“There are two famous last words,” Charles Bohlen, a US Ambassador to the Soviet Union at the start of the Cold War, once warned. “One is ‘alcohol doesn’t affect me’. The other is ‘I understand the Russians’.” Russians who confidently say they know what the Kremlin is about to do fall into both categories. Russia’s remaining oligarchs – those who are not in prison, or in foreign exile -understand Bohlen’s warning. That’s what makes them especially nervous these days.

One reason for the uncertainty is that the Kremlin, like staffs of the head of state the world over,is overwhelmed with too much work, too little coordination, and too many enemies to be dealt with all at once. A second reason is also common to the rest of the world: clever politicians never telegraph their punches. A third reason is a Russian particularity, which is the legacy of former President Boris Yeltsin. In the name of wrecking the Communist Party, Yeltsin near-destroyed the apparatus of command and control on which the state depends. To the end of preserving his personal power, he initiated divide-and-rule tactics that continue to pit Kremlin faction against faction, in a fashion that President Vladimir Putin is hard-pressed to rule.

Putin therefore allows it to be known that he needs help in his campaign to recapture the state from the hands of the oligarchs who took it from Yeltsin. This is one reason why Sergei Stepashin, head of the Accounting Chamber, is mounting an independent strike against Roman Abramovich, after checking first with Putin to see if he would say no. Not all Kremlin factions favour the move; some, because their priority is to deal with the President’s political enemies, or with the state’s security threats; and some, because they have their hands full managing the campaign against just one oil company Yukos. So long as Abramovich was telling Putin how helpful he could be against Yukos shareholders Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Leonid Nevzlin, there has been an unwillingness among some of Putin’s advisors to start a campaign against Abramovich.

Not that there isn’t enough documented material in security agency files to spearhead such an attack. However, the problem for the Kremlin is that its intelligence resources are better suited to assembling the cashflow evidence for indictments of money laundering, fraud, grand larceny, and other charges – after the crimes have been committed. They are not well adapted to predicting in advance what the oligarchs are planning to do with their foreign bankers and lawyers, or how they are spiriting their cash beyond Russian means of control.

The President’s men can read in newspapers that Mikhail Fridman, head of the Alfa banking group, and Victor Vekselberg, the TNK oil and SUAL aluminium oligarch, want to cash out their $3.8 billion stake in British Petroleum shares; but they don’t believe the money will return to Russia. They can speculate on what Vekselberg was recently doing in South Africa, but they don’t know for sure.

The Kremlin staff was not able to anticipate major offshore transactions, such as Vladimir Potanin’s $1.2 billion purchase of a 20-percent stake in the South African goldminer, Gold Fields, in March; or Oleg Deripaska’s sale this month of the Samara and Belaya Kalitva aluminium rolling plants to the US corporation, Alcoa; small though that looks, compared to most other oligarch cash-out deals. What seems certain is that Potanin and Deripaska didn’t ask the Kremlin for permission in advance. What is now up in the air is whether the President will be advised to let them get away with it, or not.

How the Kremlin is directing the outcome of the Yukos affair is indicative of the likely answers to that question. What is already in evidence is that the Kremlin has chosen to install its own trustee in charge of the Yukos board of directors. Victor Gerashchenko’s role will not be to dismantle Yukos, and sell off its assets. He is likely to do a better job of keeping the company together than he did, under Yeltsin’s direction, of preserving the rouble zone, a decade ago. But let there be no mistake. Gerashchenko has not been engaged to use his own initiative or entrepreneurship. He will follow Kremlin orders. These are likely to include the separation of Yukos from Sibneft.

But just as Gerashchenko will oversee the new Yukos, Sibneft is likely to find itself under a similarly appointed guardian, with a similar mandate. Selling off large stakes in either oil company to foreign oil companies won’t be allowed. Just in case the new board chairmen cannot keep their eyes on everything at once, loyal Kremlin men with forensic accountancy backgrounds will be placed in charge of the oil cashflows.

It takes years to train and test such expertise. It cannot be hired from international firms, whose well-known names have become synonymous in Russia with qualified account statements and misleading balance-sheets that conceal the trading and tax avoidance schemes which the Putin administration has pledged to stamp out. There is no reason for the Kremlin to stop with Yukos and Sibneft. There are already signs that Norilsk Nickel, Potanin’s preserve, will follow suit, as tax reparations owed by Potanin to the state are transformed into a golden state shareholding, supervised by a Kremlin appointed chairman of the board.

Russian Aluminium (Rusal) – the creation of Abramovich and Deripaska – cannot be immune to this process, if and when it begins. But those qualifiers are big ones.

For reasons particular to those involved inside the Kremlin, it may happen that Abramovich and Potanin negotiate a stay of judgement, and Deripaska goes first. But when the President needs help, knowing what will happen next is far from a sure thing.


MOSCOW – Roald Dahl, the English humorist, once wrote a tale about a man who had acquired the secret of seeing through cards. Naturally, he had to conceal it, if he was to make a killing at casinos. As professional gamblers all know, casino managements are constantly on the lookout for players with systems that can beat the odds of losing. It’s also entirely legal for them to build systems for insuring their clients lose; and to ban those clients smart enough to overcome them.

Alisher Usmanov is a Russian businessman who thinks like a casino. He enjoys the reputation for big-stakes gambling, because that attracts other people’s money. But he doesn’t like the risk of losing his own. Last month, Usmanov suffered the biggest loss ever, despite what many judged to have been a cleverly managed entry into the casino that is the City of London financial market. But had Usmanov studied more closely, he would have known not to gamble, unless you have bought the casino first.

Usmanov’s loss came after a year of steadily buying up shares in the ailing steelmaker, Corus, an Anglo-Dutch company. As Usmanov bought, he also tipped off the UK press to his ambitions for Corus — a bigger shareholding he intended to accumulate, he said, in order to take a seat on the Corus board of directors, and to build a link between Corus and the steel plant and iron-ore mine, which he controls in Russia. The more he publicized himself, and the more shares he bought, the higher the share price went. Over a year, Usmanov’s offshore holding called Gallagher accumulated almost 14 percent of Corus to become the second largest shareholder in the steelmaker. The share price rose in that interval from a low of 4 pounds on March 13, 2003, to a high of 45 pounds on March 9, 2004. Usmanov could count tenfold profits, at least, on his early stake purchases, if not on the later ones. He refuses to provide details, but it is possible to estimate that he has outlaid on his gamble not less than $200 million.

The Corus management repeatedly replied to Usmanov’s press statements by denying him their endorsement for a seat on the board of directors. But apart from vague generalities, they never explained why. They also rejected Usmanov’s attempts to link the two steel making groups. Gallagher’s share buying was good for Corus; Usmanov, the company decided, was not.

After booking his initial gains, it is unclear what Usmanov had to gain financially by continuing to spend more money to chase shrinking gains in a rising market. His iron-ore mine, Lebedinsky -the largest in Russia – is already producing at close to maximum capacity, and exporting almost a third of its production outside n Russia. It is virtually impossible for Usmanov to offer more iron-ore to Corus. As for Usmanov’s steel plant, Oskol Electro-Metallurgical Combine, its range of products doesn’t suit Corus’s range of needs.

Usmanov himself, and his spokesmen, have been fast on the press release making claims they then refuse to clarify. Accordingly, there are three theories of what Usmanov really wanted from Corus. The first is that he viewed the Corus board as his route to a seat in the Anglo financial establishment. Usmanov needed the ticket to respectability, so the theory goes, because his reputation in Moscow has been that of a corporate brawler, who muscled into assets on behalf of his sponsors in the Gazprom management, or in alliance with LUKoil CEO Vagit Alekperov. The biggest dent in Usmanov’s reputation came from his raid on a diamond-mine discovered in the Arkhangelsk region in 1996 by Archangel Diamond Corporation (ADC), a small Canadian company that now belongs to De Beers. In court papers filed in the United States, Usmanov (and Alekperov) has been accused of massive fraud. Initial rulings have rejected US jurisdiction, and are on appeal. The charges against Usmanov remain untried, not only in the United States, but also in an arbitration proceeding in Sweden.

The second theory of Usmanov’s campaign against Corus is connected to the first. He is greenmailing Corus — that is, he is positioning his newly acquired shareholding, or his Russian steelmaking interests, or both, for sale back to Corus, and not for buying into Corus. The Moscow opinion of Usmanov is that he is a financial investor, not a steelmaker. His objective, according to this interpretation, is to oblige Corns into relieving itself of the pain of his attacks by making him an offer to exit. This could take several forms, including a joint venture between the Russian smelter, the mine, and Corus; or it could be a simple cash transaction. Usmanov’s raid on the ADC is viewed in similar light by De Beers; Usmanov has hinted that for the right price, he might let go. Like Corus, De Beers has chosen to fight, not pay.

The third theory of Usmanov’s intentions go back to problems Usmanov admitted he was having at Gazprom, when the Putin administration began its reorganization of the company almost three years ago. It was then that several of Usmanov’s friends at Gazprom followed the sacked CEO, Rem Vyakhirev, out the door. Usmanov conceded at the time that he was feeling potential pressure on his assets from the new Gazprom management, led by Alexei Miller, which had started an investigation of what Vyakhirev had done with Gazprom’s assets and asset disposals. Through Gazprominvestholding, which Usmanov directed on Vyakhirev’s behalf, Usmanov had taken control of the steel plant and the mine. If Miller had wanted, he could have retrieved the assets from Usmanov. But that that was then. The situation at Gazprom has now changed, and Usmanov believes he is no longer under threat. In the interval, it stands to reason that if his control of Osko! and Lebedinsky was at risk, Usmanov should try to cash out into offshore assets. Corus, so this theory goes, was Usmanov’s cash-out vehicle — and an easy, lucrative one at that.

On March 16, Usmanov thought he would rap hard on the casino door, and threaten to blow it down if he wasn’t admitted on his terms. The threat to take “strategic and tactical steps” against Corus was issued in the March 16 issue of the Financial Times. Usmanov thought that Corus would be as intimidated by the newspaper as he is impressed by it. Employing also as his corporate chairman the former Liberal Party leader and ex-Foreign Minister, Lord David Owen, Usmanov might have calculated that he had both pen and sword on his side.

He was able to recruit a handful of sound-bytes in the media, but he failed to make a dint in Corus’s resistance, or in the opposition of other shareholders. They refused to accept the nomination of Usmanov to the board at the annual shareholders’ meeting, scheduled for April 22. Usmanov then proposed a palliative. If you won’t take me, he announced, I offer my nomination of a man you once trusted to run Corus, retired executive Adrianus van der Velden. A Dutchman for a Russian purpose was the proposal. But on the eve of the vote, Usmanov learned that neither the Financial Times, nor Owen, had swung a significant number of votes. Indeed, so small was his apparent gain over the 13.39 percent he already controlled, Usmanov decided it was better to retreat than to allow the magnitude of his defeat to be recorded. Van der Velden’s nomination was withdrawn before the shareholders’ meeting could vote it down. All four of the other nominees to board seats received more than 98 percent of votes in favor.

“We are not going to go away” was the riposte Usmanov’s spokesman made, as he retreated. Corns fired back, intimating that Usmanov had been unable to overcome his Russian dossier, “Gallagher’s challenge to UK corporate governance principles,” aCorus statement said, “has proved a distraction to the management of the company.”

Muffled though Usmanov’s defeat was, it was the first counter-attack on a major Russian businessman to succeed in the London market. From Usmanov’s point of view, the defeat needs to be camouflaged if he is to make good on either the ticket to respectability or the greenmail objectives. He has already made a success of the cash-out ploy, and will probably not waste any more money adding Corus shares to his holding.

But there is a lesson too, for the other major Russian businessman, who is presently keeping the London market in thrall – Roman Abramovich, owner of Russian oil and metal assets, the Chelsea Football Club, and England’s richest man. For him, as for Usmanov, there may come a time when the Russian dossier will catch up with him, no matter how many peers and other establishment assets he has bought. For there is one other lesson that Russian gamblers have yet to learn about the City of London — you can rent, but you can’t buy the casino.


In the snow, Russian peasants still say, the law is like a sleigh. A clever judge can steer it either way.

Vladimir Potanin, the controlling shareholder of Norilsk Nickel (NorNickel), Russia’s largest mining company, ought to know. In a decade of acquiring the assets that comprise his Moscow-based, multi-billion dollar holding Interros, he has had his share of success in the courts fighting off legal challenges to his takeovers. His methods, which were accepted by ex-President Boris Yeltsin, and the size of his wealth, combined with his political clout, have led Potanin to be publicly dubbed one of Russia’s oligarchs.

According to a filing last year with the US Federal Trade Commission to support a takeover bid for Stillwater Mining, NorNickel disclosed that Potanin and Mikhail Prokhorov, his partner and CEO of NorNickel, held joint and equal stakes amounting to about 57% of the company. A January 2004 report by Renaissance Capital indicates that 62% of the company’s shares are held by Interros; 4% by NorNickel employees; and 34% by institutional shareholders. The free float was estimated at 34%. There is currently no state shareholding, which was acquired by Potanin in 1995 for $170.1 million. Sales by NorNickel last year were $4.9 billion. The market capitalization of the company as of April 30 was $12.8 billion.

Last week, Potanin also got the message that he might be on the receiving end of Kremlin investigation. A powerful rumor swept Moscow and international markets that he had been called for questioning by the Procurator-General, the federal law enforcement arm of President Vladimir Putin. Rumors about the Russian oligarchs are common; but formal investigations of their business activities by the prosecutors are rare. The Moscow market believes that there can never be smoke from the latter, without someone in the Kremlin stoking the fire.

In two days of share trading, Norilsk Nickel lost more than two billion dollars in market capitalization. In the past two weeks, following the global downturn in metals prices, it has shed $4.5 billion. Whatever is happening, Potanin and Prokhorov are decidedly poorer.

The federal prosecutors first issued a refusal to confirm or deny the rumor. Then one of the prosecutors told me in carefully chosen words that “currently we don’t have information that Potanin has been in our office.” That left open a map of other geographical possibilities for the get-together – and it left an ominous warning for Potanin, as well as Prokhorov and NorNickel.

Not that this was the first warning they have received. In February, President Putin intervened to halt the implementation of a law, which he had earlier signed into effect. If implemented, it would allow NorNickel to declassify hitherto state secret data on reserves, production, sales and stocks of platinum group metals.

This data release, promised for early this year, is one of the requirements for NorNickel and its two controlling shareholders to offer the company shares on western stock exchanges, or for Potanin to swap his shares for another internationally listed company. Declassification had been lobbied by NorNickel for years. But state opposition to opening up the company to foreign buyers blocked the legislative move. It was then rushed through parliament by Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin, and signed by Putin last November. But the president was preoccupied at the time with parliamentary and presidential elections; he changed his mind when he learned what was at stake.

Kudrin was demoted in the cabinet reshuffle a few weeks ago.

When the law was suspended, Potanin was warned that a major cash-out transaction that would transfer sizeable wealth in NorNickel to foreign hands – in return for the offshore enrichment of Potanin – would not be permitted.

Potanin apparently didn’t listen. Nor did he pay attention to a second warning, also in February, that blocked the planned issue of a $1 billion convertible bond by Interros. That move would have allowed Potanin to take the cash, and leave in the hands of foreign bondholders the right to claim NorNickel shares.

Undeterred, Potanin and his dealmaker, Leonid Rozhetskin, deputy chairman of NorNickel, got the idea of buying into Gold Fields, using mostly borrowed funds; and then later – they told banking associates in Moscow — to merge their gold assets in NorNickel into a majority takeover of Gold Fields shares.

The first deal was a boon for Anglo American PLC, which had been looking to sell its Gold Fields stake for months. In five days Potanin had agreed, and in fourteen Anglo had its cash. Unbeknownst to Gold Fields, it was about to become a hostage in Potanin’s power play with the Kremlin.

Citibank, lender of $800 million to fund most of the April transaction, is also a hostage of sorts. If the Kremlin’s shadow falls on Potanin, it is unlikely another bank would agree to join a lending syndicate after Citibank’s six-month deadline is reached. Citibank would have to demand its money back. Potanin would have no alternative but to sell out of Gold Fields, quickly. Over the next month, the prosecutors do not have to say any more to make credible their warning that Potanin may not be permitted a cash-out deal.

Framing a charge-sheet against Potanin, and then compiling a multi-count indictment isn’t necessary for this warning to stick. Besides, there simply aren’t enough staff to prepare such documents, so heavily are they already committed to the prosecution and upcoming trials of the two leading Yukos oil company shareholders in prison since last year – Platon Lebedev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. They are in prison, because they attempted to cash out a stake of about 40% in Yukos by selling it to ExxonMobil or ChevronTexaco. President Putin warned them not to; they ignored the warnings. The charges against them, and against Yukos, are different. They relate to a myriad of shareholding and cash transfers, tax avoidance schemes, fraud, and forgery. Independent legal assessment of the indictments suggests the two men are likely to be convicted.

Since February, Potanin has been courting the same fate. The rumor that he has met it doesn’t require much substantiation, in order to have the effect that high-ranking officials and advisors to the President, and possibly Putin himself, want to produce. The question for Potanin, therefore, is whether he should reconsider the Gold Fields deal, or proceed with the planned acquisition, and call Putin’s bluff.

Potanin began by reassuring Gold Fields at meetings last week with CEO Ian Cockerill in Moscow. Next, Potanin must pacify Citibank, lender of the lion’s share of NorNickel’s payment to Anglo American. Questions about the security of the deal, and the lack of government approval (which Potanin had sought, and received, when he took over Stillwater Mining in the US last year) have made it difficult for Citibank to find other banks willing to take over the $800 million loan when it expires in September.

The NorNickel oligarch’s biggest concern right now is to find out what Putin is really thinking, and whether last week’s rumor and reports were started to test Putin’s will, or Potanin’s nerves. In this game, as in last year’s Kremlin attack on Lebedev and Khodorkovsky, there is no telling what Putin intends until after he has moved, and the oligarch’s assets are in danger. The Gold Fields transaction may thus be no more than the trigger. What is near-certain is that Potanin’s control of NorNickel may be about to change.

That some of Putin’s advisors want this to happen was signaled by Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of the St. Petersburg State Mining Institute, and an advisor to the president on resource policy. He recently said he favors giving the state a “golden share” in NorNickel. He has yet to elaborate on that. But if the precedent of Yukos’s fate is any guide, that could presage the filing of billion-dollar tax claims against NorNickel or other Potanin companies, and criminal charges against him, and possibly Prokhorov too. To save himself and pay NorNickel’s bills, Potanin may agree to sell at least part of his stake to the government. The transfer of a 17% shareholding in NorNickel, currently worth about $2.2 billion, would be enough to deprive Potanin and Prokhorov of majority control of the company, and allow the Kremlin to dictate new management strategy.

It is the market’s understanding of this vulnerability that has given last week’s rumor of trouble for Potanin legs to run. Whatever Potanin says or does next, time will tell whether Putin has already made up his mind; and whether NorNickel’s resale of its stake in Gold Fields will be either necessary, or sufficient, to satisfy the President.

There are many shadows on the snow right now. An investigation leading to a tax claim or an indictment would be curtains for Potanin, though not for Gold Fields. On their recent visit to Moscow, Gold Fields thought they were meeting the man in charge of their fate. But in reality they missed him. Putin may not mind the Russian government being an indirect stakeholder in Gold Fields; he is unlikely to want a takeover.


By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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

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

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

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



By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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

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

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



By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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



By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



By Lucy Komisar,  New York*

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

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



By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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

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



By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

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