By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian strategy for extending its alliance for energy production and energy transportation into the backyard of the United States — a region Washington views as off-limits for foreign powers, since the 19th century Monroe Doctrine — marched several paces forward this week in Moscow, during the state visit of Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez.


By John Helmer in Moscow

Yury Trutnev, the Russian minister in charge of Russia’s economic relations with South Africa, is visiting South Africa, Angola and Namibia this week, in anticipation of President Vladimir Putin’s visit currently scheduled for the first week of September. Among the meetings Trutnev has arranged, the ministry told Business Day, was one on Tuesday with Tony Trahar, chief executive of Anglo American.


By John Helmer in Moscow

A lion, who copies a lion, is an ape.

That is Victor Hugo, France’s 19th century poet hero, talking of the difference between writers and hacks. If Hugo had lowered (or raised) himself to think of steelmakers, his remark might inspire sceptical reflection on what is really happening in the deal, proposed last week, for Russian steelmaker Evraz to buy a 79% control stake of Highveld Steel and Vanadium.


By John Helmer

In the Russian folk tradition, Dyed Moroz (Father Christmas) doesn’t give children their presents because they have been well-behaved all year. Instead, he responds to those who shout the loudest to catch his attention.


By John Helmer

EBRD says bauxite and aluminium loans innocent until proven guilty

MOSCOW ( — The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), a London-based lender for resource development in Russia and Central Asia, is covering up allegations of corruption in a Russian-directed takeover of an aluminium smelter in Tajikistan, the largest in Central Asia, and Tajikistan’s principal enterprise. EBRD officials are emphatic that there is nothing for them to investigate in the text of an arbitration ruling issued last November in London, or in parallel and subsequent court proceedings in the UK High Court. To understand why the EBRD insists on ignoring the possibility that its own loan agreements are being violated, it is necessary to reconstruct what has happened, and what is at stake for the global aluminium industry and its creditors.

On June 25, Olivier Descamps, the EBRD executive in charge of Central Asia and “early transition countries”, was in Tajikistan on a visit. Descamps has been at the EBRD for more than a decade, but in his new post for only a short while. Accordingly, the bank says, Descamps was making his first trip to familiarize himself with the country, and some of its main assets. On June 26, a Sunday, when a colleague says there was little else for him to do, Descamps also visited the biggest asset in the country, and its largest export earner, Tajikistan Aluminium Plant (TadAZ).

The day before, on June 25 an aircraft brought a delegation from Norway to Tajikistan. This included Norway’s Ambassador to Russia and Tajikistan, Oywind Nordsletten, and senior executives of one of Norway’s largest companies, Norsk Hydro. The ambassador told Mineweb through a spokesman that the delegation met, among others, with President Emomali Rahmonov.

According to an interview with Jean-Patrick Marquet, an EBRD resource banker, and Fernand Pillonel, the EBRD station chief in Tajikistan, they have heard that Norsk Hydro met with Tajikistan’s President on June 26. “The two missions were a coincidence — these things happen”, Pillonel told Mineweb. He and Marquet claim not to know that the World Bank and the Norwegian government — a member of the EBRD — also participated in the meeting. Nor, they say, have they learned anything since about the meeting’s outcome.

Last November in London, Norsk Hydro won an arbitration ruling, awarding $145 million against TadAZ. Norsk Hydro’s aluminium division had been the offtaker and partner of companies associated with Avaz Nazarov, who had been managing TadAZ. When the latter’s contracts were cancelled, and personnel evicted, TadAZ stopped supplying finished aluminium to Hydro, and revoked Hydro’s contracts, halting delivery of about 80,000 tons of metal.

That action triggered the arbitration provisions of the contracts, and the Norwegian company took its claims to London. There the case, covered by confidentiality provisions, turned into a highly sensitive review of how TadAZ had been taken over by companies associated with Russian Aluminium (Rusal), and with its owner Oleg Deripaska. Marquet and Pillonel say they know of the arbitration case, and its outcome. “I’m not sure Rusal was involved,” Marquet claims.

As Mineweb has reported before, with the involvement of senior Tajik officials, TadAZ was taken over by the Rusal group, the world’s third largest aluminium producer, in December 2004. Since May of 2005, these circumstances have been the focus of High Court proceedings in London, where TadAZ, backed by Rusal, is charging fraud against Nazarov and his companies. The Nazarov group has charged Rusal with corruption in the takeover of the plant, and of massive fraud.

TadAZ, which sought the jurisdiction of the High Court in London in order to attack Nazarov, claims it is not subject to UK jurisdiction in the Norsk Hydro arbitration claim.

In a series of preliminary rulings the High Court has found in favour of Nazarov, penalized TadAZ, issued a default judgement against the brother-in-law of the Tajik president, and hinted that it believes Rusal is the chief conspirator in the TadAZ takeover, the mastermind and paymaster of TadAZ’s London litigation. Rusal owner Deripaska, who owns two homes in England, has issued a detailed denial that he spends enough time in the UK to enter the jurisdiction of the English courts.

Rusal, a Russian holding with hundreds of affiliated companies worldwide, has asked the High Court to deny that it has jurisdiction over Rusal. From June 19 to July 4, Judge Cresswell of the High Court heard testimony on the jurisdiction issue. The charges themselves cannot be decided until, and unless, the court decides to take jurisdiction. Marquet, the EBRD banker, told Mineweb he knows what has been alleged against Rusal in the TadAZ takeover, and he is “aware of what the judge [in the Nazarov case] said”. But, he is emphatic, “these are purely allegations as of today.”

Norsk Hydro has confirmed winning the $145 million award in arbitration. “Hydro is confident that the award of the arbitration court will be upheld,” spokesman Thomass Knutzen told Mineweb.

In its appeal against the Norsk Hydro ruling, TadAZ has also sought to keep the High Court proceedings as secret as the November ruling. Were the proceedings to be open, then a good deal of what the arbitration decided in its ruling about Rusal would become public. Court circulars reveal that the case was scheduled to come on for hearing late in June, but it was adjourned for several months by agreement between Norsk Hydro and TadAZ. That agreement came just days after the Norwegian visit to Rahmonov. Apparently, Rahmonov, who faces re-election in November, and Hydro, which wants to resume its metal supply relationship with TadAZ, have a common interest in letting sleeping dogs lie, at least until November.

According to Knutzen of Hydro, also attending the Norwegian meeting with Rahmonov in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, on June 26, was a representative of the World Bank.

Strangely, the World Bank told Mineweb it was not there at all. “Neither the Bank nor IFC [World Bank affiliated International Finance Corporation] participated in the afore-mentioned meetings,” the Tajikistan office of the Bank said. Less interesting than the appearance of concealment by the World Bank is why it would lie, especially since, according to the Bank statement, “the World Bank does not have a program for TadAZ at the moment,” and hasn’t had one since June 2004 – when Nazarov, not Rusal, was in charge.

It probably has nothing to do with the matter, and is just another concidence, that the EBRD and the IFC agreed last January to act as co-lenders to a Russian bauxite mining project, half-owned by Rusal. In order to make that loan, the IFC conducted with EBRD what Marquet now claims was “extensive due diligence” on Rusal’s corporate practices.

On January 17 last, just two months after Norsk Hydro won its claim against TadAZ, the EBRD and IFC officially announced the completion of their review of Rusal. Subject to a set of legal covenants and an 18-month timetable of management promises, which Rusal had signed, the EBRD and IFC said they would implement their loan to the Komi aluminium project. That deal was described as a nine-year loan of $45 million from each of the multilateral banks, with “the remaining $30 million portion of each organisation’s $75 million facility… syndicated to international banks under an A/B loan structure. The term of the syndicated portion will be seven years.” The plan, according to the announcement, is “to increase annual bauxite output at SUAL’s Middle-Timan mine, situated 250 km south of the Arctic Circle, to 6 million tonnes from the current 1 million tonnes over the next four years.

According to the statement issued by Rusal at the time, “the [EBRD and IFC] decision to disburse the loans is based on the disclosure of ownership by RUSAL and provides for commitments to greater transparency, good corporate governance and high business standards on the part of the company. Compliance with these commitments is stipulated in legal documentation with the IFC and EBRD.”

The dossier EBRD’s lawyers gathered from Rusal remains secret, and EBRD officials will not discuss the details. Marquet also told Mineweb he refuses to identify the chief legal counsel of Rusal, who participated in the negotiations on corporate governance. The EBRD’s agreement with Rusal on transparency apparently doesn’t extend to the identity of the person responsible for legal compliance. Rusal also refuses to identify the chief legal counsel by name. When Marquet was asked if Konstantin Olifir had been Rusal’s legal representative, he said the name “doesn’t ring a bell.”

Olifir has been identified by another legal advisor as Rusal’s counsel. But he is no longer in his job, and Rusal refuses to identify who has replaced him. Asked if Olifir had been replaced, following the intensification of Rusal’s legal troubles in London, Rusal’s legal office referred the question to Rusal spokesman Vera Kurochkina; she repeatedly refused to respond. When asked if EBRD’s agreement with Rusal allows concealment of the chief compliance officer’s identity, an EBRD source warned Mineweb against asking such questions.

The EBRD is sensitive to sharp embarrassment on Rusal’s account. According to Marquet, the agreement with Rusal on corporate governance of last January was “comprehensive”. But he was foggy on what investigation the EBRD had done of the court records in the TadAZ case. He claimed EBRD knows nothing about the Norsk Hydro ruling, except what it has read in the media. Whether EBRD had an obligation to investigate more thoroughly, before signing its Rusal deal, is one question. Whether it failed to do so before Descamps flew out on his maiden visit, is another. If the EBRD’s dossier is as empty as the answers Marquet has given, and if the IFC failed to know what Norsk Hydro had testified to in the TadAZ takeover, before flying to meet President Rahmonov on June 26, then the signs point to an unusual state of naivety at both banks.

In this harsh world, embarrassment is often in store for the innocent. Sources in London have told Mineweb that fresh legal claims are pending there against Rusal or Deripaska in more than one unrelated case. One of the claims has been publicly aired by Mikhail Chernoy, the founder of an aluminium trading group which started Deripaska off in his business.

Chernoy, a Russian who lives in Israel, has publicly alleged that Deripaska owes him several billion dollars for his stake in the founding company of Rusal. Deripaska has said that Chernoy was paid out years ago. Chernoy claims he was paid $250 million, but is owed the difference between that amount and the value of what he says is his 20% stake in Rusal. Deripaska’s Moscow holding, Base Element, recently put a value of $7.26 billion on Rusal’s assets. That would assign an estimate of $1.48 billion to Chernoy’s claim, less the initial payment.

Fighting Chernoy in open court, or settling with him out of court, could be equally acute embarrassments for the EBRD. According to its press release on January 17, the EBRD and IFC confirmed that their lending relationship with Rusal was contingent on “full disclosure of ownership by RUSAL’s and Basic Element’s owner Oleg Deripaska, and additionally provides for detailed commitments to greater transparency, good corporate governance and high business standards, covering RUSAL and Basic Element. Compliance with these commitments is covenanted in legal documentation with the EBRD and IFC. In particular, the EBRD and IFC welcome the adoption by RUSAL of an action plan over an 18-month timetable covering significant corporate ownership disclosure, the publication of financial information and specific steps aimed at improving corporate governance…” A payoff for Chernoy is likely to contradict the ownership disclosure from Deripaska which EBRD wishes to be true. A violation of the disclosure agreement would start the legal dominoes falling towards the Komi aluminium loan.

EBRD officials believe they and their institution have no fiduciary duty to investigate the allegations in Nazarov’s case against TadAZ, nor to look beyond newspaper reporting of the Norsk Hydro case. At least, not yet — “until such time as there is a court ruling”, Marquet concedes. Until then, the World Bank’s attempt to deny its attendance at the meeting with Rahmonov on June 26, and the EBRD’s “concidental” appearance at TadAZ and in Dushanbe, are attempts to prevent the dominoes falling towards much larger loans the EBRD and World Bank would like to hand out to beneficiaries in Tajikistan.

According to public documents, last November 25, 17 days after EBRD executives might have raised a red flag about the Norsk Hydro case, the bank’s board of directors approved what it called its new Tajik strategy for 2006-2007. To date, the bank has committed Euro29.2 million to Tajikistan, including an outstanding loan of almost $2 million to Orienbank of Tajikistan; Orienbank happens to be a defendant in the Nazarov claim against TadAZ in the High Court. According to the counter-claim and testimony in that case, there was “close cooperation between Orienbank and Rusal in the carrying out of the conspiracy.” Already, the court has issued a default judgement against the bank’s president, Khasan Saduloev — coincidentally, brother-in-law of Rahmonov, Tajikistan’s President.

Last July — at the same time lawyers for TadAZ were pleading their case against Nazarov in the High Court in London — the World Bank agreed on a Partnership Strategy for Tajikistan for 2006-2009. This promises new loans over the next four years of about $120 million. Credits and grants to Tajikistan from the bank already total almost $400 million. According to the Bank’s latest loan program, “the Bank will work with the Government to…reduce corruption by giving special emphasis to measures that increase transparency of resource use.” If that was what the World Bank representative went to meet Rahmonov to discuss, why did the Bank deny he was there?

The answer rests on what happens if the London courts bring down verdicts that confirm the charges against Rusal. That, admits Marquet of EBRD, “could certainly affect our relationship with Rusal.”

EBRD says bauxite and aluminium loans innocent until proven guilty


By John Helmer, Moscow

The Polish government in Warsaw, facing re-election in less than a year, wants all the credit from Washington for their joint operation to sabotage the Nord Stream gas pipelines on the Baltic seabed.

It also wants to intimidate the German chancellor in Berlin, and deter both American and German officials from plotting a takeover by the Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, next year.

Blaming the Russians for the attack is their cover story. Attacking anyone who doesn’t believe it, including Poles and Germans, Warsaw officials and their supporting media claim they are dupes or agents of Russian disinformation.

Their rivals, Civic Platform (PO) politicians trailing the PiS in the polls by seven percentage points,   want Polish voters to think that no credit for the Nord Stream attack should be earned by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. They also want to divert  the Russian counter-attack from Warsaw to Washington.

“Thank you USA” was the first Polish political declaration tweeted hours after the blasts by Radoslaw Sikorski (lead image, left), the PO’s former defence and foreign minister, now a European Parliament deputy. In support and justification,  his old friend and PO ministerial colleague, Roman Giertych, warned Sikorski’s critics: “Would you nutters prefer that the Russians find us guilty?”



By John Helmer, Moscow

The military operation on Monday night which fired munitions to blow holes in the Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor, near Bornholm Island,  was executed by the Polish Navy and special forces.

It was aided by the Danish and Swedish military; planned and coordinated with US intelligence and technical support; and approved by the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

The operation is a repeat of the Bornholm Bash operation of April 2021, which attempted to sabotage Russian vessels laying the gas pipes, but ended in ignominious retreat by the Polish forces. That was a direct attack on Russia. This time the attack is targeting the Germans, especially the business and union lobby and the East German voters, with a scheme to blame Moscow for the troubles they already have — and their troubles to come with winter.

Morawiecki is bluffing. “It is a very strange coincidence,” he has announced, “that on the same day that the Baltic Gas Pipeline  opens, someone is most likely committing an act of sabotage. This shows what means the Russians can resort to in order to destabilize Europe. They are to blame for the very high gas prices”.   The truth bubbling up from the seabed at Bornholm is the opposite of what Morawiecki says.

But the political value to Morawiecki, already running for the Polish election in eleven months’ time, is his government’s claim to have solved all of Poland’s needs for gas and electricity through the winter — when he knows that won’t come true.  

Inaugurating the 21-year old Baltic Pipe project from the Norwegian and Danish gas networks, Morawiecki announced: “This gas pipeline is the end of the era of dependence on Russian gas. It is also a gas pipeline of security, sovereignty and freedom not only for Polish, but in the future, also for others…[Opposition Civic Platform leader Donald] Tusk’s government preferred Russian gas. They wanted to conclude a deal with the Russians even by 2045…thanks to the Baltic Pipe, extraction from Polish deposits,  LNG supply from the USA and Qatar, as well as interconnection with its neighbours, Poland is now secured in terms of gas supplies.”

Civic Platform’s former defence and foreign minister Radek Sikorski also celebrated the Bornholm Blow-up. “As we say in Polish, a small thing, but so much joy”.  “Thank you USA,” Sikorski added,   diverting the credit for the operation, away from domestic rival Morawiecki to President Joseph Biden; he had publicly threatened to sabotage the line in February.  Biden’s ambassador in Warsaw is also backing Sikorski’s Civic Platform party to replace  Morawiecki next year.  

The attack not only escalates the Polish election campaign. It also continues the Morawiecki government’s plan to attack Germany, first by reviving the reparations claim for the invasion and occupation of 1939-45;  and second, by targeting alleged German complicity, corruption,  and appeasement in the Russian scheme to rule Europe at Poland’s expense. .

“The appeasement policy towards Putin”, announced PISM, the official government think tank in Warsaw in June,  “is part of an American attempt to free itself from its obligations of maintaining peace in Europe. The bargain is that Americans will allow Putin to finish building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in exchange for Putin’s commitment not use it to blackmail Eastern Europe. Sounds convincing? Sounds like something you heard before? It’s not without reason that Winston Churchill commented on the American decision-making process: ‘Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.’ However, by pursuing such a policy now, the Biden administration takes even more responsibility for the security of Europe, including Ukraine, which is the stake for subsequent American mistakes.”

“Where does this place Poland? Almost 18 years ago the Federal Republic of Germany, our European ally, decided to prioritize its own business interests with Putin’s Russia over solidarity and cooperation with allies in Central Europe. It was a wrong decision to make and all Polish governments – regardless of political differences – communicated this clearly and forcefully to Berlin. But since Putin succeeded in corrupting the German elite and already decided to pay the price of infamy, ignoring the Polish objections was the only strategy Germany was left with.”

The explosions at Bornholm are the new Polish strike for war in Europe against Chancellor Olaf Scholz. So far the Chancellery in Berlin is silent, tellingly.



By John Helmer, Moscow

The only Russian leader in a thousand years who was a genuine gardener and who allowed himself to be recorded with a shovel in his hand was Joseph Stalin (lead image, mid-1930s). Compared to Stalin, the honouring of the new British king Charles III as a gardener pales into imitativeness and pretension.   

Stalin cultivated lemon trees and flowering mimosas at his Gagra dacha  by the Black Sea in Abkhazia.  Growing mimosas (acacias) is tricky. No plantsman serving the monarchs in London or at Versailles has made a go of it in four hundred years. Even in the most favourable climates, mimosas – there are almost six hundred varieties of them — are short-lived. They can revive after bushfires; they can go into sudden death for no apparent reason. Russians know nothing of this – they love them for their blossom and scent, and give bouquets of them to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Stalin didn’t attempt the near-impossible, to grow lemons and other fruit in the Moscow climate. That was the sort of thing which the Kremlin noblemen did to impress the tsar and compete in conspicuous affluence with each other. At Kuskovo, now in the eastern district of Moscow, Count Pyotr Sheremetyev built a heated orangerie between 1761 and 1762, where he protected his lemons, pomegranates, peaches, olives, and almonds, baskets of which he would present in mid-winter to the Empress Catherine the Great and many others. The spade work was done by serfs. Sheremetyev beat the French king Louis XIV to the punch – his first orangerie at Versailles wasn’t built until 1763.

Stalin also had a dacha at Kuskovo But he cultivated his lemons and mimosas seventeen hundred  kilometres to the south where they reminded him of home in Georgia. Doing his own spade work wasn’t Stalin showing off, as Charles III does in his gardens, like Louis XIV before him. Stalin’s spade work was what he had done in his youth. It also illustrated his message – “I’m showing you how to work”, he would tell visitors surprised to see him with the shovel.  As to his mimosas, Stalin’s Abkhazian confidante, Akaki Mgeladze, claimed in his memoirs that Stalin intended them as another lesson. “How Muscovites love mimosas, they stand in queues for them” he reportedly told him.  “Think how to grow more to make the Muscovites happy!”

In the new war with the US and its allies in Europe, Stalin’s lessons of the shovel and the mimosas are being re-learned in conditions which Stalin never knew – how to fight the war for survival and at the same time keep everyone happy with flowers on the dining table.



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.


Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

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