MOSCOW (Mineweb.com) – The official debut in Moscow this week of Brian Gilbertson as the new chief executive officer of SUAL International is the third swallow to fly.

The first was Ian Cockerill’s Moscow round with Vladimir Potanin in April, following Norilsk Nickel’s purchase of a 20% stake in Gold Fields, with the promise of acquiring more. The second was AngloGold Ashanti’s purchase in June of a 29% stake (plus a 51% earn-in right) in Trans Siberian Gold, the London-listed junior with gold properties in Krasnoyarsk and Kamchatka regions. Are these the swallows that signal the unprecedented summer alliance of South African miners with Russia’s mining industry? Or are they the birds that have flown the South African coop?

Gilbertson, the well-known SA executive who built his reputation as an international dealmaker at Billiton and then BHP BiIitton before moving to London in 2003 to chair the Indian miner Vedanta and provide consulting advice to Lonmln, has been quietly working on SUAL’s behalf for some time.

SUAL International, the international arm of Russian aluminium, alumina and bauxite producer, Siberian Ural Aluminum, is controlled by Victor Vekselberg, one of Russia’s most-powerful businessmen. Gilbertiton replaces fellow South African Chris Nerval, who had been CEO of SUAL International since vekselberg launched the new company in January 2003, along with partner Roddie Fleming, head of the London-based Fleming Family & Partners (FF&P). “SUAL as a vertically-integrated aluminum company will be transformed into a diversified company which will also have assets in the ferro-nickel, tantalum and coal sectors,” Vekselberg said at the time. International banking sources believe that Nerval accomplished little to attract either assets or investors to hit the $3-bn in capital targeted at the time of the launch of the Vekselberg vehicle. The sources are divided in their opinion of whether Gilbertson will prove to be more successful.

SA sources claim Gilbertson has already begun deal-making talks on vekselberg’s behalf, introducing him to Anglo American and to Lonmin several months ago. The latter is reportedly one of several merger or reverse-listing options Vekselberg is pursuing as he, like other Russian oligarchs, seeks international protection for hisbRussian assets and dividend income, in the wake of the Kremlin’s assault on the oligarchs at home. Vekselberg himself visited Johannesburg in February at the invitation of the SA foreign ministry; his spokesman, Bill Spears, declines to identify the business contacts he made. The company has acknowledged that Vekselberg has set up an SA branch of one of his companies, Renova, in an effort to develop black empowerment deals and to secure support in Pretoria. As Mineweb has already reported, Potanin is pursuing a similar SA strategy with a Russian cutout, based in Johannesburg, named Andrei Dubina.

Gilbertson will be based in Moscow. His appointment to SUAL follows a controversy in July with Vedanta, which removed him as board chairman after accusing him of a conflict of interest in his dealings with SUAL. “According to the international practice of corporate management, SUAL actively involves highly-skilled experts having big international experience if it does not contradict the standard rules of business,” SUAL’s spokesman Alexei Prokhorov was quoted as telling Moscow newspaper Vedomosti, when Vedanta’s concerns about Gilbertson’s link to SUAL first surfaced.

Gilbertson is the newest and most prominent of the non-Russians, who have been engaged to manage the oligarch-controlled companies, sit on their boards of directors, direct their legal and accounting departments, negotiate their borrowings, plan their mergers and acquisitions, or persuade investors to buy their shares and bonds. But can he and the others feel financially secure in managing Russian operations whose internecine complexity requires forensic skills that are way beyond their ken? In Gilbertson’s case, since SUAL apparently has not obtained – or will not acknowledge – directors’ and officers’ liability insurance cover for him, he may be directly and personally at risk of investoNifigation claims. What western executive would risk his reputation and personal fortune in taking a position in these enterprises that would expose them to the type of liability claims now filed against Russian oil company Yukos, its shareholders, American executives, and auditors? What insurance company would write a policy to protect Gilbertson in the event of a lawsuit against Vekselberg in future?

For starters, Gilbertson’s new job will oblige him to assess whether Vekselberg is powerful enough to secure the government backing in Moscow, without which there will be nothing Gilbertson’s offshore strategy can accomplish. For Gilbertson to be able to do that – and in the process second-guess his own employer – will require him to recruit two key allies in the Russian government – the new Minister of Natural Resources, Yury Truеtnev, and the Kremlin’s advisor on mining policy, Vladimir Litvinenko.

Trutnev signaled last week that he might be willing, in a campaign of press statements and newspaper leaks, he declared his independence of Litvinenko, whose official title is Rector of the St.Petersburg State Mining Institute. Trutnev was appointed to his ministerial post in March; he had been serving as the governor of Perm; in his early career he had an oilfield engineering background.

According to Moscow press reports, and statements by Trutnev, his ministry is proposing three new measures for adoption by the State Duma. The first is a limitation on the rights of foreign mining companies to bid for Russian mineral deposits. The second is the takeover by the federal government of the two-key system for licensing mineral and oil deposits, eliminating the role of the regional governments; and a new territorial limit of no more than 100 square kilometres for exploration permits for mineral deposits; territorial restrictions for onshore and offshore oil tracts have also been proposed.

A draft of these measures has leaked from the ministry, following a public statement by Trutnev of his intentions. Trutnev’s proposals stop short, however, of banning foreign companies from certain mineral or oilfield deposits that were well defined in the Soviet period, a position which Litvinenko has taken regarding Sukhoi Log, Russia’s largest unmined goldfield in the Irkutsk region. Litvinenko told Mineweb in January that Sukhoi Log‘s a “considerable deposit with a complicated geological structure. Preference should be given to domestic companies. Only in the absence of domestic contenders, foreign investors should be invited on the same conditions as the Russian contenders”. In public Trutnev said recently that “although there are situations when the state should protect the national interests in sphere of natural resources usage, such situations should not be resolved by administrative methods, and should be necessarily registered in the law,” The small print of Trutnev’s proposal would allow foreign miners to bid for Sukhoi Log, so long as they register Russian subsidiaries to do so.

In practical terms, Trutnev’s position favours Highland Gold, a London-registered gold miner, with Barrick Gold of Canada, as a minority shareholder; and Trans Siberian Gold, another London-listed junior with powerful South African AngloGold Ashanti as its partner. Trutnev’s measure would also favour the oligarchs, Potanin and Vekselberg, signaling his approval of their potential foreign listings through Gold Fields and perhaps, in Gilbertson’s case, Lonmin.

Litvinenko’s position is hostile towards the oligarchs. Calling for the adoption of a mineral and mining code “on the model of developed countries with a market economy”, Litvinenko told Mineweb in January that he favours limiting foreign investment to the processing segment of the resource sector. As for mining, he said he backs “a system of privileges and preferences for the domestic companies. He also said that he is opposed to allowing foreign investors to take shareholding control of Russian mining enterprises. Sale of shares outside Russia can be allowed, Litvinenko said, but control should be vested in a “golden share” held by the Russian government. Applying this limit on divestment by the Russian oligarchs was urgent, he said, in the cases of “Gazprom, United Energy Systems, important petroleum companies, Norilsk Nickel, and many other companies.”

Litvinenko – believed by western miners in Moscow to be much more powerful behind the scenes than Trutnev – has also been pressing for a tougher approach to the award of mining licences and to policing licence compliance. On this point Trutnev appears to agree. But Litvinenko declined to say this week whether he backs Trutnev’s proposal to allow foreign miners to register local Russian subsidiaries to qualify for Soviet in their place.

Albert Avetikov, spokesman for Polymetal, Russia’s second-ranked gold miner, recognizes Trutnev’s proposal for what it is. The new concept of the natural resources law,” he told Mineweb, “is not limiting foreign companies to participate in domestic licences, It wilt just allow for government to exercise control a Iittle better,”

Norilsk Nikel, Russia’s largest mining company and largest gold miner, told Mineweb through spokesman Elena Sherbinina: “the company did not gave me a straightforward position towards the draft law. Currently, I cannot comment, Yevgenia Komfeva, spokesman for Urals Mining and Metallurgy, the second-ranked copper producer after Norilsk Nickel, dismissed the reported controversies in the press by noting that “the law will start to work not earlier than the spring of 2005, according to Trutnev’s words, and so it is too early to draw any conclusions. Until then a lot of what has already been announced could be changed or reversed.”

Trutnev’s spokesman Nadezhda Kleymenova responded: “It is too early to discuss the draft of the law at this stage, and so I will not comment now. The press is too sensitive to all changes in the law. We are working and trying to create the best conditions for Russian companies to work; and also to remember that we are an open market, and must do everything on the basis of equality.” When Gilbertson picks up the telephone on his brand-new Russian desk, he will be testing just how much equality Vekselberg’s fortune will buy him.


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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