SAAKASHVILI SHOOTDOWN – GEORGIAN PRESIDENT BEHIND RUSSIAN FUNDING FOR GOLD GRAB IN WARZONE

By John Helmer

Georgian gold miner Madneuli gets Russian financing for goldmine moves in Armenia, Azerbaijan lodges protest

Georgian gold miner Madneuli gets Russian financing for goldmine moves in Armenia, Azerbaijan lodges protest.

Queen Tamar, the greatest of the Georgian sovereigns (1184-1213), is responsible for the habit Georgian rulers have displayed for the past millennium of treating neighbouring Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ossetia, and the Black Sea coast of Turkey as protectorates. But as Tamar also taught her countrymen, Georgian ambition always runs out of gas when the neighbours prove to be just as ambitious, richer, or tougher.

It is thus quite natural that the current President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, will regularly denounce the Kremlin for ordering airborne attacks on his country, including a missile which fell, unexploded, near the Georgian capital Tibilisi, on August 6. The Washington Post thundered: “The United States and Europe should help Georgia bring the issue before the U.N. Security Council.” Latvia and Lithuania sent experts to investigate. Russian officials accused Georgia of planting the missile, and fabricating the aircraft incursion as part of an alleged “theatrical show”.

Then on August 21, the government in Tbilisi claimed there had been a fresh crossing of Georgian airspace by a Russian aircraft. The chief of the Russian general staff, Yury Baluyevsky, responded that the allegations were proof that “our Georgian colleagues have started hallucinating.”

Unreported and almost unnoticed, but at the same time, Saakashvili ordered his kin to apply to Moscow for financing to support Georgia’s principal mining company, Madneuli, in a bid to acquire goldmines and deposits across the border in Armenia and Azerbaijan. This month, Russian financing has covered the purchase of about $80 million in cash, plus assumption of debt, for the Zod gold mine and other assets controlled, until now, by Sterlite Gold, a wholly owned unit of Vedanta Resources, and its chief executive, Anil Agarwal.

Mineweb has reported for months that Agarwal was operating a silent auction of Sterlite’s Armenian assets, in defiance of Armenian government claims. Agarwal, Vedanta, and Sterlite said nothing to the market. Then, on August 15, eleven days after Mineweb revealed that Armenian government prosecutors had started court proceedings to revoke Sterlite’s licences, this announcement appeared on Sterlite’s website: “Sterlite Gold Ltd. (TSX:SGD) announced today that it has been advised of an agreement between its controlling shareholder, Vedanta Resources plc and GeoProMining Ltd. (”GeoProMining”), parent company of Georgian mining Joint Stock Company Madneuli, which may lead to an offer for the shares in Sterlite Gold. The Board of Directors will appoint an independent committee to receive, consider and make a recommendation regarding any proposal that may be made. Vedanta Resources plc, the holder of 84.2% of the common shares of Sterlite Gold, announced today that it has entered into an agreement with GeoProMining to tender its Sterlite Gold shares at a price of US$0.3845 per common share in cash. The Board of Directors of Sterlite Gold will communicate its views to shareholders on any offer made by GeoProMining once it has received and considered the recommendation of the independent committee.”

Sources close to the transaction say they value the Zod and related Armenian gold assets at $127 million on a debt-free basis. They believe Vedanta took $80 million in cash for the sale, plus a hand-off of obligations.
But the money didn’t come from GeoPromMining, nor from Madneuli. It came from a well-known Russian conglomerate called Industrial Investors, headed by a former state minister and ex-parliamentary deputy, Sergei Generalov. Sources close to him have been telling Mineweb for some time that they cannot speak on the record about the links between Industrial Investors, Generalov, his partner Siman Povarenkin, and the Georgian business. But they confirm that Generalov is bankrolling Madneuli in its bid for Armenian gold.
The reason why is not explained; but the question needs asking because Generalov is no gold miner. He has been focusing primarily on building up a transportation conglomerate with Far Eastern Shipping Company (Fesco); Trans-Garant, a freight railroad; National Container Company, Russia’s largest box transporter; a Baltic cargo feeder line operating from Rotterdam; and with a big new container terminal in planning for Riga, Latvia. Acquiring these assets has cost Generalov almost $850 million in debt in the past year — a heavy burden that is uncomfortable for him to bear. Last month, he offered investors a new share issue to raise $200 million in fresh cash.

Generalov is also uncomfortable to discuss the fact that Madneuli is controlled by President Saakashvili through his family. According to published remarks from Shalya Natelashvili, head of the Georgian Labour Party, “the president has played a cardsharp and stolen the gold of the Georgian people, and now it has passed into the personal possession of his family.” Natelashvili is referring to Madneuli strongman, Timur Alasaniya, Saakashvili’s uncle.

Public records and media reports from Georgia are full of scandal associated with Madneuli. In 2004, several executives were arrested, one of them in Switzerland, on warrants from the Georgian prosecutors alleging tax evasion. In 2005, the government arranged the privatization of its 97% stake in Madneuli, triggering recriminations from the parliamentary opposition. They allege that Saakashvili had arranged for his uncle to take control of the company through a British Virgin Islands front company, Stanton Equities, which was financed in turn by Industrial Investors. It was reported at the time that the sale price of $35 million (plus $16 million to cover debt obligations) was too little; Madneuli’s operating profit for the year was alleged to be around $60 million.

Generalov was asked today how he explains financing the Saakashvili family company in light of the strategic and military conflict between Georgia and Russia. He and his spokesman were not available, and did not respond.

So what exactly is a major Russian financial group, with a high-profile figure like Generalov, doing as business partner and banker to the Saakashvili family, while Saakashvili himself is lodging charges against Russia at the United Nations? In a page-long, friendly interview with Saakashvili, published by the Wall Street Journal last Monday, Saakashvili attacked his “hostile, powerful northern neighbour, even more powerful every day with oil money. But we can’t be living in a state of gloom and paranoia.” The president went on to explain how every time Russia attacks Georgia with commercial sanctions, cutting off wine import licences or gas supplies, “we had to work on developing new sources. Next year we’ll be fully supplied by Azerbaijani power.”
Saakashvili’s interviewer did not ask, and Saakashvili did not mention, the $80 million in mint Russian money delivered so recently to Madneuli. Nor did they react to the official statement, issued by the Azerbaijani government the same day, last Monday, attacking the Georgians for attempting to mine the Zod gold on territory that traditionally, and legally, belongs to Azerbaijan.

How much electricity Saakashvili can expect to get from a government which has officially ordered its Foreign Ministry to demand an explanation from the Georgian government in Tbilisi? According to the text of a statement by Arif Iskenderov from Azerbaijan’s Natural Resources Ministry, issued in Baku on August 27, the Madneuli partnership with Industrial Investors intends to mine unlawfully, because 73% of the Soyudlu (Zod) gold deposit is located on territory occupied by Armenian forces. Other estimates of the illegal extension of Armenian mining claims indicate that about 50% of the deposit belongs to Azerbaijan.

Russian sources confirm the position. They told Mineweb that, following the outbreak of inter-ethnic violence between Armenians and Azeris as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990 and 1991, the Armenian army took control of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan’s borders. They also moved on to land which was fully Azerbaijan’s during the Soviet administration. According to these sources, the Armenians then moved their border westwards, and for western miners interested in the Soviet-proved gold deposits, they changed the maps.

It is unclear what the Armenian government intends to do about the Georgian incursion, except support it. As Mineweb reported early this month, the Yerevan government had launched a court prosecution to revoke the gold mining licence issued in 1999 to the Ararat Gold Recovery Company (AGRC). This is the local operating affiliate of Sterlite Gold.

Officials in the General Prosecutor’s Office in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, confirmed at the time that the legal action also sought a judicial order cancelling all operating permits for ARGC, and freezing the company’s bank accounts and moveable property.

The prosecutors claimed they were also seeking payments by ARGC into the court of 4.6 billion Armenian drams ($14 million), plus another $10 million, to cover claims the Armenian government alleges are owed by the mining company to the state budget. Agarwal and his spokesmen refused to respond to Mineweb questions on the Armenian troubles.

Sources in Yerevan now claim that the case against Sterlite was suspended, and that no action has been taken to revoke the Zod licences. This suggests de facto endorsement of the transfer of the assets to Saakashvili and Generalov. But the Armenians appear to be undecided on the financial position. They reason that since they are the underlying owners of the assets, for which Vedanta has just taken $80 million, they must be owed something, too. Of course, this value is complicated, or zeroed, by the Azerbaijan government’s claim on the territory. The Armenians are thus looking to the “powerful northern neighbour” to show whether, in fact, it is backing Saakashvili to develop Zod — in defiance of the Azeris. Or whether Generalov and Uncle Timur have gone too far.

Saakashvili has a big interest in knowing the answer to that question, along with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. With its $80 million, Vedanta has gotten clear away from the shaky ground, under which the Zod gold is buried. But everyone left behind can see that a great deal more money will be required from the Saakashvili family and Generalov to satisfy the Armenians, and pacify the Azeris. And that’s before a single shovel can be driven into the ground for mining purposes. Saakashvili noted ruefully to the Wall Street Journal this week: “If you relax on corruption, it will come back in two months.”

BANKERS’ WAR ERUPTS OVER RUSAL ALUMINIUM IPO

By John Helmer in Moscow

LSE regulators and US government investigations trigger strategy differences on getting Rusal to market.

US and European banks are fighting among themselves over the terms of the proposed initial placement offering (IPO) of shares of United Company Rusal, the Russian owned bauxite miner and world’s no.2 aluminium producer.

The conflict between the bankers, and between shareholders in Rusal, is so intense, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), regulator of the UK market and the London Stock Exchange (LSE), has already appointed a team of specialists to analyse the disclosures, litigation, and lobbying documents that have been presented by advocates for and against Rusal, and its controlling shareholder, Oleg Deripaska.
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RUSSIA BECOMES SWING PRODUCER IN GLOBAL POTASH MARKET

By John Helmer in Moscow

For the hundred and fifty years between the Opium Wars and the end of World War II, the China Discount was notorious in the Shanghai Bund, on the bank of the Huangpu River. It represented the gap between the little western traders would agree to pay for Chinese-made goods, and the best their Chinese sellers hoped to fetch.

These days, China’s commercial demand has reversed the trading advantage. Since Chinese demand represents such a large share of the global market, especially in minerals and metals, the China Discount is now the gap between the price western sellers offer for their commodities, and what China agrees to pay. Converting the China Discount into a premium is the dream of all commodity exporters, but it is a commercial fight that requires nerves of steel.
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ALUMINIUM MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS — NORSK HYDRO’S MYSTERY DEAL IN TAJIKISTAN

By John Helmer in Moscow

Norway is one of those countries, inhabited by one of those peoples, which have exercised some of the greatest comedians in the English language – to little avail.

John Cleese once explained his assignment on behalf of the Norwegian Tourist Board, as he stepped out of a wet summer fjord wearing a business suit and snow-shoes. He said the only way to interest tourists in Norway was to make them laugh at the place. Much earlier, Saki had told the tale of a rich Londoner who paid a group of kidnappers, not to return his wife, but to keep her as reliably away from him as he thought possible — on a Norwegian island, above the Arctic Circle.
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RUSSIAN BRIEF – THE BRAVADO BOYS

OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“It’s pleasant to be here, you feel comfortable, and you don’t feel people are watching you,” Roman Abramovich on buying Chelsea Football Club in London, for equity and debt totaling $240 million.

Russian villagers like to say that if you drink you die; and if you don’t drink you die, so it’s better to drink.

This is a characteristically pessimistic twist to Russian bravado. But among the Russian oligarchs who don’t lack chutzpah, it begs the question of whether their spending is as reckless as their drinking; and whether the recent behaviour of the oil plutocrats – men like Abramovich, whose source of wealth is the top-5 oil producer Sibneft, or Platon Lebedev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the controlling shareholders of number-2 oil producer Yukos – reflects optimism, or pessimism, for their own futures. (more…)

GREAT POWER GAMES, TALCO & THE TAJIKISTAN ALUMINIUM CORRUPTION PROGRAM

By John Helmer in Moscow

Harry Lime was the character invented by novelist and one-time intelligence officer Graham Greene, who understood how an investment banker should operate when the breakdown of government makes the black market the only source of supply, trade, and profit. Lime’s racket in post-war Vienna, then occupied by the allied armies, was to steal penicillin from military hospitals; adulterate it by half; then sell it back at double the official price.

In the famous Ferris wheel conversation, high above the Vienna fairground, Lime is asked by his journalist friend about the morality of making a profit this way. Pointing to people on the ground, he responds: “If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?”.
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ZOD GOLD MINES SHOWDOWN – STERLITE LICENSE IN REVOCATION HEARING

By John Helmer

Armenia plans revocation of Zod gold mine licence, as Georgians push for bargain-priced asset flip

The Armenian Government goes to court on Monday of this week to revoke the gold mining licence issued in 1999 to the Ararat Gold Recovery Company (AGRC). This is the local operating affiliate of Sterlite Gold, which in turn is controlled by London-based Vedanta Resources and controlling shareholder, Anil Agarwal. The Armenian gold assets include two mines, Zod and Meghradzor, and an ore-processing plant at Ararat.

Officials in the General Prosecutor’s Office in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, have confirmed the legal action also seeks a judicial order cancelling all operating permits for ARGC, and freezing the company’s bank accounts and moveable property. The prosecutors are also seeking payments by AGRC into the court of 4.6 billion Armenian drams ($14 million), plus another $10 million, to cover claims the Armenian government alleges are owed by the mining company to the state budget.

Vardan Vardanyan, AGRC’s chief executive, is quoted in the Armenian media as saying the company is aware of the suit, but had no information yet about the specifics of the government’s claims.
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HOTTER THAN HARRY POTTER — COURT DOCUMENTS REVEAL RUSAL DISCOUNT

By John Helmer in Moscow

The torch that Oleg Deripaska, controlling shareholder of United Company Rusal, is trying to pass to Alexander Bulygin, Rusal’s chief executive, is proving to be a hot potato.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that in its strategy for listing Rusal shares later this year on the London Stock Exchange, Bulygin has been designated to draw attention away from Deripaska in public, and is now identified by a company spokesman as “a key strategic decision maker for the company”. Watch that indefinite article.

The Journal also reported that Bulygin is having difficulty dealing with two gaffes which Deripaska made in an interview with the Financial Times early in July, when he claimed that Michael Cherney “had no relation to my business”; and that “if the state says we need to give it [Rusal] up, we’ll give it up.” Deripaska was responding to the two risks which industry analysts and financial advisors to Rusal have flagged as the principal obstacles to a successful LSE listing of the company — Cherney’s claim, currently in litigation in the UK High Court, that he owns 20% of Deripaska’s stake in the company; and the possibility that the Kremlin may have its own claim on Rusal.
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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.

(more…)
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