STEALING STEEL IN RUSSIA

MOSCOW – Andrei lllarionov is a coward, but President Vladimir Putin isn’t strong enough to say so. This makes the lllarionov case the very opposite of what Putin’s enemies in the media are claiming.

lllarionov is one of the leftovers of the laissez-faire, free-for-a-few economics of the Boris Yeltsin era (1991-99). Married to an American studying for a Harvard PhD, the combination of Harvard economics faculty and Russian privatization ought to have long ago disqualified lllarionov from any public office funded by the Russian taxpayer, let alone one at the invitation of the Kremlin. However, since lllarionov hasn’t been invited to speak to the president for a very long time, his function has been that of a cheap lightning rod – to deflect attacks on Putin himself; to unsettle Anatoly Chubais, the electricity boss and another leftover from Yeltsin privatization schemes still in office; and to confound the doctrinaire policymakers in Washington, who still have influence on American public opinion toward Putin.

Accordingly, lllarionov has served as the president’s official economic adviser, and also his emissary to the Group of Eight (G8) countries dominated by the US. These are sub-ministerial assignments in which protocol is more important than power. But without the protocol he has enjoyed, lllarionov would be one of dozens of Russian chatterers seeking a perch in the Western media. No one would pay him attention. In none of the governments of the other seven G8 countries would it be honorable for a man who advised the head of government to stay in his post if he opposed his leader. A ranking adviser in those seven governments who finds himself at odds with the policies and decisions of his superiors and colleagues would resign, lllarionov, who has repeatedly attacked President Putin’s policies, doesn’t have the gumption to do that.

After Putin’s end-of-the-year press conference, lllarionov gave several media interviews and took himself to a Moscow courtroom to watch proceedings in the trial of Yukos bosses Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. He was there, said Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, as an “ordinary visitor”. In his interviews, lllarionov did not cover much economic policy ground. Instead, he publicly condemned Putin’s handling of the oil company affair, calling Yukos “the best company in Russia”, and the dismantling of its shareholding and corporate structure the “swindle of the year”. He added: “This entire affair regrettably demonstrates that any of the official or semi-official explanations given to the public regarding the Yukos affair does not have a leg to stand on.” That remark included Putin; lllarionov knows only too well that it was the president who was the principal decision-maker in the Yukos case.

lllarionov even went on to encourage US intervention in the Yukos case. He endorsed what he called the “victorious revolution” of Ukrainian opposition leader Victor Yushchenko, warning that Putin’s policies are leading “unavoidably” to a comparable revolution in Russia itself, lllarionov said that on a Moscow radio station on December 30. On January 3, a presidential decree was released, announcing that lllarionov had been relieved of his position as Russia’s G8 emissary and replaced by presidential assistant Igor Shuvalov. There was no mention of lllarionov’s post as economic adviser, which he retains, by default.

For this performance, lllarionov has been treated as a hero in the anti-Putin press at home and abroad, not because he has enlightened anyone with the contents of his economic portfolio or said anything that hasn’t been said dozens of times before. Rather, he is the hero of the moment for having bitten the hand that feeds him. Ekho Moskvy, a radio station that used to be former US president Bill Clinton’s Moscow favorite, conducted a purported four-minute poll, in which 9,200 listeners called in -that’s 38 per second – indicating that 86% believe lllarionov should stay in his job to influence the president. The Anglo-American media then judged lllarionov’s removal as the G8 representative as a fresh example of Putin’s refusal to be influenced and of the president’s dictatorial tendency.

If 38 Muscovites per second believe lllarionov should keep his post, it would behoove lllarionov to expose a little more of his economics portfolio than the fistful of issues on which he has expressed himself so plainly. Why, for example, has he remained so conspicuously silent – why indeed has the entire Russian government, parliament, the judiciary, and the press – been so indifferent to the privatization auction of the state’s shares in Russia’s leading steelmaker, Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine (MMK), which took place the week before lllarionov launched himself on behalf of Yukos and Ukraine. Can lllarionov be a hero because he defends the corrupt privatization of Yukos but as an adviser to the president, has nothing to find fault in the mysteriously under-priced privatization of Magnitka?

On December 22, the government’s privatization agent, the Federal Property Fund, put up for auction the state’s 17.8% shareholding (equal to 24% of the voting shares) in the steel plant. Though there were 11 nominal bidders, there was, in fact, no competitive bidding and the auction was declared over as soon as it started, with a sale price of US$790.15 million – this was the government’s starting price. This can be estimated to represent a price of $0.42 per share. The winner of the stake was a company called UFGIS Structured Holdings Ltd, which represented the management of the steel plant, headed by its chief executive, Victor Rashnikov. The Rashnikov group already controlled about 57% of Magnitogorsk through a secretive web of onshore and offshore companies that also manages the trade of the plant’s annual production of 10 million tonnes of steel worth about $4 billion at current prices. A report to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov by the Tax Ministry in September indicated that Magnitogorsk paid just 12% its revenues in taxes in 2003, a fraction less than its steelmaking peers Severstal and Novolipetsk, but well below the tax rates of the major Russian oil companies. The report suggested that various tax minimization schemes, including transfer pricing between units of the same group, were at work.

Even if the Tax Ministry suspected Magnitogorsk of paying the state less in taxes than it should have, officials in other ministries thought the state should receive even less in value from the privatization than the balance sheet suggested. In July, for example, an official of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade announced that the sale of the Magnitogorsk shareholding should fetch at least $275 million. At that time, the plant management was still trying to defer a date for the privatization to enable them to accumulate enough cash to ensure that they would be the highest bidder. In August, Putin signed a decree removing the plant from the list of strategic federal property barred from privatization without express Kremlin approval. Magnitogorsk had been thus listed as part of the delaying tactics; its de-listing signaled that Rashnikov was ready to bid. Then on September 30, Prime Minister Fradkov signed a decree, adding the sale of the Magnitogorsk stake to the privatization schedule for 2004.his was the sign that Rashnikov was keen to get the sale over with as quickly as possible, before his rivals had time to raise the cash for a counter-bid. After years of red tape, the paperwork was rushed through to fix the auction date on December 22.

There was one last question the federal government had to decide. That was the valuation of Magnitogorsk, and the reserve price for the sale. It seemed that $275 million was a visibly small number and had to be increased, not least to keep it out of the hands of Rashnikov’s rivals. The price would have to be just enough to deter speculators, but not too high to create financing problems for the Rashnikov group. On November 20, the Federal Property Fund announced that the auction would start at $790.15 million. This was small enough: for the first six months of 2004, Magnitogorsk had declared a pre-tax profit of $710 million on revenues of $2.1 billion; after-tax income for the period was $524 million. Most Russian investment banks and brokers believed that rival bidding would drive the auction to a figure of not less than $950 million and perhaps as much as $1.5 billion.

What happened next is the tale of how Rashnikov’s rival, the Mechel Steel Group controlled by Igor Zyuzin and Vladimir lorikh, was persuaded to abandon a challenge it had been publicly preparing for more than a year. Mechel, whose principal steelmaking asset is the Chelyabinsk steel mill, but which also controls rich iron ore and coal mines, generated $2.1 billion in revenues in 2003 and $1.6 billion in the first half of 2004. Its annual steel output is just under 6 million tonnes.

Though the Rashnikov group was favored to win the Magnitogorsk sale because it already held a controlling interest that others were reluctant to challenge, Mechel -which had acquired a 17.1% stake for itself – announced that it intended to bid against Rashnikov, either alone or with another Russian steelmaker. But a challenger, Iskander Makhmudov’s Ural Mining and Metallurgy group, claimed that it could break up Rashnikov’s shareholding control in court and then buy up the pieces to achieve control with the state stake. But Makhmudov’s bid failed. Mechel pressed on and in October, Zyuzin and lorikh sold almost 12% of their own stock on Wall Street in the form of American Depositary Shares (ADS) to raise just over $330 million. “In our view,” reported Rob Edwards, steel analyst for the Moscow investment bank Renaissance Capital, “Mechel is gathering as much cash as possible to take part in the auction for a 17.8% stake in Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works.”

It was obvious that by itself, Mechel didn’t have enough cash to make the government’s reserve price, let alone compete against the heftier cash pile of the Rashnikov group. If Mechel were serious, then it would have to recruit a more powerful partner than itself. Various alliances between Russian steelmakers were rumored. The Evraz group, with three Russian steel mills, commands the largest steel production and earns the largest revenues; but it decided to bow out of the Magnitogorsk bidding when the Makhmudov challenge failed. Severstal, ranked third in output after Evraz and Magnitogorsk, had ample cash to buy the Magnitogorsk stake from the government. But the priority for Severstal’s spending, according to Alexei Mordashov, the controlling shareholder, was pursuit of foreign steel assets far from the reach of the Kremlin or the Tax Ministry in Eastern Europe and North America. Just one cash-rich Russian steelmaker was left -Vladimir Lisin, who controls the Novolipetsk Metallurgical Combine. For much of 2004, he had been spending an estimated $1.5 billion in free cash to take control of strategically vital assets such as coking coal supplies to his plant and ports that handle his steel exports.

It was Lisin, then, whom lorikh meant when he announced on December 9: “It is most likely that we will join up with someone.” Without saying exactly who, he had added: “We expect to conclude an agreement on joint participation in the auction in the very near future.” Over the next 10 days, Lisin made his own moves, securing permission from the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to attempt to acquire up to 42% of Magnitogorsk’s shares with up to $2.5 billion in cash. If this was the partnership lorikh had unveiled, it appeared that Mechel was very much the junior player, if at all. According to the detailed prospectus Mechel had presented to US investors in October, the company’s strategy included a plan to expand its steel production by up to 40% in the next three years. Among the asset acquisitions planned, Mechel said it wanted to “make selective acquisitions of coal and other mining enterprises”, and “to continue to selectively acquire value-added downstream businesses such as hardware, stampings and forgings producers to help us reach our customer base, including in new markets”. Not a word was said about Mechel’s bid for control of Magnitogorsk. Was lorikh putting up a smokescreen for Lisin? Or was Lisin trying to soften up Rashnikov on Mechel’s behalf?

According to Mechel, during the weekend of December 4-5 and for several days that followed, its offices in Moscow were the target of an investigation by officers from the Ministry of Interior. The federal Tax Ministry said it wasn’t involved and so did the federal headquarters of the Interior Ministry. Regional officials in Chelyabinsk added to the denials. According to Mechel spokesman Alexei Sotskov, the purpose was obvious: “Somebody is insisting on checks at Mechel Trade House to prevent its bid for Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine,” he said. A few days later, Edwards of Renaissance Capital reported that Mechel had been hit with a fresh charge that the valuation of the company’s key assets – the Chelyabinsk steel mill, Beloretsk Metallurgical Plant, and Yuzhuralnickel – had been intentionally understated in order to limit the amount of cash subsidiary companies were obliged to subscribe to the group’s capital. “We believe that the likely source of this allegation is one of Mechel’s main competitors in the auction for the government stake in Magnitogorsk steel mill,” said Edwards. “We also think Mechel still has a good chance of winning.”

Mechel had already admitted in its October 4 ADS prospectus that it could face tax problems. The company’s lawyers had warned US investors that Mechel might face “significant losses” if the Russian tax authorities “challenge our prices and propose adjustments”. According to the consolidated financial data presented in the prospectus, the Mechel group paid income taxes of $74 million in the first half of 2004, reflecting a rate of 4.5% of revenues totaling $1.6 billion. In 2003, according to the US data release, the income tax payment rate was 2.3%, and in 2002, 0.2%. According to the prospectus, there was a risk that the financial statements might be subject to revision. Mechel’s accountant, Ernst & Young, the prospectus stated, “reported material weaknesses in our internal control and we may not be able to remedy these material weaknesses or prevent future weaknesses … We may not be able to accurately report our financial results or prevent fraud.”

In a listing of risk factors associated with the offer of the group’s shares, Mechel said that Russian transfer pricing rules, which took effect in 1999, empower the tax authorities to impose additional tax on companies when transfer pricing between related entities or in foreign-trade transactions is found to differ from market pricing by more than 20%. The rules, according to Mechel, “are vaguely drafted, leaving wide scope for interpretation by the Russian tax authorities”. Acknowledging the risk of a challenge, the prospectus said: “If such price adjustments are upheld by the Russian courts and implemented, our future financial results could be adversely affected. In addition, we could face significant losses associated with the assessed amount of prior tax under-paid and related interest and penalties.” According to the prospectus, “widespread tax evasion” is noted as a general factor in Russia’s economic instability. Mechel also suggested that the Tax Ministry’s “crackdown on certain Russian companies’ use of tax optimization schemes” may be “selective”.

But when the crunch came, and officers of an anonymous government agency fanned out through the Moscow offices of its trading subsidiary, Mechel claimed it was Rashnikov, not the Tax Ministry, at work. As the value of his newly minted ADSs started falling in New York, lorikh announced that he would fight off the challenge with a heavyweight for a partner. This corrected the fall in the value of Mechel’s shares and led the Russian market to anticipate a fierce and expensive bidding contest on December 22.

But they were mistaken. On December 21, Mechel announced that it had sold its 17.1% stake to the Rashnikov group. Lisin’s bid evaporated as if it had never been, and by the time the sun came up on auction day, there was no longer any competition for Magnitogorsk. Rashnikov, according to the Mechel disclosures, had paid lorikh and Zyuzin $870 million, which amounted to a price of $0.52 per share. This was 10 cents, or 24%, higher than the government’s starting price for its stake – a small premium for Rashnikov to avoid what industry analysts had been expecting to be a final price of at least $300 million more.

Renaissance Capital, which has been an adviser to Lisin in the past, said it smelled a rat. According to analyst Edwards, “The recent probings by government organs into Mechel may have caused the sudden transformation of Mechel from a keen buyer of MMK, seemingly at any price, to a willing and happy seller”.No one spoke up for the Russian government, which had every reason to believe that if the price Mechel had received for its shares on December 21 was a fair one, the Federal Property Fund had been badly short-changed by the failure of the December 22 auction to raise any money above the minimum price. Had lllarionov the hero been focusing on his portfolio, he might have advised the president or told the media that by elementary calculation the privatization of Russia’s most famous steelmaker had failed to realize a fair market price. All the extra value in the Magnitogorsk shares had been quietly transferred to the Rashnikov group, without a murmur.

And who benefits? According to a report by Alfa-Bank’s Moscow brokerage after the share sale, “We expect Magnitogorsk to consider the listing and sale of its shares on a foreign exchange (New York or London) as soon as 2005.” It has been difficult enough for Putin to manage the process of retrieving the ill-gotten proceeds of the Yukos privatization. Had Khodorkovsky not challenged Putin early in 2004 by proposing to sell a large stake of his company to the US, he might just have got away with it. If lllarionov remains the economic adviser, the process by which Magnitogorsk has just been privatized and is about to be sold to Wall Street will be just dandy – so long as Putin doesn’t learn what happened and doesn’t interfere once again.

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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RUSSIAN REPORTING ON THE SECRETS OF THE COMMAND BUNKER UNDERNEATH AZOVSTAL



By Margarita Menshikova, translated by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

On the day before Good Friday (Orthodox), Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reported at the Kremlin to President Vladimir Putin that at Mariupol,  inside the Azovstal steel works, about two thousand troops remain underground, including foreigners. Putin issued the following order: “There is no need to penetrate these catacombs and crawl under these industrial facilities. Seal off the industrial zone completely.”  

Four days earlier on April 17, the Defence Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov told the press that “up to four hundred foreign mercenaries were trapped [at Azovstal]… Most of them are citizens of European countries, as well as Canada. We have already reported earlier that radio conversations between militants in Mariupol are conducted in six foreign languages”  

Today, an unusually detailed report by the Moscow internet broadcaster Tsargrad was published to signal the strategic significance and political value of the NATO officers in their command bunker under Azovstal.

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