RUSSIA’S MEGA-ALUMINIUM MERGER – ANOTHER FABLE FOR OLEG

MOSCOW (Mineweb.com) -According to the Aesop fable, an ass and a dog happened to be travelling the same road together, when they found a sealed document on the ground. The ass picked it up; broke the seal; and read it out, as the dog listened. The text was all about hay, barley, and straw. The dog grew bored, and told the ass to skip to the part discussing meat and bones. But the ass could find nothing like that, and said so. The dog replied: “Throw the paper away. It’s completely useless.”

The moral of the tale is that we enjoy reading or reporting only what feeds our appetite – though Aesop thought this was too obvious to spell it out himself. It is, however, a little, but unlearned lesson which Oleg Deripaska and Victor Vekselberg – the Russian equivalents of a new fable – have been performing in recent days, with the newspaper talk they have inspired of a Kremlin-approved merger between their Russian bauxite mining, alumina refining, and aluminium assets, to be paid for, or supplemented by, Swiss metals trader, Glencore.

According to the current press leaks, the shareholding of the new post-merger company would be structured to give Deripaska 64.5% of the shares; Vekselberg 21.5% plus a blocking share; and Glencore 14%. The reports claim Brian Gilbertson, the SUAL chief executive, would be appointed chairman to give respectability to the enterprise; Alexander Bulygin, Rusal’s chief executive, would run the new company as he runs Rusai. Industry analyst Rob Edwards values the combined assets of the proposed company at $6.2 billion for SUAL; $18.7 billion for Rusal; and $4 billion for the Glencore alumina properties in Ireland, Jamaica, and Sardinia, if they are to be included. Altogether, $28.9 billion. If such a consolidation materializes, it would have rated alumina production of 11 million tons per annum, and 3.8 million tons of aluminium. The latter beats Alcoa of the US, currently world aluminium leader, by a trifle under 300,000 tons.

To be fair, Vekselberg is not promoting the mega-merger at all. Rusal experts have been seen inspecting and valuing smelters belonging to Siberian Ural Aluminium (SUAL), which Vekselberg owns, and which Gilbertson manages. Gilbertson has been talking up a big deal for SUAL in the not too distant future; although he’s been doing that ever since Vekselberg engaged him to achieve just that, two years ago. Vekselberg’s spokesman, Andrei Shtorkh, is emphatic for the record that “we are not commenting on rumours at all – that means the rumours and any of their variants.” Privately, however, the Vekselberg group has not concealed its concern that the Kremlin is contemplating a buy-out of the two Russian aluminium producers, and a consolidation of their assets into a single state-controlled enterprise. Shtorkh acknowledges that this is “really a matter of concern, not only for SUAL, but for any private business, for what this process is – deprivatization.” In short, Vekselberg is playing the dog of the fable. He doesn’t see in the reported merger the value he wants for his appetite or assets. He may be hinting that the reports of the merger are intended to pre¬empt, or dissuade, the Kremlin from making its own consolidation move. In Moscow, that’s not a political game anyone wants to admit to playing – unless he is certain of winning. Apparently Vekselberg is not.

That Vekselberg has been ready to sell the privately structured SUAL has been evident for some time. A year ago, he gave up to Deripaska half of his interest in the Komi aluminium project – the major new bauxite mine in Russia’s northwest, which SUAL was having difficulty developing in the face of resistance from the state electricity and gas monopolies. Gilbertson too has been unable to deliver on his assignment – the sale of SUAL to a major international company, or an initial public offering (IPO) of SUAL shares on an international exchange. Shtorkh has conceded that if the Russian government were to conclude that aluminium is little more than a solid form of electricity -bauxite refined into alumina is then electrolyzed into aluminium – then President Vladimir Putin might be persuaded to think that state-owned gas should not power state-owned electricity plants in order to supply power to alumina refineries and aluminium smelters at prices that subsidize the profits of the private aluminium companies trading their metal abroad.

Last October, it was clear that Deripaska faced the same problem. His way out was to beat the Kremlin to the punch by launching Rusal’s shares on the London Stock Exchange. But that move has been a failure. Rusal let it be known this year that it is no longer planning an IPO. It has never explained why. According to the latest press leaks, in three years’ time Deripaska would have the option to buy Glencore out of the proposed mega-company, and then issue an IPO. An IPO postponed for that far into the future isn’t an IPO at all.

Borrowing as much as Rusal does – with debt of about $2.7 billion at present, set off against annual revenues of almost $7 billion – is relatively simple to secure for bankers in the booming aluminium market. But selling shares in an asset structure, whose owners, or former owners, claim the assets were stolen from them; and whose cashflow is subject to the possibility of multi-billion dollar Russian tax claims, is difficult. Rusal has paid off in secret settlements many of the asset and contract claims that have reached the courts of the US, the UK, Switzerland, and elsewhere. Each claim was called groundless and extortionate by Rusal, when filed. But the settlements have been paid, nonetheless. And the claimants keep coming. Not the least of these is Mikhail Chernoy, who put Deripaska in business, and who continues to claim, with pending legal action in the UK, that partial payments by Deripaska for his stake in Rusal fall short by about $3 billion.

More sensitive even than Chernoy’s claims was the ruling last month by the UK High Court that it will take jurisdiction over Rusal for trial on charges that it, its chief executive Alexander Bulygin, and Deripaska himself seized control of the Tajikistan Aluminium Plant (TadAZ) at the end of 2004 by a combination of fraud and corruption. This case is important, because it is the first time an international court of repute has asserted the right to take Deripaska and his men to trial. The pressure has forced Deripaska himself to cut short his visits to England to a bare minimum, and to claim that the Belgrave Square residence and country house he bought there are not lived in by himself. How damaging a trial would be is already indicated by the ruling of a London arbitration tribunal, which reviewed much of the same evidence, ruling last November that the Deripaska-run TadAZ had violated trading contracts with the powerful Norwegian aluminium producer, Norsk Hydro. The tribunal awarded $145 million to Hydro, while TadAZ and Rusal have sought UK court protection to keep details of the arbitration case secret. Deripaska has to bet that a UK High Court judge would come to the same conclusions about the TadAZ takeover as the arbitrators.

The High Court judgement puts all of Rusal’s bankers on notice that the metal which secures their loans could be subject to activities that a London trial would find unlawful. This is not (yet) a reason to reopen the loan contracts, let alone call in the borrowings. But the growing evidence of a pattern of corruption in Tajikistan creates fresh problems for the two international banks – the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank – which have so far been endorsing Deripaska’s reputation, as well as that of his allies in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, headed by President Emomali Rahmonov. The Deripaska pattern is also documented in other countries, according to a recent US court filing alleging similar misdeeds in the takeover of Nigeria’s aluminium smelter.

A direct sale of Rusal to the Kremlin – I mean the Russian state – would be more straightforward to accomplish than selling an IPO to foreign investors. For one thing, there are no international regulations, no disclosure requirements, no accounting rules, no transparency required. The state buyer is also in a position to agree relatively easily to the asking price, if international trader-lenders like Glencore are willing to put up the loan money for the buy-out, secured by a lengthy offtake agreement for future aluminium deliveries. Securing multi-billion dollar loans for a deal like this has already proved swift and uncomplicated for the banks when the state-owned oil company Rosneft took over Yukos; and when Gazprom bought Roman Abramovich and the Millhouse holding out of Sibneft. You might say that so long as Putin appears to be pledging the full value of the state’s credit, and aluminium prices can be expected to remain high enough for the payback period, then Glencore and its allied banks would be only too happy to open their ATMs,

But this is not what the leaked version of the merger suggests should happen. There is no telling what the President told Deripaska when they met on August 2. The Kremlin-issued “excerpts” report only a discussion of car-building, with Putin quizzing Deripaska on the difference between promise and performance at his GAZ group. Whether Deripaska was seeking permission, or receiving instructions, on the aluminium asset consolidation won’t be clear for a while. But it will be clear soon enough, and the value of the meeting may turn out to be no better for Deripaska than the session in May which Putin had with steelmaker Alexei Mordashov. That was just before Mordashov launched his hapless bid for a “merger” with Arcelor.

Like Vekselberg, Deripaska is exposed to the conclusion of the chief Russian policymaker that everyone would be better off if their aluminium assets were consolidated under control that was invulnerable to offshore supply manipulation, paid taxes, and complied with the law. For years Deripaska’s cashflow managers, led by Gulzhan Moldazhanova, have been encumbering the Russian assets with debt, passing Rusal’s cash through to the holding company for asset purchases in other sectors; and for securing profits abroad, in part by the creation of a parallel bauxite-to-metal production chain that could not be taken over in a crunch by the Kremlin.

Deripaska produces aluminium metal in Russian smelters, but as his former spokesman, Yevgenia Harrison once admitted, most of the value (read profit) in Rusal is earned offshore. “To a very large extent,” she said, “we are processors of imported raw materials. Thus, a relatively large portion of Rusal’s value added is created outside of the Russian Federation.”

This is done through what are known in the metals trade as tolling schemes. Tolling is a chain of contracts, according to which raw materials, such as alumina, are supplied to a smelter, which electrolyzes it into metal. This is then returned to the owner of the alumina and the trading chain. In Russia, this scheme eliminates 18% internal value-added tax and other taxes payable when the alumina enters the country, and the metal leaves it. But if the scheme is owned and secretly controlled by a single Russian owner, with the objective of avoiding tax, then, according to the letter of the law, it is illegal. The perpetrator of such a scheme could thus be vulnerable to back-tax claims, penalties, and interest.

Other tax minimization schemes known to have been used by Rusal, and investigated by Russian government agencies, include the registration of trading companies handling the metal in Russia in the Chukotka region, which offered tax relief in return for local investments that were never made.

The Kremlin may not want to put Deripaska on trial for tax evasion, as it did to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, owner of the Yukos oil company. But there is no reason to believe that Kremlin approval for merging Rusal and SUAL also means carte-blanche for Deripaska to run the new company on the same cashflow basis – or for Gilbertson working for a new master to do the same. Not a single publication of the rumoured Kremlin approval reveals that Deripaska (or his man Bulygin) has been approved as the new manager. As in Aesop’s fable, it is, of course, in the ass’s interest to pick up and put out only what suits his stomach.

In the current uncertain situation for Vekselberg and Deripaska, both have a keen interest in jacking up the price of a sale; declaring grand promises of investment to the future when they will have no obligation to pay; and reducing the amount of the buy-out price they would be obliged, according to Russian business practice, to share with others. Creating one variant of the mega-company at a value of $28.9 billion – with Glencore contributing alumina assets, not financing – could be a blocking move, making a Kremlin plan for consolidation too expensive to implement, as well as too slow.

Vekselberg is at a personal disadvantage with the Kremlin, compared to Deripaska; for example, Vekselberg’s wife is not related to the Yeltsin family as is Deripaska’s. Also, so far as is known, Vekselberg’s offer to exhibit his $100 million collection of Faberge eggs throughout Russia has been less appreciated than Deripaska’s hosting of Tatiana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter, and her husband, Valentin Yurnashev, at his $100 million collection of English real estate. However, Putin’s personal relations with Deripaska have been cool, and in the two meetings the Kremlin has confirmed as taking place -the recent one just mentioned, and one a year earlier – there is no sign that Deripaska has the approval he wants, and needs.

On the other hand, Vekselberg has the more lucrative oil and gas business -that, too, subject to US court trial on charges of grand larceny and fraud – than Deripaska, whose holding company is only starting to amass energy assets, and whose ambition to own oil and gold is not much more than that. Vekselberg can thus afford to exit from SUAL more easily than Deripaska from Rusal, because Rusal is the cashcow on which Deripaska’s foreign and domestic assets depend.

Those other Russian assets are also subject to domestic opposition and Kremlin counter-attack, alleging illegal takeover tactics in the paper and pulp sector; and price-rigging in the cement sector. In the latter case, a Moscow court recently upheld a price-rigging conviction of Euro Cement, a Deripaska-owned asset which is the dominant supplier to the Russian residential construction industry. Convictions of this kind by the timorous Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) are almost unprecedented; the order for a fine of Rb267 million ($10 million) unheard of. If Deripaska had the clout his promotional media claim, the FAS would have settled for a promise to curb cement price increases. Instead, the FAS accepted a reduction in the payback from Rb1.9 billion ($71.2 million), plus the promise of EuroCement to invest Rb10 billion ($375 million).

Two months ago, Oleg Deripaska summoned the New York Times to an interview, at which he proclaimed he was a new man, who had turned over a new leaf. More than that, he told the newspaper, he was “going global”, on his way to surpassing Alcoa, and becoming the world’s largest aluminium producer. Rarely has quite so much conviction of success served as camouflage for quite so much failure and uncertainty. In the language godfather Chernoy uses, that’s chutzpa. For the one question neither Deripaska’s promotion team, nor the anonymous Kremlin approvalists cited in the press to date have answered is why Putin would agree to allowing the largest tax evasion scheme in the Russian metals business to be expanded, under the same management.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.  

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RUSSIANS RAISE THEIR GLASSES – THE TOAST IS TO BEATING THE BLOCKADE OF MOSCOW



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.  

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THE INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY GOES TO WAR — GORILLA RADIO GOES NUCLEAR

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY TAKES UKRAINE SIDE IN WAR IN SEPTEMBER 15 VOTE, MAKING UN SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES EITHER A LIAR OR A FOOL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.  

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THE RUSSIAN SITUATION COMEDY IS NO LYING MATTER – THE JOKE IS ON THE OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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),  Mail.ru (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.  

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RUSSIAN AVIATION INDUSTRY CORRECTS YELTSIN YAW – BOEING, AIRBUS DITCHED



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

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.

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FOR WANT OF A NAIL THE KINGDOM WAS LOST – ENGLISH PATHOLOGIST GUY RUTTY FACES CHALLENGE TO THE RELIABILITY OF HIS NOVICHOK EVIDENCE



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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KILLING IS CHEAPER — THE US ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND WEAPONIZES TWITTER, FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, WHATSAPP, TELEGRAM

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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MARIA YUDINA OUT OF THE DARK – THE RUSSIAN CLASSICAL PIANIST PLAYS AGAIN

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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