GLAZYEV, THE JOKER IN THE PACK

It was the 19th century English poet William Wordsworth who once warned that “in modern business it is not the crook who is to be feared most; it is the honest man who doesn’t know what he is doing.”

Since self-proclaimed presidential candidate Sergei Glazyev isn’t a crook, and he sues television broadcasters for moral damage for so much as suggesting that not all his qualifying signatures are valid, let us hasten to our conclusion by declaring that he is, or at least was, an honest man, who doesn’t know what he is doing. According to those who have known him since he was a precocious university student, it has always been so. Glazyev’s problem is that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know about himself. That can be a fatal, if not quite tragic flaw, in politics. It is not something that anyone else in Russian politics need be afraid of.

When it comes to fatal flaws, Dmitri Rogozin, Glazyev’s erstwhile partner these days, has seen them before. In 1995, for example, when Rogozin was manager and strategist for a political movement called the Congress of Russian Communities (KRO), Rogozin was the brains behind the political rise of General Alexander Lebed. Like Glazyev, Lebed was an honest man, who didn’t know what he was doing. Like Glazyev too, he had an ambition for power; an intolerance of fools; and a vanity that couldn’t abide an insult, but was easy prey to flattery.

Lebed was Rogozin’s candidate to fire up Russian voters during the 1995 Duma election campaign as an alternative to Yeltsin, whom Rogozin detested, but found useful; and to the Communist party, whom Rogozin judged to have no usefulness, nor any future for himself.

Rogozin explained Lebed’s positioning to me in June of 1996. That was six months after Lebed had helped push KRO over the 5-percent barrier, and into the new Duma – only to see Yeltsin use fraud to lower the official vote tally, and keep him out. Yeltsin’s aides then approached Rogozin and Lebed with a fresh offer. They would help Lebed to double his vote in the first round of the presidential election, in order to draw votes away from the Communist Party candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, then well in front of Yeltsin among the majority of voters. If Lebed could neutralize Zyuganov’s lead, Yeltsin’s men promised a fresh deal. Lebed could have his choice of a senior post in the new Yeltsin administration, they said, in exchange for directing his voters towards Yeltsin in the second round against Zyuganov. Lebed asked for a revival of the vice-presidency. It was agreed, Rogozin said, that he would get a post with “broad authority to control the force structures and the right to confirm candidates for all major ministries.” When Lebed won just over 14% in the June 16 ballot, he had demonstrated his part of the bargain. Yeltsin had barely managed to stay ahead of Zyuganov, 34% to 31%. All that remained was for Yeltsin to promote Lebed to the Kremlin, and for Lebed to endorse Yeltsin in the second round. Within twenty-four hours of the poll, Lebed took the post of head of the Security Council. The power in the portfolio was kept secret, however.

As Rogozin explained what happened next, Anatoly Chubais, the presidential campaign chief, intervened. Just three days after Lebed’s appointment, Chubais forced Yeltsin to fire the two crucial advisors, Alexander Korzhakov and Mikhail Barsukov, who had been behind the Lebed deal. For seventy-two hours, Lebed thought he had been in charge of the government, when Chubais made his move. Once Korzhakov and Barsukhov were out, Lebed found himself isolated, and compared to Chubais with Yeltsin, impotent. It was a position that Rogozin had warned Lebed to avoid, but the general wouldn’t listen. It was also the end of Lebed’s power, before he had even begun to exercise it. It was the end of Rogozin’s support for Lebed.

It’s a charming coincidence that, after Yeltsin won the presidency over Zyuganov, and Chubais had reinforced himself, Lebed engaged Glazyev to serve as his deputy in charge of economic security. It’s a post that didn’t last long. Glazyev doesn’t like to talk about it nowadays, especially not when it is recalled that he and Lebed went on the attack against oligarchs like Vladimir Potanin. For a time, Glazyev even attempted to reverse Potanin’s illegal grab of Norilsk Nickel. But with Glazyev under Lebed’s boot, and Lebed under Chubais’s thumb, Potanin won out easily. Glazyev is so uncomfortable about what happened then, that when asked several times last year, during his campaign for the Duma, whether he backed the Norilsk Nickel workers in their campaign against Potanin, he refused to answer. Even during Potanin’s fraudulent, if feeble campaign to prevent the election of union leader Valery Melnikov to become Mayor of Norilsk city, Glazyev kept his mouth shut.

There are very few new tricks in politics, and so it isn’t exactly another coincidence that when Glazyev and Rogozin led their Rodina (“Motherland”) bloc in the December parliamentary election, they aimed their fire at a target they defined so vaguely that it wouldn’t embarrass Glazyev to name names. In 1996 Rogozin and Lebed made a deal with Yeltsin that they would campaign aggressively, but never attack Yeltsin personally. Only the voters were fooled. In 2003 Glazyev never attacked President Vladimir Putin, nor did he attack any of the oligarchs by name. In January, after Glazyev announced his run for the president, a Moscow newspaper asked him what he had to say about the incumbent. He replied, without using Putin’s name: “The Kremlin’s pursuing a policy of passively following price fluctuations in the global fuel market. This policy deprives us of economic growth because it encourages the brain drain and capital flight.” If this is an honest man saying what he really thinks of a politician he’s trying to beat, it’s plain he doesn’t know what he is doing.

During the Duma campaign, I asked Glazyev to say what he thought of the sale of Yukos to a foreign oil company. He refused to reply. When Vedomosti recently asked him to speak directly on the arrest and jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Glazyev responded:

“Business and government should be separated, since the government promotes national interests while business promotes its own interests.” I have tried to get him to be specific. Does he believe Putin is backing the oligarchs in general? Roman Abramovich in particular? What does he advocate for government policy towards Norilsk Nickel’s shareholding control by Potanin? Does he favour restructuring the Deripaska aluminium empire in any way? Glazyev evades the questions by instructing his spokesmen to say he’s too busy. The refusal to answer is obvious, nonetheless.

It is also obvious that the break Rogozin once came to with Lebed has occurred again with Glazyev, and with about the same speed as before. The only difference is that in 1996 Lebed failed to anticipate the double-cross which Yeltsin pulled on him, after Lebed had surrendered. Maybe this time Glazyev has pulled the double-cross first, deciding to run against Putin, after doing what the Kremlin wanted him to do during the Duma campaign. However, if Glazyev is honest about running against the president, he doesn’t seem capable of moving his mouth in that direction.

Over his years in politics Glazyev has come to regard himself as an ace. But the facts speak louder than he does. He is more the joker in the pack – the card that game-players can use to serve any value or function at all.

MORDASHOV TO PAY $570 MN FOR ITALIAN LOSSMAKER

Ahead of official announcements by Severstal and Lucchini, sources close to the Russian steelmaker expect that Severstal will sign an agreement this week to pay $570 million for a 62-percent stake in the Italian steelmaker, Lucchini. The family-owned business has been losing more than a quarter of a billion dollars per year, and is carrying debts of about $2.4 billion. By contrast, Severstal’s debt at the end of 2004 was just under $500 million.

Exactly why Alexei Mordashov, the oligarch who controls Severstal, should want Lucchini to damage his Russian balance-sheet has yet to be explained by Severstal. As announcements of the deal were appearing Tuesday in Italy, Lada Astikas, spokesman for the Severstal international group, told The Russia Journal she could confirm nothing: “At the current stage, the Severstal Group doesn’t have information about this matter,” she said.

One reason for the caution in Moscow is that Mordashov’s Italian deal, if confirmed, would be the largest Russian investment abroad since fellow oligarch Vladimir Potanin had his Norilsk Nickel mining company pay $1.16 billion for a 20-percent shareholding stake in South African goldminer, Gold Fields. That transaction, on March 29,2004, violated Russian capital control laws. The Kremlin,increasingly suspicious of attempts by the oligarchs to drain their Russian companies of cash in order to buy offshore assets, told Potanin to reverse it. He has yet to do so,

Severstal’s acquisition of Lucchini is roughly double the value of its purchase of another bankrupt foreign steelmaker, Rouge Industries in Detroit, last year. In value transferred offshore, Mordashov’s newest acquisition ranks just ahead of the $461 million, which Oleg Deripaska, the controlling shareholder of Russian Aluminium, is proposing to pay for a 20-percent stake of Queensland Alumina Limited, a major supplier of the alumina required to produce aluminium. That deal has yet to be approved by either the Russian or Australian governments. Current Russian capital control laws require Central Bank review of the deals, and the deposit of half the transaction value in a Central Bank account for a period of about 60 days.

According to Lucchini’s press leaks, Severstal is to purchase a new capital issue by Lucchini with two instalments of cash. Half is payable now, and the second payment will fall due in a year’s time.

Severstal will have an option to raise its stake to 70-percent, if the Lucchini family agrees to further reducing their shareholding. For the present, and following the capital issue which Severstal will acquire, according to the terms of this week’s agreement, the Lucchini family will retain a diluted 25-percent of the plant while 13-percent will remain with Banca Intesa SpA and Unicredito altaliano SpA, the principal creditors of the debt-laden steel maker. In 2004, Lucchini reports revenues of Eurol.9 billion ($2.5 billion). In 2003, revenues were Eurol.8 billion, but losses totaled Euro256 million.

Lucchini Steel produces 2.3 million tons of crude steel annually from old blast-furnaces at plants in Italy, and another 1.1 million tons from more modern electric-arc furnaces at a French subsidiary, Ascometal. In total, its output was 2.9 million tons in 2004.

Severstal’s main Russian plant, Cherepovets, is producing about 10 million tons of steel per annum, and with Rouge added, the total is 13 million tons. This steel is rolled into what the industry calls flat products. Lucchini produces an entirely different assortment of what are known as long products, especially rails. Part of the reason for Lucchini’s losses has been that the price of the raw materials required for turning out steel — iron-ore, scrap, and coking coal — have been going up faster than its sale revenues. However, Severstal almost certainly cannot provide any of these inputs to enable Lucchini to economize.

According to Moscow steel analyst Rob Edwards, “Severstal will post revenues of $7.2 billion in 2005; this would rise to $8.7 billion were the deal [with Lucchini] to be consummated.” He is skeptical that the deal will be profitable for Severstal. “Unlocking real long-term synergies between Lucchini and Severstal will be a more complex issue,” he said, using polite investment banking language instead of the language of risk. “Capacities at every level of the Severstal business are already stretched to deliver into rampant global demand.

Strategically, the deal would be very positive for Severstal, but again, we have to assume that Group margins will further erode, as we have seen as a result of the [Rouge] acqusition in 2004.” In short, Mordashov is about to spend half a billion dollars for a lossmaker. Why?

One theory offered by steel industry analysts is that through Lucchini, Severstal can establish a presence within the European Union, and thereby evade the tight restrictions which the Union imposes each year on imports of Russian steel. In theory, Severstal’s Cherepovets mill can turn out low-cost semi-fabricated steel, which can then be re-rolled into more valuable products for sale in the European markets which limit would otherwise limit the entry of Severstal’s metal. However, with a Severstal plant in Latvia subject to no flexibility in the European import quota for this year, Severstal has already discovered that owning European steel plants does not, and maybe cannot, breach the quota wall erected by Brussels.

Another industry explanation is that, in buying lossmaskers, Mordashov is in essence using cash that might otherwise be taxed by an increasingly diligent Russian Tax Ministry, and converting it into offshore assets that may, one day, generate untaxable benefits for Mordashov’s offshore fortune; this is currently estimated to be worth more than $5 billion. A Tax Ministry report to the Prime Ministry last September noted that Severstal was paying far less tax than the norm among Russian oil exporters, employing a variety of transfer pricing and tax optimization schemes. This isn’t exactly money-laundering, as Brussels understands the term, at least not yet. In any event, Italians in command of declining industries are desperate for any cash lifebelt that is tossed at them, whatever the source.

Some of Mordashov’s fellow steelmakers believe there are more cost effective methods for optimizing on Russian taxation than buying offshore losses. They regard Mordashov’s forays — he has also been negotiating to buy Stelco, a bankrupt Canadian steelmaker; Krivorozhstal, the state-owned Ukrainian mill; and Vitkovice, a state-owned Czech plant — as exhibiting more personal vanity than commercial sense.

Late last year, Mordashov told a steel industry conference that he anticipates “a situation in the steel industry where within a few years four to six companies each had a capacity of about 100m tonnes of steelmaking per year. We would like to be among those companies.”

Even with Lucchini’s output added, Severstal’s aggregate output this year would be no more than 16 million tons. To meet his ambitious target, Mordashov has 84 million tons still to buy.Such over-reaching ambition may have its political value, if the atmosphere for the oligarchs were to deteriorate more sharply at home, and if President Vladimir Putin were to try to retrieve his falling support among Russian voters by a fresh campaign to attack the oligarch fortunes at their root. In the past decade, oligarchs on the defeated list — Vladimir Gusinsky, the media mogul, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky of Yukos — used their cash to buy what they thought would be powerful American support to shield them from the Kremlin. When he acquired the American palladium miner, Stillwater of Montana in 2003, Potanin did much the same thing. Mordashov’s entry into the US steel market, and now his move into Italy, may, in his thinking, be a similar insurance strategy against a new Kremlin campaign.

NOVOSHIP AGREES TO MERGER LIMIT, AS RUSSIAN SHIP MONOPOLY VETOED

By John Helmer in Moscow

Limits on the transfer of shares between Russia’s state-controlled tanker companies, Novorossiysk Shipping Company (Novoship) and Sovcomflot, will fall short of the ambition of Sergei Frank, former Transport Minister and chief executive of Sovcomflot for two years. An international IPO of what may be, potentially, the third largest oil tanker fleet in the world, has also been vetoed for the duration of the Russian election campaign period, and the distribution of the IPO value premium put off.

A paper swap without merger will be acceptable to Novoship’s chief executive, Sergei Terekhin. “Whatever the state will decide to do, we will do it, ” he told The Russia Journal through spokesman, Tatiana Prokopenko.

Russia’s Minister for Economic Development, German Gref, confirmed to The Russia Journal, also through his spokesman, that he has agreed to a limited tie-up between the state shareholdings of the two companies. However, he continues to oppose a merger which would consolidate the two companies into a single shareholding, with unified charter capital and management. According to Gref, the formation of a marine monopoly is unacceptable. “We are very attentive to the fact that may be no exclusive service provider”, he said.
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NEW RUSSIAN APPROACH TO COAL-MINE ACCIDENTS — GIVE THE MINE TO THE STATE

By John Helmer in Moscow

Less than a year after announcing the purchase of major coalmine group Prokopievskugol for about $100 million, Vladimir Lisin, one of Russia’s richest men and proprietor of the country’s most profitable steelmaking group, Novolipetsk, is selling the coamine back to the state for a rouble. That is considerably cheaper than the half-billion dollar cost of saving miners’ lives at the Prokopievskugol shafts where 34 men have been killed in the past six months.

Prokopievskugol (“Coal of Prokopievsk”) has eked out a precarious living on the edge of bankruptcy and mine collapse for more than a decade. It has passed through the hands of several erstwhile owners. It was last owned by Iskander Makhmudov, a coal and copper magnate, who sold it to Lisin a year ago. It was included in a package of coal and coking assets, for which Lisin reportedly paid in two instalments, indicating that about $100 million was paid for Prokopievskugol immediately; another payment of about $90 million was delayed through much of last year. Lisin’s outlay compared with $147 million in coal sale revenues which Prokopievskugol earned during the first nine months of the year.
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BISTRO, BISTRO CRIED THE RUSSIAN TO SARKOZY

By John Helmer in Moscow

Did Nicolas Sarkozy, the small rightwing candidate for President of France, benefit from the brief imprisonment in Lyon of one Russian billionaire, and from the award of a medal, days later in Paris, to another Russian billionaire, who happened to be the business partner of the first?

And was Sarkozy helped by Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, ministre blanchisseur, official custodian of French culture, receiver of kickbacks, and arranger of unorthodox donations to presidential campaign chests?

In short, on January 30, when Donnedieu de Vabres awarded the medal of Officer of the Legion of Arts and Letters to Vladimir Potanin, was this the end to an ingenious quartet of hostage-taking and ransom on the French side, procuring and precious metals on the Russian?
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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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