MOSCOW ( –On the eve of Good Friday, President Vladimir Putin called the leaders of Russia’s major businesses to meet with him at the Kremlin. The oligarchs were hoping that Putin would go long on resurrection, and short on crucifixion, at least of the type that has kept their colleague, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in prison, and destroyed his Yukos oil empire.

At last Thursday’s meeting, Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch who controls Russian Aluminium (Rusal), had his head down as Putin spoke, busy taking notes of the speech Putin was reading from three closely typed pages. Deripaska is the most active of the Russian oligarchs in Africa, with a big bauxite and alumina operation in Guinea, and ambitions to start aluminium smelting plants in Nigeria and the two Congo republics. He has also been trying to gain footholds in India, Venezuela, Jamaica, Australia,Rumania, and Montenegro.

Since the Kremlin issued a full text of the speech immediately, and Deripaska lacks short-hand notetaking among his skills, perhaps he was scribbling to show Putin how attentive he was.

Although Putin made one tentative concession to the assembled oligarchs — to cut the statute of limitations on illegal privatization to three years instead of ten – this can help Deripaska in no way, since he seized his aluminium assets and export revenues, not from the state, but from other Russian businessmen, plant managers, and workers.

“I consider it possible to support the idea of reducing the statute of limitations on privatization deals from 10 years to three,” Putin announced, paying careful attention to the word “possible”.

Putin did not say that he was shortening the statute of limitations on back-tax claims, something of much more urgent concern to most of the oligarchs, especially Deripaska. His Rusal group was identified last September in a report by the Tax Ministry to the cabinet as paying an abnormally low rate of tax on its booming aluminium export business.

This, the report said, was achieved by use of tax minimization schemes, such as tolling, regional tax-offset zones, and transfer pricing. If Putin wants to unleash the tax men, he could deliver a tax bill for Rusal of more than $1 billion per annum for each of the past five years. According to Rusal, in 2004 its aluminium sales, mostly for export, totaled $5.4 billion. Its accumulated debt -an undisclosed figure – stands at over $1.5 billion.

Putin cannot easily change the Civil Code, even if Deripaska wanted him to. Even a concession on privatization violations is of doubtful value legally, because it is not the rigged privatization, in which the Russian government itself was involved a decade ago, that opens up the oligarchs to prosecution. It is their fraud, grand theft, embezzlement, money-laundering, racketeering, forgery, and other crimes, for which the statute of limitations cannot be reduced by a presidential decree.

In the remarks which Deripaska also dutifully copied down, Putin added that “a healthy competitive environment also depends on the appropriate corporate standards and effective self-regulation mechanisms within the business community itself.” That was another warning, less ambiguous than the remark on privatization, that the oligarchs must clean up their acts.

Was this what Deripaska was doing when, a day later, it was announced in Moscow that he had settled claims against him and Rusal by Mikhail Zhivilo of Paris, former owner of the Novokuznetsk Aluminium smelter, which Deripaska seized five years ago?

It was that takeover, and the subsequent conversion of aluminium trading contracts signed between the smelter and the Base Metal Trading and Alucoal group of companies, controlled by Zhivilo, that were the basis of a billion-dollar damage claim in the US federal courts of New York. The subsequent reporting of Deripaska’s record identified him as an alleged racketeer unable to obtain an entry visa for the US. Although the substance of the allegations was never tested in the court, because it refused to accept US jurisdiction, international lenders to the Rusal group have been preoccupied ever since by the risks associated with loans to Deripaska’s offshore companies and the Rusal group in Russia.

Despite the vindication claimed by Rusal from the refusal of the US courts to try the Zhivilo case, and from a parallel rejection of jurisdiction last year by a Stockholm arbitration panel, Deripaska has now agreed to pay Zhivilo between $50 and $60 million, according to a source close to the deal. In the Stockholm arbitration, Zhivilo had sought $325 million in a trading contract claim.

When the US Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s rejection of US jurisdiction over the Zhivilo claims, Alexander Boulygine, Rusal’s CEO and close friend of Deripaska, said publicly: “each new ruling demonstrates there was never any case to begin with. Plainly, the plaintiffs thought that by generating negative publicity and raising our legal costs they could force us to pay them to leave us alone. We refused to be held to ransom.” Michael Burrows, his lead counsel, went further, attacking Zhivilo for making “false claims disguised with sensational allegations and far-fetched tales of intrigue. The plaintiffs sued without evidence or proof.”

Deripaska’s payment to Zhivilo goes a long way toward suggesting otherwise. It is the third major payment in the past 12 months by Deripaska and Rusal to claimants who had gone to court around the world, accusing his companies of contract violations, or worse.

Last year, Rusal was obliged by a Zurich arbitration tribunal and the Swiss high court to pay a $100 million claim from Aldeco, a trading company controlled by Deripaska’s arch-foe in Russia, Anatoly Bykov, the former head of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium smelter. Deripaska and Rusal have also paid off a group of consultants in the Republic of Guinea, who won a UK High Court judgement against them for $3.5 million.

Rusal refuses to respond to questions about the settlement with the Zhivilo group, or the earlier deals. A spokeswoman noted that, according to a written order issued by ex-Rusal official Yevgenia Harrison, company executives are forbidden from speaking to Mineweb’s correspondent, and will be punished if they do.

Harrison, and her London-based husband Fred Harrison, recently lost their contract to represent Rusal. They were behind a series of attempts to induce editors of aluminium industry publications, notably McGraw-Hill’s Platts newsletter, into publishing only the good news about their group. After receiving a promotional payment from Rusal, Platts recently invited a Rusal executive, Peter Finnimore, to announce that among the “lessons” Rusal has learned in trading aluminium with the rest of the world, a “high level of customer service” and an “increased emphasis on social responsibility” are important, along with “governance”.

Finnimore glossed over the internal argument over Rusal’s public image. Late last year, this had led to a clash between the Harrisons and others in the company’s public relations division, who argued that negative tactics were continuing to damage Rusal, and that a respected international PR firm should be engaged to remedy the problems.

It will not be easy for Rusal to demonstrate it is turning over a new leaf. A claim for more than $300 million by Deripaska’s original offshore partner, David Reuben’s Trans World group of London, remains to be adjudicated in the courts of the British Virgin Islands. There are other conflicts heading for the courts as well.

Again, as with the Zhivilo claim five years ago, the potential damages of the new litigation are not only substantial, financially. If they reveal Deripaska as unrepentant, his business tactics unchanged, and his potential domestic tax liabilities uncertain, they will continue to cast a shadow over Deripaska’s efforts to persuade foreign governments otherwise. This is vital for him in the Ukraine, where Deripaska is dependent on alumina supply from the Nikolaev refinery, whose privatization is already under government review in Kiev; and in Montenegro, where Deripaska’s payment guarantees for a plant takeover were rejected last month.

In Guinea, and elsewhere in western Africa, the competition for bauxite and alumina is heating up with Alcoa, Alcan, Canada’s Global Alumina, Chinese companies, and others. This rivalry is unlikely to be decided by what goes on as Deripaska wages battle in the courthouses of Europe, or at the Kremlin in Moscow. But if he is to hang on in Africa, let alone expand, Deripaska must be able to convince his Guinea, Nigerian and Congolese partners that he can be trusted.


AND the Academy Award for best fascist dictator goes to Adolph Hitler! Woody Allen cracked the joke at the ex- pense of the US habit of making awards out of self-congratulation of the least worthy type. Were anyone to dare in the same spirit, they might award the new US nominee to head the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, the title of worst American to hold such a global post.

But wait a minute. Wolfowitz is hardly American at all, having spent much of his time as a career Washington warmonger under investigation by US counterintelligence and security agencies as an agent for a foreign power — for whose benefit he is suspected of supplying intelligence, cash, weapons and other favours.

In US law books, these may be crimes against the state, possibly espionage, even treason. But not the crimes against humanity which he has encouraged his favourite small state to commit, nor those which he encouraged his addled — if not yet treasonous — president to commit in the first of the great Middle Eeastem wars, which US forces will lose.

For Russia, against whom he has been waging war since he got out of short pants, his nomination as World Bank president presents something of a dilemma — and opportunity. During the first post-Sclviet decade, the bank under James Wolfensohn was one of many tools the US, as the bank’s dominant shareholder, used to destroy the economic: foundations of its rival superpower.

It paid stipends to Russian quislings; obliged the Russian government to incur sizeable debts for the privilege of being advised to dismantle its systems of command and control; and transferred the nation’s most valuable resources into the hands of a dozen individuals eager to betray their country for personal profit.

Not without reason was Wolfensohn’s favourite Russian counterpart Victor Chernomyrdin, the prime minister who enriched him self through creating Russia’s largest company, Gazprom.

Wolfensohn waged war by other means — Chernomyrdin was his collaborator; and the Russian treasury paid in full for its defeat

This arrangement could not last, and when the revival of the feeble Russian state began to challenge the value and terms of the bank’s operations in Russia, Wolfensohn decided to commission an assessment of the effectiveness of the programmes he had promoted in Russia.

He could have engaged Joseph Stiglitz, for four of the preceding years the bank’s chief economist, Nobel Prize winner and former chairman of the US President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

But by the time Russia had grown sceptical of Wolfensohn, and called a halt to new borrowings from him, Stiglitz had become a ferocious critic of everything Wolfensohn had done, or tried to do.

Wolfensohn preferred to hand the assessment job to a minor academic who had enriched himself selling Russians the very adviot Wolfensohn asked him to evaluate. The hungry fox invited to call the roll in the henhouse was US-employed Swede Anders Aslund.

“We don’t necessarily take his advice,” commented Julian Schweitzer, the bank’s Moscow representative at the time, on the appointment

Aslund’s defence of everything Wolfensohn had done in Russia did not , encourage the Kremlin to resume borrowing. Instead, it resolved to pay Wolfensohn off, a task the Russian treasury completed just a few months ago.

From Wolfensohn’s point of view, the evaluation may have helped salve the wounds Stiglitz had inflicted on him and the institution

More practically, it encouraged him to try to evade the Kremlin’s veto on borrowing, and recruit thin Chernomyrdins in the Russian provinces.

These were governors, local warlords and corporate magnates as keen to leverage themselves with the bank as fat Chernomyrdin — and President Boris Yeltsin — had been 10 years before.

With tactics like these, Wolfensohn has hung on for another four years after the Aslund report, but in Moscow he has remained a has-been, the banker no one serious wants to borrow from.

Wolfowitz’s nomination ought to remove any possibility that Russia — now a greater oil power than Wolfensohn or Wolfowitz thought possible — would borrow itself, or recommend that anyone else should

The dilemma posed by the Wolfowitz nomination turns out to be an opportunity for President Vladimir Putin to conclude that, from Russian experience, the bank does more damage than good, and should be isolated and ignored by those countries and economies mos: in need of development financing.

This should not be interpreted as anti-Americanism.
If the Federal Bureau of Investigation were permitted to disdose all it knows, Wotfоwitz may not be the American he claims to be. And with a record like his, it may be a violation of the American statutes to borrow from Wotfowitz.

In US jurisprudence, it is not just immoral to make covenants with war criminals, it is criminal.


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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