By John Helmer in Moscow

These days investors in gold-mining stocks are behaving like diners in fashionable restaurants, subject to the same fitful appetites. On Tuesday, for example, they sold Highland Gold (HGM:LN) down 21%. But on Wednesday, they bought it up by 20%. Highland is now trading at its all-time low since listing in 2002. No doubt, like watercress soup, a sour taste goes out of fashion from time to time.

Saki once reported the trick of conveying information intended to impress in up-market restaurants. “By insisting on having your bottle pointing to the north when the cork is being drawn, and calling the waiter Max,” he wrote, “you may induce an impression on your guests which hours of laboured boasting might be powerless to achieve. For this purpose, however, the guests must be chosen as carefully as the wine.”

When Highland Gold was chaired by an English peer of the horse, betting and Tory set, a cultivar of Roman Abramovich, who brought Highland Gold into the London market, it was a simpler matter for the company to invite investors than it is today. However, Lord Daresbury stepped down in December 2004, to be replaced by James Cross, a deputy governor of the South African Reserve Bank, when certain monies required for Highland’s treasury were dispatched by Harmony Gold at the say-so of its then chairman, Adam Fleming, and his protégé, Bernard Swanepoel. They did much to charm over concerns about the transfers, and into subsequent troubles Highland ran into with Russian assets it didn’t quite own, and an asset Abramovich sold to Highland at a premium for himself. Those stories can be found in old Mineweb menus:

Mineweb Menus – Link


By John Helmer in Moscow

Coal mining in Russia is a dirty business, and mine company finances are a black box.

If the coal mines lose money, as they claim in recent financial reports, that could be because the coal is being priced for purchase by the steel company which consumes it, and also controls the capital of the mine, at a price which transfers profit downstream. The publicly available records make it impossible to know. What is now very well known, however, is that the imperative to produce more coal, at the lowest possible cost, has pressured mine managements and the miners themselves into creating unlawfully unsafe conditions in the mines. Diminishing wages, inadequate investment, and corrupt regulation combine to suppress the effectiveness of the mine safety systems that are in place, and would be protective — if they hadn’t been turned off.

This makes fatal accidents, especially methane gas explosions, inevitable. But what the proprietors of the Russian mines — the steel companies — do next is unusual.


By John Helmer in Moscow

One of the greatest of the English humourists, writing under the pen-name of Saki, once opened a tale of a disastrous horse-ride with the observation that one of the characters “was looking about as pale as a beetroot that has suddenly heard bad news”.

To aficionadoes of Saki, the wit is hilarious; but to the literal-minded, doubts arise – beetroots are purple, not pale; vegetables can’t hear bad news.

On the immediate occasion of last week’s ceremonial visit to Moscow of De Beers’ chief executive, Gareth Penny, not a word has been issued on the occasion by De Beers. Releases from the federal Ministry of Natural Resources, the Sakha regional administration, and Alrosa all confirm Penny’s passage. He met Mining Minister Yury Trutnev (not for the first time); Sakha President Vyacheslav Shtirov (not for the first time); and Alrosa’s new chief executive, Sergei Vybornov (debut). He also talked to with the Russian diamond sector’s supervisor, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, according to his ministry.

Why De Beers has been silent isn’t known, although there might be some apprehensive reddening on Charterhouse Street, if Penny could hear what the Russian diamond sector has been thinking in his wake. Like Saki’s beetroot, however, Penny can’t hear the bad news. (more…)


By John Helmer in Moscow

Base metals – Twelve lines that may make Rusal’s Deripaska a poor man LONDON RULINGTwelve lines that may make Rusal’s Deripaska a poor man John HelmerDisclosure of the Chernoy-Deripaska agreement confirms US charge, and could put London share listing in doubt.MOSCOW

In twelve brief lines of less than impeccable Russian, dated March 10, 2001, Oleg Deripaska, contender to be the world’s dominant producer of aluminium, and the man who put him in business, Mikhail Chernoy, appear to have agreed on a formula that obliges Deripaska to share 20% of the value of Deripaska’s shares in Russian Aluminium (Rusal), when or if those shares are sold.

If Chernoy is able to enforce their payment agreement, Deripaska would owe him $6 billion – assuming Rusal meets its target capitalization of $30 billion. Rusal has recently upped the number of shares it proposes to sell – from 15% to 25% — but even on the high side, and again assuming the market values Rusal at the price Deripaska wants, he will draw just $5 billion from the share sale. In short, Deripaska will be short — $1 billion short of being able to pay Chernoy what he says he is owed for the trust their agreement created.


By John Helmer in Moscow

Morgan Stanley has taken the plunge for its first-ever public investor offer of loan notes on behalf of a Russian maritime business — the Novorossiysk Commercial Sea Port. The bank is also touting for business as financial advisor to a possible initial public offering of shares for Russia’s two state owned shipping fleets, Sovcomflot and Novoship.

In the highly secretive world of Russian maritime business, public prospectuses, drafted to meet the disclosure standards of European or North American market regulators, have rarely been issued, and even less often disclosed. Volgotanker, the largest Russian tanker group until it was attacked by the Samara regional government in 2004 and ultimately destroyed, issued the first credit-linked notes for $120 million in financing, managed by Raffeisen Bank of Vienna. Security for that issue in July 2004 comprised Russian-flag vessels and shore assets — a first in a sector in which foreign banks have always insisted on foreign flagging for loan security. The Volgotanker prospectus was not made public, however.


By John Helmer

An out of court settlement has been reached between Oleg Deripaska and his Russian Aluminium (Rusal) group, and Avaz Nazarov and a group of firms associated with the Tajikistan Aluminium Plant (TadAZ).

The confidential deal was announced on Friday in London by law firm Clyde & Co, which has represented Nazarov and his group. The lawyers’ statement said: “Rusal and Ansol have reached a comprehensive settlement of all of their outstanding claims against one another without any admission of liability by either side. Both parties are content with the terms of the settlement and pleased that their disputes have now been resolved.”

Chernoy Agreement P1Chernoy Agreement P2
Nazarov and his associates at Ansol are unavailable, and their law firm says there will be no comment. There has been no statement from Rusal. Rusal spokesman, Vera Kurochkina, refuses to answer questions.


By John Helmer in Moscow

Oleg Deripaska is under unexpected personal pressure, at home and abroad, just when his plan to take control of one of the largest bauxite and aluminium producers in the world is close to final government approval. And that is exactly why the trouble for Deripaska is growing now.

Russian government authorization this month of the creation of a monopoly aluminium concern, integrating domestic and foreign bauxite, alumina, and aluminium production assets, has followed a no-objection ruling from the European Commission (EC) in Brussels. The unconditional ruling was issued by the EC on February 1.

The published text indicates that EC anti-trust regulators found no evidence that the new United Company Rusal will control a significant volume of the alumina and aluminium traded in the European Economic Area. The Commission concluded, says the release, ” that the operation would not significantly impede effective competition in the European Economic Area (EEA) or any substantial part of it.”


By John Helmer in Moscow

The decision of the Estonian government to remove the city’s Soviet war
memorial and the graves of Red Army soldiers who fell in the last war
against Germany has been an on/off thing for months.

Now that it’s on, clashes between protesters and supporters, have already
cost one life (Russian); inflicted grievous bodily injury; damaged property;
affronted the amour-propre of Estonian diplomats in Moscow; and generated
reams of anti-Russian media copy across Europe and the United States.

Even President George Bush has weighed in — on the side of the Estonian
victims of an alleged Kremlin oil cutoff. Only there’s no evidence of this.
An unusually warm burst of spring and early summer weather across Europe is
the real culprit, cutting demand for both gas and heavy oil for heating.

Gazprom, Russia’s dominant gas exporter, has also been feeling the pinch
from the weather, reporting this week that its exports to Europe fell in the
January-March period by 24%, compared to the same time in 2006. But if
Mother Nature — that Madame Butterfly ever faithful to the seasons — can
be pressed into campaigning against the Kremlin on behalf of the Bush
Administration, why blame Reuters for failing to check the temperature, and
for putting the blame on President Vladimir Putin instead? (more…)


By John Helmer in Moscow

Never complain, never explain — that was the advice of the worst loser in
modern American politics, Richard Nixon.

Norilsk Nickel, the lead mining company of Russia and biggest nickel
producer in the world, appears not to understand how to lose, now that its
bid for LionOre has been topped by Xstrata, and the LionOre board has agreed
on terms that appear to lock in acceptance of the Swiss bid.

A statement issued by the newly named chief executive at NorNick, Denis
Morozov, commits both of the Nixon faults — first complaining at Xstrata’s
tactics, and then explaining why NorNick’s losing bid might be better — if
the world were different, and shareholdings didn’t cost money that
shareholders want.



By John Helmer in Moscow

It’s a pity Vladimir Lenin was tone deaf, and dismissed music (along with chess) as an entertainment for the ruling class. Had he an ear and taste for classical music (like Karl Marx, who was keen on Beethoven, and Leon Trotsky, who loved Verdi), he might have devised a revolutionary doctrine for the performing arts. This could have protected Russia from the likes of Mstislav Rostropovich the cellist, Nikita Mikhalkov the filmmaker, Valery Gergiev the conductor, and X the theatre director.

I regret I am obliged to avoid using X’s, or his Moscow theatre’s real name, because he and his colleagues are so thin-skinned, so despotic, and so vengeful, they brook no criticism, and would react by attacking the livelihood of a member of my family.

And this is the point: the erstwhile freedom which the presidency of Boris Yeltsin introduced, after toppling Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, was not a freedom for artistic expression in Russia at all. It was the start of a new dictatorship, much worse for Russian culture, its producers and consumers, than anything that had gone before.

The eulogies over the death of Rostropovich — which followed Yeltsin’s in Moscow by five days in April — miss the point of the human rights which Rostropovich made a reputation pursuing, aggressively, during the Yeltsin period – Rostropovich’s interest was limited to advancing his own right to make as much money out of Russia as possible. Even an oligarch as wealthy as Oleg Deripaska, owner of Russian Aluminium, expressed his shock at the size of the performance fee Rostropovich once demanded for a charity concert in the Samara region, sponsored by Deripaska’s company.

Just as Yeltsin privatized Russia’s natural resources for the benefit of a handful of his supporters, who banked the cash value abroad; so Yeltsin’s privatization of Russia’s cultural resources made a handful of performing artists very rich. The cultural privatization also started a reign of new terror, in which this handful of men took control of the performing arts in Moscow – the concert halls, theatre stages, film studios, airwaves – and systematically destroyed all rivals for a dwindling state culture budget, corruptly garnering the public resources which had supported Soviet arts education, copyrights, and broadcasting, for their private gain. Unreformed, they still rule today. The destruction they wreaked was far greater, countrywide, and longer lasting than the policies of the cultural commissars of Stalin’s time. (more…)


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),  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.  



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

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

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

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

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

So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.



By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

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



By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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


Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

Copyright © 2007-2017 Dances With Bears

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