.  As to his mimosas, Stalin’s Abkhazian confidante, Akaki Mgeladze, claimed in his memoirs that Stalin intended them as another lesson. “How Muscovites love mimosas, they stand in queues for them” he reportedly told him.  “Think how to grow more to make the Muscovites happy!”

In the new war with the US and its allies in Europe, Stalin’s lessons of the shovel and the mimosas are being re-learned in conditions which Stalin never knew – how to fight the war for survival and at the same time keep everyone happy with flowers on the dining table.



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.


Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

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