RUSSIAN OLIGARCHS CAN RUN, BUT CAN’T HIDE

In October of 1812, when Napoleon began his withdrawal from Moscow, the initial mood of the French troops was much more optimistic than we suppose today.

Of fighting men, the French army was down to 95,000; but opposing them was scarcely the same number in the surviving Russian army. Buoying the high spirits of the French columns, however, was the extraordinary volume of civilians and vehicles engaged to carry the Russian booty back to Paris – up to 50,000 porters and servants, and as many as 40,000 wagons and carts. As is now well known, the vast jam of men, horses, vehicles, and treasure ground up the roads; clogged the bridges; exposed the army to Russian attack, and as winter temperatures fell sharply, turned the evacuation into one of the most famous routs in history.

The problem is much the same for the half-dozen or so men who accumulated fabulous treasure during their occupation of the Kremlin under President Boris Yeltsin, These men, the Russian oligarchs, can feel the winter approaching, and no matter how optimistically the booty they have seized may encourage them to feel, they are far from sure that they can hang on to this treasure, and at the same time fight off the growing number of counter¬attacks from Kremlin officials, government ministries, the tax authorities, federal and regional prosecutors, and the humblest of policemen.

Napoleon too thought he could stage an orderly evacuation to safe haven across the Russian border. What direction to take for the Russian oligarchs is just as problematic.

In a recent prosecution involving the conviction on corruption charges of a former Ukrainian prime minister, the United States government demonstrated that Washington, viewed not long ago by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Vladimir Potanin as easy to lobby with money, and a safe haven to hang on to it, may be anything but that. US law enforcement agencies have made it impossible for some of their colleagues even to cross the border; while sensitivity to US money-laundering and racketeering laws has made the US banking system a risky place in which to move, let alone deposit large amounts of money. Since he acquired the Stillwater Mining Company of Montana a year ago, Potanin has discovered that his cashcow, Norilsk Nickel, Russia’s largest mining company, is now more methodically and transparently regulated by the US nSecurities and Exchange Commission than by any Russian government body. From the SEC reports, it is even possible to spot where and when Potanin and his companies are in violation of their borrowing covenants.

Oleg Deripaska, the controlling shareholder of Russian Aluminium (Rusal); Mikhail Fridman; head of the Alfa banking group; Victor Vekselberg of Tyumen Oil Company and Siberian Ural Aluminium (SUAL); and Vagit Alekperov, CEO of LUKoil, have all won recent US court judgements dismissing civil charges and billion-dollar damage claims against them. However, the US judges have ruled only that, on the evidence submitted, there was insufficient jurisdiction for the US courts to decide the merits of the case. Many of those judicial rulings are now on appeal, and could be overturned. But even if they are not, the warning to the Russian oligarchs is quite clear – don’t enter US jurisdiction, even if, as in Vekselberg’s case, he holds a US residency card.

The United Kingdom has so far proved to be more hospitable to oligarchs on the run. Boris Berezovsky has secured political asylum; Potanin has engaged Prince Michael of Kent; and Roman Abramovich, the Sibneft owner, has purchased the Chelsea football club and a PR agent from one of the London tabloids. Abramovich is not the first foreigner to be lured by the combination of bank directors, media proprietors, rent-a-titles, and political party treasurers who form what is known as the British establishment. What he is about to discover is that the hospitality with which they greet the initial billion-dollar cheques tends to wane, as the forensic bureaucrats catch up with the evidence of law-breaking, Even football teams turn out to be a form of pyramid gamble, in which larger and larger sums of cash are required to keep up the impression of winning, and paying dividends. Not so long ago, one of Greece’s most powerful entrepreneurs thought that acquiring a well-known Athens football club would help generate popular support for his ill-gotten wealth. But that didn’t save him from indictment on massive fraud, nor did his US friends protect him from handover to the Greek prosecutors, and a long stretch in jail.

Deripaska and his partner, Alisher Usmanov, have also discovered that their ability to turn the proceeds of their metal export operations from cash into London Stock Exchange-listed securities is limited, not by their cash supply, as by the resistance of the forensic bureaucrats. Usmanov, who occupies something lower than oligarch status in the shadow of his better endowed friends at Gazprom and LUKoil, convinced the Financial Times that he could, and should, take a board seat at the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus. But he couldn’t convince the management of Corus, or several other London-based companies he has either courted or attacked.

France has a long tradition of welcoming Russian nmigrns, not all of them destitute. Fridman has availed himself of the opportunity to set up a residence in Paris for his wife and family. He has also applied to the French courts to silence his critics in the French financial press. But the French courts have also rejected the attempt by Deripaska and his allies to secure the extradition to Russia of Mikhail Zhivilo, the former Novokuznetsk aluminium smelter owner who has promoted most of the damaging litigation against Rusal in the courts of the US, Sweden, and elsewhere. France, it turns out, is generous with prime vacation real estate, while French banks like Societe Generale, BNP Paribas and Natexis have been liberal with loans. But the heirs of the Napoleonic Code are tough at taxing, and much quicker than they used to be at spotting and indicting official corruption. They aren’t what the Russian oligarchs need.

Even the banks of Switzerland are getting nervous these days at the windfall business which Khodorkovsky, Potanin and others have delivered to their private banking suites. Freeze injunctions, magistrate orders, document and personal arrest, and all the apparatus of international fiscal crime-busting have put a dent in the confidence the Russians had a decade ago in Swiss “neutrality”.

It has thus proved much easier for the oligarchs and their advisors to set up residences for their accountants from Gibraltar to Guernsey and Liechtenstein, from Panama to the British Virgin Islands and Nauru, than to find a safe place to live and keep their money for themselves. The more exotic the location, the more difficult it is for the oligarchs to be confident. Take, for example, the recent moves which Potanin and Vekselberg have made in the direction of South Africa. Because of their prominence in international mining, South African companies, which enjoy dual listings in London or New York, have become a target of opportunity for the oligarchs, and plans are afoot to swap cash and Russian shares into South African companies. Such schemes may require not only more cash than the oligarchs are anticipating, but also more approvals from the South African government than they have planned for.

Potanin has already cottoned on to the idea of lobbying the black political leadership and leading black entrepreneurs, using the link established decades ago between Moscow and Russian-speaking, Soviet-trained South Africans in the fight against apartheid. Vekselberg has been quietly promising money to small black-owned mineral exploration companies. It is one of the more exotic paradoxes of the withdrawal of the oligarchs and their wealth from Russia that men who grew rich on the destruction of the Communist Party and state are appealing to the solidarity of men, whose national liberation was backed and armed by that state.

CITIBANK REVEALS A SECRET ABOUT POTANIN

MOSCOW (Mineweb.com) — Doveryai, no proveryai. It’s a hoary Russian maxim, meaning “trust but verify.” US President Ronald Reagan often used it, never managing to get the pronunciation right, during his scripted appearances with Mikhail Gorbachev, then the leader of the Soviet Union. It was Reagan’s way of convincing the diehards at home that even if it was good policy for the US to sign agreements with its arch-enemy, Reagan wouldn’t trust the Soviets to live up to their obligations — unless there was an effective mechanism for verifying compliance. Of course, Gorbachev thought the same of Reagan and the Americans. But then, he was too desperate for the appearance of goodwill to make the reciprocal claim. Reagan’s Russian was supposed to convince the Politburo that they could trust Gorbachev. But that’s another story.

Below the heads of state, and outside the walls of government, the maxim has had even more force. This was especially so when, in August 1998, a group of Russia’s most powerful businessmen, the so-called oligarchs, arranged for the state to default on its bond obligations; to cut the rouble adrift from its expensive dollar mooring; and to allow the oligarchs to slip away from billions of dollars of their obligations and failed foreign exchange wagers. Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, who in 1998 controlled the Yukos oil company and Menatep Bank, haven’t exactly got off scot free from Menatep’s collapse. They are now in prison, and on trial for a range of crimes, although the Menatep default isn’t one of them.

Vladimir Potanin’s bank, then called Uneximbank, was another of the defaulters. Potanin replaced it with the freshly painted Rosbank sign, and as the head of Interros and controlling shareholder of Norilsk Nickel, he is much wealthier today than he was before the 1998 collapse. He hasn’t been charged with any crime, and if the newspapers he controls, including the Moscow Times, are to be believed, he is as blameless as the driven snow.

Citibank, the flagship of the New York-based Citigroup corporate empire, is not an institution that believes in blame. But its credit committee and legal department don’t readily approve lending $800 million to Potanin without knowing and trusting him. Sanford Weill is the chairman of Citigroup, and Robert Rubin is his advisor, as well as a member of the Citigroup board; Rubin was a US Treasury Secretary dealing with Russia a decade ago. They refuse to say if they have been in touch with Potanin within the past six months; that is, in the period preceding the decision by Citibank to issue the $800 million loan on March 29. Potanin’s spoksmen also won’t say if he, Weill and Rubin have been on speaking terms lately.

But for gosh sakes! If Doveryai, no proveryai. was good enough for Ronald Reagan, it is the least Weill, Rubin, their head of credit, and their legal counsel could do for Potanin, when he needed the cash in a hurry.

This is why the wording of the loan facility agreement between Citibank and Norilsk Nickel makes a textbook case of how American bankers aim to verify that a Russian oligarch like Potanin will pay his debts. Fortunately, US law and the regulations of the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) require that Potanin and his corporate group, now the controlling shareholder of Stillwater Mining, a US company, require timely and comprehensive disclosures of their financial operations. That is why, for the first time, one of the largest Russian offshore transactions, and the largest-ever Russian borrowing from Citibank, have been disclosed in great detail to the US Government, and everyone else.

For those who want to read on, trust, but verify for themselves, here is the link to the SEC website where the documents, filed on April 7, can be read in full: Click here.

Potanin’s intention has been plain for some time. He is trying to move the mining assets he secured by rigged privatization almost a decade ago, beyond the reach of the Russian government to tax or retrieve. He has learned from Khodorkovsky’s fate – after the latter tried to float Yukos shares on the New York Stock Exchange and sell a near-majority to an American oil company. Potanin’s approach has been piecemeal: to raise the indebtedness of Norilsk Nickel; and to prepare some of his assets – the gold-mines, for example – for swapping with a foreign company. If President Vladimir Putin decided to go after Potanin, as he has done Khodorkovsky, then Potanin’s strategy was to ensure himself blue-chip foreign company shares, protected from a Kremlin raid; and to arrange that Norilsk Nickel would foot the bill. If Putin left Norilsk Nickel alone, and in Potanin’s hands, then the defensive manoeuvre would cost Potanin himself nothing.

Accordingly, in the last ten days of March, a shrewd South African offered Potanin a 20-percent stake in Gold Fields Ltd., the large South African goldminer, for a price of $1.16 billion. The terms were take it or leave it, with a deadline of five days to say yes, and another five days to pay. After saying yes, Potanin asked Citibank, which was officially advising the seller, not the buyer, to lend him $800 million for the deal. The rest of the cash, $316 million, came directly from Norilsk Nickel.

Citibank had never loaned Norilsk Nickel more than $50 million before. That earlier loan of February 2003 was tightly secured by the export sale of nickel. Also, it had been the object of a due diligence effort over many months by no less than ten other banks, all of them with far greater exposure to Russian risk than Citibank. Privately, Citibank executives have now admitted that they secured the $800 million by taking Norilsk Nickel’s guarantee to repay out of metal sales. Publicly, however, Citibank insists “the loan to Norilsk for the purposes of buying a stake in Gold Fields was unsecured.”

Norilsk Nickel has insisted on the same thing, explaining through investment relations spokesman Sergei Polikarpov: “”there is NO his emphasis security of the loan:, which he attributed to “good negotiations skills”.

What the text of the loan agreement between the two reveals is that Norilsk Nickel agreed to repay the bank $300 million within 30 days, and then two tranches of $100 million each, in the months of May and June. By July, the contract calls for Norilsk Nickel to owe just $300 million, and to repay that by the end of September. $300 million has been the limit of Norilsk Nickel’s foreign borrowing capacity until now. The Citibank bankers and lawyers didn’t exactly lend them more for the announced term of the loan. Such large amounts of cash payable each month testify to the fact that nickel, copper, platinum and gold prices are very advantageous to producers and sellers right now; and Citibank put into its loan contract very specific accounting ratio requirements that Nolilsk Nickel would have to meet, month by month. In practice, Norilsk Nickel guaranteed repayment out of its monthly export cashflow. It was also obliged to pledge: that its monthly export metal sales could not be collateral for another borrowing; they could not be sold circuitously back to itself; nor could Norilsk Nickel divert the funds out of the accounts being monitored by Citibank for purposes other than those approved by Citibank’s auditors and lawyers.

The provisions of their agreement illustrate how well Citibankers know the structure of the typical Russian corporate trading scheme, according to which title to exports of oil or metals is passed from one dummy entity to another, from one offshore registered company to another, while the funds are transferred by accounting sleight of hand to hidden fronts of the controlling shareholders. What is left over to the company as profit is then taxed, and after taxes are paid, returned to another set of dummy entities as dividends for the shareholders. Citibank’s agreement disallows Potanin and his co-shareholder, Mikhail Prokhorov, CEO of Norilsk Nickel, to engage in double-dipping.

Thus, Citibank made sure it had security over Norilsk Nickel’s metal sales revenues and trade cashflow, and much more besides. The difference between what the bank and borrower admit to, and the reality, is in the small print. This leaves little doubt that Citibank’s requirements were so tightly drawn on paper that, if there were to be a payment default, Citibank could launch legal action for recovery within a month against Potanin’s offshore trading company, Norimet, and all of $1.16 billion worth of Gold Fields shares which were in its possession. The legal system chosen was the UK. After the first repayment of $300 million, Citibank thus had effective security against a debt that was shrinking fast. The big default risk existed for just 30 days. And knowing Potanin as well as the bank did, the calculation was that there was little risk that he would default in so short a time, when his strategy for cashing out of Russia was just beginning.

Citibank also appears to have agreed with Norilsk Nickel that no asset acquisition or disposal can be made by the group, including affiliated Potanin companies, until the entire loan has been paid off. Sect.20.7 (b) of the contract stipulates that, other than buying the 20% stake in Gold Fields, Potanin and his group cannot buy further shares in Gold Fields or any other company for the duration of the loan period if it might “cause a material deterioration in the creditworthiness of the Borrower or the Group.”

But did Citibank know as much as it should have about President Vladimir Putin’s attitude towards such deals in general, and Potanin in particular? The small print also reveals something never seen before in the department of Doveryai, no proveryai.

According to the text of the sale-purchase agreement, for Norimet, a Norilsk Nickel unit, to acquire the Gold Fields shares from Anglo South Africa Capital, an Anglo American unit, the Russians had to declare that “all consents, concessions, approvals, filings, registrations, authorisations and orders, governmental, regulatory, corporate or other, necessary for the execution, delivery and performance by the Purchaser of this Agreement and the consummation of the transactions herein contemplated and for the purchase from the Selling Shareholder of the Sale Shares in the manner set out herein, have been obtained and are in full force and effect.”

This was signed on March 29. Within days, Russian government and Central Bank sources announced that they had begun investigating the transaction. The Central Bank has up to six months in which it may disapprove NorNickel’s offshore purchase. In retrospect, it is now evident that Potanin did not make an informal enquiry of the government or the President. He went ahead with his deal, and subsequently Norilsk Nickel has claimed that no application or approval was necessary. That isn’t, however, what Norimet claimed when it signed on March 29.

The next day, when the loan documents were signed, Norilsk Nickel signed a separate undertaking that “all Authorisations required: (a) to enable it lawfully to enter into, exercise its rights and comply with its obligations in the Finance Documents; and (b) to make the Finance Documents admissible in evidence in its jurisdiction of incorporation, have been obtained or effected and are in full force and effect.”

It also averred that “any factual information provided by or on behalf of any member of the Borrower Group was true, complete and accurate in all material respects as at the date it was provided or as at the date (if any) at which it is stated.” According to the borrowing agreement, Norilsk Nickel claimed that there were “no administrative proceedings of or before any court, arbitral body or agency which is reasonably likely to be adversely determined and, if so adversely determined, would reasonably be expected to have a Material Adverse Effect” on the loan or the Gold Fields transaction.

Citibank’s legal advisors are identified in the documents as the UK firm, Linklaters. Their drafting put the entire responsibility for complying with Russian law, and disclosing what it had done, on Potanin’s men. They underlined that responsibility by including Section 21.9, defining among many instances of default on the loan agreement if “it is or becomes unlawful for an Obligor to perform any of its obligations under the Finance Documents.”

And just in case something unexpected happened, the agreement requires Norilsk Nickel to pledge notification of any administrative proceeding affecting the loan within 45 days of the end of each calendar quarter. This first reporting deadline fell on May 15. By then Russian officials had publicly acknowledged that their investigation was under way.

In addition, in the loan contract, Citibank warned Norilsk Nickel against misrepresenting any details of its undertakings, and gave the company 15 days to correct any statement that “is or proves to have been incorrect or misleading in any material respect when made or deemed to be made.”

Citibank showed just how well it has learned from a study of Potanin’s old tricks, as well as how closely it is following the Khodorkovsky case. In Section 21, titled “Events of Default”, the bank’s lawyers spelled out what might trigger an immediate call for repayment. In addition to non-payment on schedule, these “events” include a debt claim of more than $20 million against any member of the Norilsk Nickel group; a court insolvency action; government action to “displace” or “curtail” management of the group’s companies; government tax claims; government-ordered actions to “seize, nationalise, expropriate or compulsorily acquire” group assets; a repeat of the August 1998 debt repayment moratorium; or changes in the existing shareholding or shareholders’ capital.

Citibank has claimed through Spiro Youkim, one of the loan negotiators, that the transaction did not require Central Bank or Russian government approval. Norilsk Nickel was emphatic on the same point. Sources close to the Central Bank say they are mistaken. The Central Bank itself is non-committal so far, but is reviewing the deal. Several agencies of the Russian government, including the Security Council advising the President, say the same thing. Whether Citibank and Norilsk Nickel are right or not, an investigation is an investigation, just as Potanin discovered that a Kremlin warning is a Kremlin warning. When they happened, they ought to have triggered Section 21.4 of the contract, regarding the start of administrative investigations.

When asked about this, Citibank has said through a spokesman: “We cannot comment further.” Norilsk Nickel’s Polikarpov also did not respond to questions.

At May 31, Norilsk Nickel should have repaid half the loan, and owe $400 million. Were a serious default “event” to occur now, and Citibank have a problem extracting the cash from Norilsk Nickel, its legal claim for Norimet’s Gold Fields shares in the UK courts would almost certainly give it the collateral required. All the same, the cost would be to slash the Gold Fields share price. Still, for Citibank there must be confidence that it could realize at least $400-million worth of value from what was $1.16 billion worth of stock on March 29. By advising one side, and then lending to the other, Citibank has done well out of the deal.

Its debut as the free-to-air advisor to the world, including the Kremlin, on the risks of doing business with Potanin has been unexpected, however.

RED HAS TURNED YELLOW – THE GREEK AND CYPRIOT COMMUNISTS ARE FLYING A DIFFERENT FLAG IN THE UKRAINE WAR



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.”

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IF IT SMELLS ALLURING, IT’S RUSSIAN – IN WARTIME L’ORÉAL (FRANCE) AND ESTÉE LAUDER (US) MAKE A BAD SMELL



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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THE WAR AGAINST FOOD – WHO IS TO BLAME



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

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.  

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EXILE



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.”

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IN THE FOG OF WAR THERE’S THE GUTERRES CERTAINTY AND THE CADIEU CERTAINTY – GORILLA RADIO SEES THROUGH THE COVER-UP



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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DID UN SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES COMMIT A WAR CRIME AT AZOVSTAL?

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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THE LAST DITCH IS POLAND – RUSSIA’S PHASE-3 PLAN FOR WESTERN UKRAINE



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

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.

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THE MATLIN PLOT, THE BROWDER PLOT AND THE NEW YORK TIMES PLOT



By Lucy Komisar,  New York*
  @bears_with

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.

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YELLOW COAL, THE FUEL MADE OUT OF RACE HATRED — MAY DAY MESSAGE FROM SIGIZMUND KRZHIZHANOVSKY, 1939



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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IS CAESARISM THE PROBLEM, THE SOLUTION, A FANCY DRESS COSTUME, OR A PROPAGANDA CARTOON?



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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