Although Russian steelmaking is booming, so too is iron-ore mining. As the only one of Russia’s steel mills without a significant supply of iron-ore of its own, Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine, Russia’s largest steelmill, is unhappy to have discovered this week that a domestic rival may take control of most of its iron-ore supply.

In the short history of commercial steelmaking in Russia, grabbing control over raw material supplies –iron-ore or coking coal — has been the shortest route for a raider to take control of the steelmill itself. In December, after the management of Magnitogorsk beat off one hostile takeover bid by the Mechel steel and coal group, and won a rigged privatization of the last state shareholding in the plant,Magnitogorsk had seemed impregnable

This week, Alisher Usmanov, a controversial Moscow entrepreneur, who recently abandoned a raid on Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus, announced that he is looking to buy the Sokolovsko-Sarbaysky ore-processing combine (GOK), known as Sokolovka for short. The mine, which is located in Kazakhstan, supplies about 70% of the iron-ore which Magnitogorsk needs annually. In all, Magnitogorsk needs 16 million tons of iron-ore to turn out 10 million tons of steel products per year.

Although Usmanov, who is short of cash, may be bluffing, Magnitogorsk, which has been negotiating itself with Sokolovka before, is not concealing fresh concern. A Moscow press report on Wednesday, claiming that Usmanov’s Gazmetall group is negotiating with Magnitogorsk over the future ownership of Sokolovka has been rebuffed by Magnitogorsk sources as a hostile signal. Still, acknowledging the extent of its dependency in an announcement last week, Magnitogorsk’s CEO, Victor Rashnikov said he will step down from his post in April, and will concentrate on developing new sources of iron-ore and coking coal for the mill.

Six months ago, Rashnikov and his colleagues announced that they were exploring for iron-ore from the Kiryabinskoye deposit in the Bashkirian republic of central Siberia. But rated at just 20 million tons in reserves, this is too small to satisfy the steelmaker’s long-term requirements. According to Rob Edwards, metal analyst for Renaissance Capital in Moscow, “the critical mass needed for Magnitogorsk to develop a greenfield iron-ore mine is 30-40 million tonnes of reserves.” The mill also has a licence for the development of the Techenskoe deposit in the Chelyabinsk region of central Russia, with estimated reserves of 50 million tons. In another two years, Magnitogorsk says it is hoping to produce 2 million tons of iron-ore from this source in order to boost steel a output to 12 million tons in the same period.

This week, a Magnitogorsk source said: “we have heard that Gazmetall has had negotiations with Sokolovka. Knowing the ambitions of Mr. Usmanov I think the meaning of the term negotiations is acquisition.” The source did not say that Usmanov has been negotiating this deal with Magnitogorsk.

Usmanov and his associates now control the Lebedinsky and Mikhailovsky GOKs with a total yearly output of almost 40 million tons, making them the dominant iron-ore producer in Russia; a quarter of that volume is exported. The other major domestic iron-ore mines are each controlled by top-10 Russian steelmakers –Severstal (Karelsky Okatysh, OlenegorskyiGOK); Novolipetsk (Stoilensky GOK); Evraz (Kachkanarsky GOK); and Mechel (Korshunovsky GOK). In all, Russia produces about 100 million tons of iron-ore per year.

Until recently, the steelmakers used their control of the mines to hold prices down, and depress the profitability of the GOKs. But the global shortage of iron-ore has set Russian iron-ore prices free to rise, and as they have done so, they have threatened unprotected mills like Magnitogorsk with serious cost pressure. Usmanov’s group also controls two top-10 steelmills, Oskol and Nosta.

Usmanov and partner Vasily Anisimov, a former aluminium smelter owner, are currently in the process of buying Mikhailovsky GOK from the Metalloinvest group of Boris Ivanishvili. A 29.9-percent stake Ivanishvili owns in the pig-iron producer Tulachermet is also included in the deal. Usmanov and Anisimov have said they will contribute $1 billion in cash, and borrow another $1 billion from a state-controlled Russian bank. Usmanov has disclosed that he has raised about $614 million in recent sales Of his shares in Corns; he is estimated to have bought them for about $295 million.

To fund another major purchase like Sokolovka, Usmanov and Anisimov may view Magnitogorsk as a necessary partner. However, the Magnitogorsk source says the plant is not in favour of joining this bid.

The source implied that, should Usmanov take over Sokolovka, iron-ore prices inside Russia would rise above the level currently offered by Australian and Brazilian exporters to Russia. In that event, the source said, Magnitogorsk is likely to upgrade port facilities it already controls at Vladivostok, in the Russian Fareast, so as to facilitate importation of iron-ore from Australia or elsewhere. “The problem with iron-ore delivery is Russian ports,” the source said. “They are not designed tor the unloading of such cargo. But that problem could be solved if need be. And I think that time will come soon, because if Usmanov will accumulate all iron-ore mine shares, and lift the prices, we will have nothing to do besides searching for alternatives.”

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have been assessing the Russian market for sales for some time, while local steelmakers acknowledge that the cost of rail transportation across Siberia has been a deterrent for as long as local iron-ore prices remaned constrained.

Usmanov confirms through his spokesman that there have been negotiations relating to the iron-ore mine, and that Usmanov is interested in acquisition.” He did not say that Usmanov has discussed the deal with Magnitogorsk.

Alfa-Bank metal analyst Maxim Matveyey said he believes Rashnikov may try to outbid Usmanov for Sokolovka. “While almost all major ferrous metal companies in Russia have ensured their raw materials supplies, Magnitogorsk controls only 10% of its iron ore and entirely lacks its own coM. We estimate that Magnitogorsk currently buys 15% and 10% of its iron ore from Mikhailovsky and Lebedinsky GOKs. Any news about a possible solution to Magnitogorsk’s raw materials problems would be a strong catalyst for the company, but we do not expect such news anv time soon.”


MOSCOW ( –Two things are known for certain about the conversation President Vladimir Putin had with Sakha region president Vyacheslav Shtirov in the Kremlin, at the end of December.

One is that Shtirov invited Putin to come to the region for fishing. The other is that Putin replied that now is not the time.

Maybe this was nothing but small talk; maybe Putin was thinking meteorologically of the region where the average daily temperature these days is minus-40 Celsius. . But whether there was a symbolic warning for Shtirov in Putin’s remark, no-one knows for sure. But time is certainly beginning to tell, and the clock is not ticking in Shtirov’s favour.

Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond-miner after De Beers, is now undergoing a revolutionary transformation at every level of its operations. This is being directed by the Kremlin, which has ordered federal ministries in Moscow to introduce new methods of supervision and control of the company. Shtirov has been told to stop delaying or obstructing this process with his fish tales. If he does not, he has been warned that Putin may oust him from power altogether.

Yury lonov, a KGB officer, was put in charge many months ago of the company’s legal affairs and cashflow security. Then a federal government appointee, Alexander Nichiporuk, was introduced to management, first as deputy CEO; in November, he was officially promoted to be the chief executive.

Through these two officials, as well as with external auditors and inspectors, the federal authorities have also begun a crackdown on Alrosa’s trading practices and marketing channels. Among the targets, they have aimed at the system of exports through the Sakha regional Committee for Precious Metals and Gemstones; Alrosa’s mining affiliates; and near-bankrupt diamond cutting establishments in Sakha and elsewhere, which Alrosa has kept supplied with diamonds. Preferential allocations of rough diamonds to favoured diamond-buyers, discounts, unrepaid credits, unusual service fees, and offshore banking schemes have all been exposed to federal inspection. If not for the first time, these schemes have been identified as multi-million dollar lossmakers, or worse.

In parallel, the federal authorities have been contemplating their own options to reorganize the unusual shareholding structure at Alrosa. This was created by a secret decree of President Boris Yeltsin in 1993, when he was desperate to secure the favour of regional governors, like Sakha president and Alrosa godfather, Mikhail Nikolaev. This decree, and others Yeltsin issued to award state property in the Sakha region to his satraps, have never been submitted to parliament for enactment, and in their existing form they may be unlawful. Abrogating the Alrosa charter, however, may undermine most of the state property transfers in the Sakha republic, including goldmines, coalmines, and oil prospects.

In its orginal form, Alrosa is a closed shareholding company, whose shares cannot be bought and sold, except between existing shareholders. These were the federal government, with an initial 32-percent bloc; the Sakha government with a similarly sized stake; the districts of the Sakha republic with 8 percent; a military veterans fund with 5 percent; and the balance held by individual company managers and workers.

Although the closed shareholding rule appears to be clear, there has been more than one loophole in the corporate charter, and these have encouraged both speculators and takeover schemers, hoping to capitalize on what they see as Alrosa’s eventual privatization by the state. The first of these schemes to be nipped in the bud was an attempt by a private entrepreneur to buy the 5-percent stake in Alrosa assigned to a military veterans organization. Instead, this shareholding was returned to the federal government, moving its stake up to 37-percent. With that, Shtirov’s place as chairman of Alrosa’s board of directors — technically called the Supervisory Board, since the company lacks a conventional open shareholding structure – was replaced by a federal government official, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.

Kudrin, however, has been easy for Shtirov to lull into a false sense of security; and to redirect away from the challenges to federal authority which Kudrin had been instructed by the Kremlin to counteract. While Kudrin looked askance, a trade began in Alrosa shares that has substantially cut the stake belonging to workers and managers.

To evade the closed shareholding rule, companies have been created with shares that have been gifted, rather than sold. Once established as shareholders, these companies can then legally buy other Alrosa shares. Through devices like this, for example, Renaissance Capital, a Moscow investment bank, has acquired an estimated 3-percent stake in Alrosa, paying between Rb4,000 to Rb5,000 per share (US$143-$179). Whether the institution was buying for its own account, or on behalf of other investors, is not known.

The Alrosa management is reluctant to discuss what has been happening to its shareholding. One very good reason is that the federal government has decided to accelerate its takeover of the majority stake in the company, and while it has yet to decide how to manage this, one option is to dilute the minorities. Instead of holding a stake estimated to be worth $150 million –assuming Alrosa’s capitalization is calculated at $5 billion — the 3 percent held by Renaissance Capital could thus be worth little more than was paid for it. The remaining workers and managers may find themselves comparably dispossessed, or with a much smaller premium than they had been anticipating. For them, it would thus be preferable that, if anyone is to lose money in the reorganization, it should be Shtirov’s administration and the Sakha regional government.

It was on account of the stakes involved in this process that documents were leaked a few days ago in the Russian press. These indicate some of the options which the federal authorities are currently considering for the reorganization of Alrosa’s shares. Most importantly, they indicate whom the leakers prefer to suffer the value loss, rather than themselves, when the Alrosa shares are surrendered to Moscow. For example, there was r\o reference in the press leak to dilution of the management and workers, or to the free floating shareholders.

Instead, documents were cited that indicate the possibility of converting Sakha regional property to federal government property, and adding to Alrosa’s capital the value of the royalty and rental payments this property can generate. Depending on what estimate is used for Alrosa’s capitalization – they range from $2 billion to $6 billion – this option could generate up to another billion dollars in capital value for the federal government’s share in the company.

A fight over this billion between Sakha and Moscow, between Shtirov and Putin, can be delayed. But there can be no doubt about the outcome. Putin’s recent message to Shtirov was that he has delayed for long enough.

It is also in the interests of the international diamond-mining community that Alrosa’s rustlers are rounded up, and the assets corralled as quickly as possible under federal authority. Once that is done, it will be much simpler for the Kremlin to decide how and when to privatize Alrosa’s shares. That is the payoff that investors like Renaissance Capital, or that miners like De Beers and BHP Billiton have been waiting for.


The greatest dynastic struggle between two queens that is recorded in European history was the rivalry over the throne of the 16th century British empire between Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots, The contest was decided by bribery, knives, explosives, multiple murder, forgery, extortion, espionage, entrapment, torture, a rigged court, and finally the executioner’s axe. Even that was misaimed, and required three blows to kill.

Mary lost; and it was Elizabeth’s historians who got to tell the story. Mary deserved to lose, they said.But truth to tell, it was the Scottish lords who first murdered Mary’s husband Darnley, the King of Scotland;dethroned and imprisoned her; and forged the evidence that helped lead to her execution. Her son James betrayed her in a deal with Elizabeth to stake his own claim to the throne, and her spymaster Walsingham fabricated a plot to trap Mary into committing treason

Just imagine how the history of the Russian succession of President Vladimir Putin will come to be written, and by whom.

This month, for the first time since he came to power five years ago, Putin’s standing in the polls has dropped so fast and so low – maybe as many as 30 percentage points below the published numbers -that the president can no longer be confident of assuring his own succession. If he cannot do that, he and his allies realize they may soon be at the mercy of their opponents. In the fractious and unconfident staff that surrounds the president, this has triggered the worst fears they have known – for their own futures. Their loyalty, never certain in Putin’s mind, is in grave doubt; their ability to manage the state, never assured before, has become even more unlikely now. The regional lords, elected or appointed governors, have discovered they can defy the Kremlin with a few hundred elderly protesters on the streets.

And the business lords, the dozen or so oligarchs, each worth a multiple of a billion dollars, have revived the confidence to replace Putin with their own candidate. This combination of forces has provoked the most serious crisis of political power in Russia since Boris Yeltsin began his challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989. By English standards, the methods used then were relatively bloodless, although that’s no guarantee for Russia’s time ahead.

But wait a minute. This is not a history to be dictated by the winners of the 1990 contest that is obliged to repeat itself. Putin may be desperately short of voters, soldiers, and prosecutors. But he has restored the one state power that can save him this time round. It’s the power to tax.

Yeltsin abrogated that power, allowing his supporters and ^financiers to pay none, and ensuring that the voters would have no alternative but to accept a 100-percent income tax rate – the non¬payment of salaries. Putin’s “monetization” reform was premised on the quaint notion that the government’s services should be paid for at cost, and that incoming tax revenues on wealth would be more than adequate to pay for public expenditures aimed at poverty. Although he has yet to admit that the theoreticians whose plans he accepted were the same men who implemented Yeltsin’s perverse income tax, Putin has realized the colossal mistake he made in withdrawing the in-kind social benefits Yeltsin left alone, and replacing them with less cash than they cost.

The fiscal gap, Putin has been told by Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin – he learned his tax craft during the Yeltsin years as apprentice to Anatoly Chubais, the most hated man in Russia then – will cost Rb200 billion ($7.1 billion) to cover. That Putin has no choice now but to spend that money to end the state robbery of the poor, and to assuage the voters, is admitted by all, including the president. The choice that is still his to make is where and how to find this money. When the history of the Putin succession comes to be written, it will be said that Putin’s choice for how to raise that money will have decided the leadership of the country beyond the parliamentary elections of 2007, and the presidential election of 2008. Those government officials, who are already staking their own futures with someone other than Putin, the cash cannot, and should not be raised by a large increase in taxes this year.

But for Putin, a tax aimed directly at his sworn enemies, the most unpopular men in the country, ought to be the natural remedy for this crisis. And he does not need fresh manpower, nor new laws, to do so. All Putin must do is to order Kudrin’s finance ministry and the federal tax authorities to enforce the existing tax provisions on transfer pricing and tolling. A report by the Tax Ministry to the Prime Ministry last September spelled out how these schemes have been used for years to cut corporate taxes to a fraction of the legal obligation. Other tax avoidance schemes, using, for instance, the letter of regional tax laws in Chukotka – Abramovich’s territory -but violating the reinvestment provisions of those laws, have been exposed by the Accounting Chamber, especially for such beneficiaries as Abramovich’s Sibneft. However, the tax bills have not been delivered.

If he decides to do so, Putin can afford to be generous. According to a recent report by Fridman’s Alfa-Bank, “though there seems to be a general understanding in the market that more ‘prophylactic’ back tax claims for other oil producers may emerge, the general consensus is that they will not be anything comparable with the scale of Yukos’s penalties.” In other words, if Putin decides to enforce the tax laws against the oligarchs’ enterprises, he can afford to waive penalties and interest. He will have his $7 billion for the benefit of Russia’s urban poor. And before he attempts to introduce monetization of municipal housing benefits, he will be able to demonstrate to the voters that the rich will have already paid what the law obliges them to.

Call this the monetization of oligarch theft. It is so obviously Putin’s choice now that every man and woman in the street knows what is at stake if he fails to make the choice. For Alfa-Bank, “the continuing uncertainty over this issue is quite irritating, and will surely continue to weigh on overall sentiment.” Putin now must choose whether it will be he or his detractors who will decide the sentiment that will prevail in Russia.


By John Helmer, Moscow

Agatha Christie’s whodunit entitled And Then There Were None – the concluding words of the children’s counting rhyme — is reputed to be the world’s best-selling mystery story.    

There’s no mystery now about the war of Europe and North America against Russia; it is the continuation of Germany’s war of 1939-45 and the war aims of the General Staff in Washington since 1943. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and President Vladimir Putin (right) both said it plainly enough this week.

There is also no mystery in the decision-making in Moscow of the President and the Defense Minister, the General Staff, and the others; it is the continuation of the Stavka of 1941-45.  

Just because there is no mystery about this, it doesn’t follow that it should be reported publicly, debated in the State Duma, speculated and advertised by bloggers, podcasters, and twitterers.  In war what should not be said cannot be said. When the war ends, then there will be none.  



By John Helmer, Moscow

Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under  Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.

How little the Germans have changed.

But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.”  By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”  

So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.  



By John Helmer, Moscow

Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors voted to go to war with Russia by a vote of 26 member countries against 9.

China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa voted against war with Russia.  

The IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi (lead image, left) has refused to tell the press whether a simple majority of votes (18) or a super-majority of two-thirds (23) was required by the agency charter for the vote; he also wouldn’t say which countries voted for or against. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then covered up for what had happened by telling the press: “I believe that [IAEA’s] independence that exists and must be preserved is essential. The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties.” The IAEA vote for war made a liar of Guterres.

In the IAEA’s 65-year history, Resolution Number 58, the war vote of September 15, 2022,  is the first time the agency has taken one side in a war between member countries when nuclear reactors have either been attacked or threatened with attack. It is also the first time the IAEA has attacked one of its member states, Russia, when its military were attempting to protect and secure a nuclear reactor from attack by another member state, the Ukraine, and its war allies, the US, NATO and the European Union states. The vote followed the first-ever IAEA inspection of a nuclear reactor while it was under active artillery fire and troop assault.

There is a first time for everything but this is the end of the IAEA. On to the scrap heap of good intentions and international treaties, the IAEA is following the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the UN Secretary-General himself.  Listen to this discussion of the past history when the IAEA responded quite differently following the Iranian and Israeli air-bombing attacks on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Osirak, and later, the attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sites.



By John Helmer, Moscow

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided this week to take the side of Ukraine in the current war; blame Russia for the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP); and issue a demand for Russia to surrender the plant to the Kiev regime “to regain full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”      

This is the most dramatic shift by the United Nations (UN) nuclear power regulator in the 65-year history of the organisation based in Vienna.

The terms of the IAEA Resolution Number 58, which were proposed early this week by the Polish and Canadian governors on the agency board, were known in advance by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin in the late afternoon of September 14, before the vote was taken. Guterres did not reveal what he already knew would be the IAEA action the next day.  



By John Helmer, Moscow

Never mind that King Solomon said proverbially three thousand years ago, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”  

With seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, Solomon realized he was the inventor of the situation comedy. If not for the sitcom as his medicine, the bodily and psychological stress Old Solly had to endure in the bedroom would have killed him long before he made it to his death bed at eighty years of age,  after ruling his kingdom for forty of them.

After the British sitcom died in the 1990s, the subsequent stress has not only killed very large numbers of ordinary people. It has culminated today in a system of rule according to which a comic king in Buckingham Palace must now manage the first prime minister in Westminster  history to be her own joke.

Even the Norwegians, the unfunniest people in Europe, have acknowledged that the only way to attract the British as tourists, was to pay John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers to make them laugh at Norway itself.   This has been a bigger success for the locals than for the visitors, boosting the fjord boatman’s life expectancy several years ahead of the British tourist’s.  

In fact, Norwegian scientists studying a sample of 54,000 of their countrymen have proved that spending the state budget on public health and social welfare will only work effectively if the population is laughing all the way to the grave. “The cognitive component of the sense of humour is positively associated with survival from mortality related to CVD [cardio-vascular disease] and infections in women and with infection-related mortality in men” – Norwegian doctors reported in 2016. Never mind the Viking English:  the Norwegian point is the same as Solomon’s that “a sense of humour is a health-protecting cognitive coping resource” – especially if you’ve got cancer.  

The Russians understand this better than the Norwegians or the British.  Laughter is an antidote to the war propaganda coming from abroad, as Lexus and Vovan have been demonstrating.   The Russian sitcom is also surviving in its classic form to match the best of the British sitcoms, all now dead – Fawlty Towers (d. 1975), Black Adder (d. 1989), You Rang M’Lord? (d. 1988), Jeeves and Wooster (d. 1990), Oh Dr Beeching! (d.1995), and Thin Blue Line (d. 1996).

The Russian situation comedies, alive and well on TV screens and internet streaming devices across the country, are also increasingly profitable business for their production and broadcast companies – not despite the war but because of it. This has transformed the Russian media industry’s calculation of profitability by removing US and European-made films and television series, as well as advertising revenues from Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mars, and Bayer. In their place powerful  Russian video-on-demand (VOD) streaming platform companies like Yandex (KinoPoisk), MTS (Kion), (VK), and Ivi (Leonid Boguslavsky, ProfMedia, Baring Vostok)  are now intensifying the competition for audience with traditional television channels and film studios for domestic audiences.  The revenue base of the VOD platforms is less vulnerable to advertisers, more dependent on telecommunications subscriptions.

Russian script writers, cameramen, actors, designers, and directors are now in shorter supply than ever before, and earning more money.  “It’s the Russian New Wave,” claims Olga Filipuk, head of media content for Yandex, the powerful leader of the new film production platforms; its  controlling shareholder and chief executive were sanctioned last year.  



By Olga Samofalova, translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow

It was the American humourist Mark Twain who didn’t die in 1897 when it was reported that he had. Twain had thirteen more lively years to go.

The death of the Russian aerospace and aviation industry in the present war is proving to be an even greater exaggeration – and the life to come will be much longer. From the Russian point of view, the death which the sanctions have inflicted is that of the US, European and British offensive against the Soviet-era industry which President Boris Yeltsin (lead image, left) and his advisers encouraged from 1991.

Since 2014, when the sanctions war began, the question of what Moscow would do when the supply of original aircraft components was first threatened, then prohibited, has been answered. The answer began at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1947 when the first  Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) or Parts Manufacturing Approval (PMA) was issued by Washington officials for aircraft parts or components meeting the airworthiness standards but manufactured by sources which were not the original suppliers.   

China has been quicker to implement this practice; Chinese state and commercial enterprises have been producing PMA components for Boeing and Airbus aircraft in the Chinese airline fleets for many years.  The Russian Transport Ministry has followed suit; in its certification process and airworthiness regulations it has used the abbreviation RMA, Cyrillic for PMA. This process has been accelerating as the sanctions war has escalated.

So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.



By John Helmer, Moscow

The weakest link in the British government’s four-year long story of Russian Novichok assassination operations in the UK – prelude to the current war – is an English medical expert by the name of Guy Rutty (lead image, standing).

A government-appointed pathologist advising the Home Office, police, and county coroners, Rutty is the head of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit in Leicester,  he is the author of a post-mortem report, dated November 29, 2018,  claiming that the only fatality in the history of the Novichok nerve agent (lead image, document), Dawn Sturgess, had died of Novichok poisoning on July 8, 2018. Rutty’s finding was added four months after initial post-mortem results and a coroner’s cremation certificate stopped short of confirming that Novichok had been the cause of her death.

Rutty’s Novichok finding was a state secret for more than two years. It was revealed publicly   by the second government coroner to investigate Sturgess’s death, Dame Heather Hallett, at a public hearing in London on March 30, 2021. In written evidence it was reported that “on 17th July 2018, Professor Guy Rutty MBE, a Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist conducted an independent post-mortem examination. He was accompanied by Dr Phillip Lumb, also an independent Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist. Professor Rutty’s Post-Mortem Report of 29th November 2018 records the cause of death as Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity.”  

Hallett, Rutty, Lumb, and others engaged by the government to work on the Novichok case have refused to answer questions about the post-mortem investigations which followed immediately after Sturgess’s death was reported at Salisbury District Hospital; and a cause of death report signed by the Wiltshire Country coroner David Ridley, when Sturgess’s body was released to her family for funeral and cremation on July 30, 2018.  

After another three years, Ridley was replaced as coroner in the case by Hallett in March 2021. Hallett was replaced by Lord Anthony Hughes (lead image, sitting) in March 2022.

The cause-of-death documents remain state secrets. “As you have no formal role in the inquest proceedings,” Hallett’s and Rutty’s spokesman Martin Smith said on May 17, 2021, “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.” 

Since then official leaks have revealed that Rutty had been despatched by the Home Office in London to take charge of the Sturgess post-mortem, and Lumb ordered not to undertake an autopsy or draw conclusions on the cause of Sturgess’s death until Rutty arrived. Why? The sources are not saying whether the two forensic professors differed in their interpretation of the evidence; and if so, whether the published excerpt of Rutty’s report of Novichok poisoning is the full story.   

New developments in the official investigation of Sturgess’s death, now directed by Hughes, have removed the state secrecy cover for Rutty, Lumb, and other medical specialists who attended the post-mortem on July 17, 2018. The appointment by Hughes of a London lawyer, Adam Chapman, to represent Sergei and Yulia Skripal, opens these post-mortem documents to the Skripals, along with the cremation certificate, and related hospital, ambulance and laboratory records. Chapman’s role is “appropriate” – Smith’s term – for the Skripals to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb and add independent expert evidence.

Hughes’s appointment of another lawyer, Emilie Pottle (lead image, top left), to act on behalf of the three Russian military officers accused of the Novichok attack exposes this evidence to testing at the same forensic standard. According to Hughes,  it is Pottle’s “responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry takes all reasonable steps to test the  evidence connecting those Russian nationals to Ms Sturgess’s death.” Pottle’s responsibility is to  cross-examine Rutty and Lumb.



By John Helmer, Moscow

The US Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been firing several hundred million dollars’ worth of cyber warheads at Russian targets from its headquarters at MacDill Airforce Base in Florida. They have all been duds.

The weapons, the source, and their failure to strike effectively have been exposed in a new report, published on August 24, by the Cyber Policy Center of the Stanford Internet Observatory.  The title of the 54-page study is “Unheard Voice: Evaluating Five Years of Pro-Western Covert Influence Operations”.

“We believe”, the report concludes, “this activity represents the most extensive case of covert pro-Western IO [influence operations] on social media to be reviewed and analyzed by open-source researchers to date… the data also shows the limitations of using inauthentic tactics to generate engagement and build influence online. The vast majority of posts and tweets we reviewed received no more than a handful of likes or retweets, and only 19% of the covert assets we identified had more than 1,000 followers. The average tweet received 0.49 likes and 0.02 retweets.”

“Tellingly,” according to the Stanford report, “the two most followed assets in the data provided by Twitter were overt accounts that publicly declared a connection to the U.S. military.”

The report comes from a branch of Stanford University, and is funded by the Stanford Law School and the Spogli Institute for Institutional Studies, headed by Michael McFaul (lead image).   McFaul, once a US ambassador to Moscow, has been a career advocate of war against Russia. The new report exposes many of McFaul’s allegations to be crude fabrications and propaganda which the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been paying contractors to fire at Russia for a decade.

Strangely, there is no mention in the report of the US Army, Pentagon, the Special Operations Command, or its principal cyberwar contractor, the Rendon Group.



By John Helmer, Moscow

Maria Yudina (lead image) is one of the great Russian pianists. She was not, however, one who appealed to all tastes in her lifetime, 1899 to 1970.

In a new biography of her by Elizabeth Wilson, Yudina’s belief that music represents Orthodox Christian faith is made out to be so heroic, the art of the piano is diminished — and Yudina’s reputation consigned again to minority and obscurity. Russian classical music and its performers, who have not recovered from the Yeltsin period and now from the renewal of the German-American war, deserve better than Wilson’s propaganda tune.


Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

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