RUSSIAN CONSTRUCTION BOOM BUILDS STEEL OLIGARCH HOPES

By John Helmer in Moscow

Two steel oligarchs are trying riding the Russian wave of boom and bust.

There’s nothing like a little oil (and gas) to grease the wheels of demand. But announcements this week from two of Russia’s largest steelmakers — 3rd ranked Severstal, owned by Alexei Mordashov, and 5th ranked Mechel, owned by Igor Zyuzin — suggest that the boom in Russian demand for domestic construction is also lifting their confidence of surviving the redistribution of assets expected after Dmitry Medvedev wins the presidential election on Sunday.

Inadvertently revealing how nervous he is, Mordashov commissioned his London PR agent Tulchan to get out the message that, despite two serious blast furnace explosions this year, the company’s production is on the up, along with capital investment. Mordashov has also made a a show of support for Medvedev, telling a London newspaper last weekend: “I believe I should be a good CEO – and being a good CEO of a big industrial company I have to develop a relationship with the Government to help development of the company. It is in line with the normal rules of conduct. My personal relationship with the Kremlin is normal, it resembles those in France, or the US.”

Severstal recently admitted to industry analysts that all is not so normal, at least on the plant floor. its production level at the Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan — the largest of the units in Severstal North America — will be cut by 35% for up to two years, on account of the accident and explosion at blast furnace B. The accident occured on January 5 at the mill; no casualties were reported. The blast furnace had been relined in 1997.
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LOOK WHO’S DIGGING FOR GOLD IN MYANMAR

By John Helmer in Moscow

MOSCOW – Eric Ambler told the tale of a clapped-out reporter whose near-bankrupt newsletter suddenly starts to make a fortune on its classified advertisements. The journalist couldn’t understand why, but didn’t want to look his gift horse too closely in the mouth.

It turned out that someone was publishing coded intelligence on secret Chinese nuclear missile silos. The Chinese then tried to buy the newsletter at a premium to stop the disclosures.

Mysteries such as these, not all of them fictional, are remembered when phantoms emerge to sign apparently real mining concession agreements with real government officials. Take Pavel Krivoshei, whose name, possibly of Ukrainian ethnicity, suggests in Russian, Krivaya sheya, or “Crooked neck”. Krivoshei was reported by the press in Myanmar on February 16 as having signed on behalf of a Singapore-registered company, Chandwin International, an agreement to prospect for gold and other miners along the River Uru.

Krivoshei signed with U Win Te (also referred to as Win Ti), of the Myanmar Ministry of Mining’s Geological Survey and Mineral Exploration Department. Attending the ceremony was Brigadier General Ohn Myint, the mining minister, and Russian ambassador Mikhail Mgeladze. The news appeared first in New Light of Myanmar, and was then relayed by Reuters and Russian and Chinese wire services. These muddled the corporate details, and some reported that Victorious Glory International, the foreign concessionaire at the signing ceremony, is a Russian company. In Russian records there is no trace.
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POLYUS GOLD FACING INVESTIGATION OF ASSET-STRIPPING CHARGE

By John Helmer in Moscow

Never mind Walt Disney or Johnny Depp — the last certified Caribbean pirate was Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard. He died on November 21, 1718. His professional practice came to an end with five bullet holes, and 21 stab-wounds. His head was then cut off, and stuck on the bowsprit of a British naval vessel, HMS Ranger, before being taken ashore for the bounty claim. Daniel Defoe was the first to write up the tale in 1724.

The British are engaged once more; and this time the charge is piracy of an altogether modern sort. The locale is still the Caribbean. This time, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the UK markets regulator, is to investigate whether Polyus Gold – listed on the main board of the London Stock Exchange since 2006 (PLZL:LI) — is the target of an asset-stripping scheme perpetrated by a British Virgin Islands-registered company called Polyus Exploration Ltd. This looks to be the same as the company called Polyus Geologorazvedka, established last May and registered in Moscow. The English appears to be a translation of the Russian in the company title. But they are far from the same company – and that’s the rub, or shall we say in pirate lingo, rub-out.

Polyus Exploration Ltd. was registered just two months ago at Tortola, BVI, on December 18, 2007. It was created by Mikhail Prokhorov and Yevgeny Ivanov; the latter was acting on Prokhorov’s orders as chief executive of ZAO Polyus Zoloto (Closed Joint Stock Company Polyus Gold). This is a wholly owned subsidiary of OAO Polyus Zoloto (Open Joint Stock Company Polyus Gold), which is the publicly listed vehicle.
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PHANTOM RUSSIAN GOLDMINER IN MYANMAR DEAL

By John Helmer in Moscow

Eric Ambler once told the tale of a clapped-out Australian reporter, based in Hong Kong, whose near-bankrupt newsletter suddenly starts to make a fortune on its classified advertisements. The journalist couldn’t understand why, but didn’t want to look his gift horse too closely in the mouth.

It turned out that someone was publishing coded intelligence on secret Chinese nuclear missile silos. The Chinese then tried to buy the newsletter at a premium to stop the disclosures.

It’s mysteries like these, some of them fictional, that are suggested when phantoms emerge to sign apparently real mining concession agreements with real government officials. The phantom in the latest mystery is Pavel Krivoshei, whose name, possibly of Ukrainian ethnicity, suggests in Russian, Krivaya sheya — “crooked neck”. Krivoshei was reported on February 16 by the press of Myanmar as having signed, on behalf of a Singapore-registered company, Chandwin International, an agreement to prospect for gold and other miners along the River Uru.
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GAZPROM DENIES NIGERIAN MEGA-DEAL FOR NATURAL GAS FOR TIME BEING

By John Helmer in Moscow

Nigerians try to wind up international gas companies against Gazprom “threat”

Gazprom, the world’s largest gas producer and Russia’s dominant enterprise, is not ready for mega-deals with Nigeria, executives told Mineweb this week in Moscow. They also warned the Nigerian Gas Company and government officials against manipulating Gazprom as a billion-dollar bogeyman in schemes to press other international gas producers into bidding higher for their Nigerian targets.

The Russian officials are reacting to a report in Tuesday’s Daily Trust of Abuja, the Nigerian capital, claiming that a Gazprom “technical team will be around for two weeks, while the managing director of Gazprom is expected to arrive Nigeria tomorrow and may hold talks with President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. After the on-going talks with the Nigeria oil authorities, a Memorandum of Understanding, (MOU) will be signed.”

The managing director did not appear. There was no meeting with President Yar’adua. No MoU was signed. Not yet.
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KREMLIN KILLS TWO RABBITS WITH ONE SHOT — NORILSK NICKEL TO GOBBLE USMANOV, BEAT OFF RUSAL

By John Helmer in Moscow

It’s never been the custom of Russian hunters to speak of hitting two birds with one stone. Instead, the Russian expression is to kill two rabbits with one shot.

Lest anyone think that President Vladimir Putin is losing his grip, the Kremlin last evening revealed a move that firmly knocks two metal and mining oligarchs on the head. In a announcement after market closing, Norilsk Nickel, Russia’s largest mining company, revealed that it is to merge with the iron-ore and steelmaking assets of Alisher Usmanov. A proposal for the deal from Interros, the holding company of controlling shareholder Vladimir Potanin, calls for a vote at the next Norilsk Nickel board of directors’ session on February 29.

If implemented, the move creates a $75 billion capital hurdle too high for Oleg Deripaska, the aluminium oligarch, to attempt his merger on hostile terms with Norilsk Nickel.

It also takes Usmanov out of action — a man who began his career as bagman and debt collector for the clique who once controlled Gazprom, and with whom Gazprom’s current directorate, including presidential successor Dmitry Medvedev, have never felt comfortable.

Deripaska — nicknamed “zaitschik” (hare) by his patron, Mikhail Chernoy (Michael Cherney) — had been telling the Russian press and brokers early this week that he had secured his takeover deal against Potanin. Deripaska claimed that remarks by a mid-level official at the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) yesterday signaled Kremlin approval for the takeover.
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LEFTOVERS OF THE KHODORKOVSKY FORTUNE PURSUED BY FRIENDS AND FOES

By John Helmer in Moscow

There’s a well-known Russian maxim, which can be roughly translated as: “Pull out your nose, your tail will get stuck; pull out your tail, your nose will get stuck.” The sticking place, it’s understood, is mud; murk; one unpleasantly adhesive predicament, or another.

You might say this is what has happened to the leftovers of the Yukos oil empire, once amassed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. And while his nose is firmly stuck in a Russian jail, his tail is being wagged by a handful of American former subordinates, led by the former chief financial officer of Yukos, Bruce Misamore. To hear his advocates tell his story, he is the innocent victim of a Russian extortion and bribe scheme, in which the prize is a very large amount of cash currently sitting in two escrow accounts of Fortis Bank in the Netherlands. The Russian version charges Misamore and his associates with illegally claiming the last of the Yukos loot, sold up by a Russian bankruptcy administrator after convictions of Khodorkovsky, the company, and his associates on fraud and tax evasion charges.

Late next month, a court-ordered auction will be held in Amsterdam for cash of $1.492 billion, plus a 49% stake in a central European oil pipeline company, worth between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion. The assets belong to Yukos Finance, a company Khodorkovsky registered for safe haven in Holland. The cash comes from the sale of a 54% stake in the Lithuanian oil refinery Mazeikiu; the balance represents the audited valuation of equity of Transpetrol, the Slovak republic’s pipeline company, in which Yukos held a 49% stake.
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POTANIN GAINS GROUND AGAINST RUSAL TAKEOVER OF NORILSK NICKEL

By John Helmer in Moscow

Potanin gathers Kremlin support for blocking Norilsk Nickel takeover by Deripaska’s Rusal.

One of the key Kremlin figures, who intervened last autumn in the fight between Vladimir Potanin and Mikhail Prokhorov, has decided not to back Oleg Deripaska in his hostile takeover bid for Norilsk Nickel.

The figure, who declined to respond to requests for comment, had earlier taken Prokhorov’s side, when Prokhorov and Potanin failed to agree on terms for a sale and purchase of Prokhorov’s 25% plus one shareholding in Norilsk Nickel, the diversified global metals miner and Russia’s largest mining company. Prokhorov then drafted a deal with Deripaska, swapping his Norilsk Nickel stake for an 11% shareholding in United Company Rusal (formerly Russian Aluminium); plus $4.438 billion in cash. A purported cash balance of $2.7 billion was also agreed between the two as a deferred payment obligation. The effective price Deripaska paid, and Prokhorov received for his Norilsk Nickel stake, was $251 per share.

The terms were revealed by Mineweb in mid-December:

http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page67?oid=42218&sn=Detail
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USMANOV OUSTED FROM DONBASS STEEL TAKEOVER TALKS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Ukrainian steel company rejects Usmanov merger proposal on respective value grounds.

Alisher Usmanov’s Russian iron-ore group Gazmetall has failed to strike a deal to take over the Industrial Union of Donbass (IUD), a Ukrainian steelmaker, after the Ukrainians agreed to take Usmanov’s iron-ore for their furnaces, but refused to accept his shareholding terms.

Talks between the two were first reported almost exactly a year ago, in February 2007. Sources close to the abortive negotations claim

IUD had initially valued Usmanov’s assets in Gazmetall at roughly double IUD’s value, and allowing for a premium, the Ukrainians told Usmanov that a merger would cost him more than 50% of his Gazmetall holding.

Losing control of his assets wasn’t what Usmanov had in mind. In a clumsy attempt to sandbag the Ukrainians in a campaign of Moscow press leaks, Usmanov said publicly he valued his holding at $10-$12 billion, while he considered IUD to be worth $5 billion. He insisted that a swap of shares should leave IUD with less than a 50% stake in the new, merged company.
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RUSSIAN ASSETS STILL FAIL TO MATCH PENNY GOLD SHARE CLAIMS

By John Helmer in Moscow

The latest in Russian checks on penny gold stocks ABV Gold and Aurus fail to support gold resource and other claims made by the companies concerned.

Following Mineweb’s previous reports on the companies, fresh announcements from ABV Gold and Aurus have had mixed impact on the US over-the-counter pinksheets market.

On January 25, Aurus issued a statement advising shareholders not to believe what they have been reading in Mineweb:

“NEW YORK, NY–(Marketwire – January 25, 2008) – Aurus Corp. (PINKSHEETS: AURC) must once again answer allegations that are unsubstantiated and opinionated. This matter refers to an article written by John Helmer and released on Mineweb. The Board is meeting with its attorneys to prepare a news release to address the statements and insinuations of Mr. Helmer. The news release shall be issued on January 29, 2008.”

January 29 passed calmly, and no news release has followed.
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DE BEERS HIDES TORONTO INVESTIGATION OF RUSSIAN DIAMOND STAKE

By John Helmer in Moscow

A mysterious and protracted investigation by the Toronto Stock Exchange and Ontario market regulators of De Beers-owned Archangel Diamond Corporation (ADC) is being kept secret on the apparent legal advice of Robert Shirriff. A Canadian Queen’s Counsel since 1972, and partner in the law firm of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, Shirriff is a director of the Ontario Securities Commission. Shirriff is also a director of Archangel Diamond Corporation (ADC), and of several other De Beers companies in Canada — De Beers Canada Holdings, De Beers Canada, and Diapros Canada.

Trading in ADC shares — ticker AAD — was suspended by the Toronto exchange on November 9. Three months have now passed, but the stock remains in suspension — without explanation from ADC or De Beers; and without a report of the investigation initiated by Canadian regulators.

The Toronto-listed ADC hit its trading low of 35 cents last year on October 31. As the Bloomberg chart shows, on or about November 1, someone started buying, and the share price rocketed upward by 43%:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/cbuilder?ticker1=AAD:CN
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THE RADOM SCHEME UNRAVELS DERIPASKA ALUMINIUM EMPIRE

By John Helmer in Moscow

The UK High Court has opened for the first time documents showing how Deripaska created his empire.

It was the 19th century poet Robert Browning, who claimed: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” If Oleg Deripaska is a romantic overreacher like that, the UK High Court may shortly acquaint him with the tougher, older admonition that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Deripaska’s new problem is that, for the first time ever, documentary evidence has been submitted to an international court suggesting how Deripaska, on what purports to be his own signature and instruction, moved cash out of his aluminium smelters in Russia into an international shareholding scheme of trusts, holding companies, cutouts, trading units, and production assets. Consolidating and controlling these, as he went along, Deripaska created a series of super-holdings; these have now evolved into Basic Element, Deripaska’s Moscow holding.

The evidence is part of an amended complaint filed in the London court by lawyers for Michael Cherney (Mikhail Chernoy). He is charging Deripaska with violating the terms of their partnership agreement; diverting money and assets out of the aluminium business Cherney had created; emptying Cherney’s stake in the Radom super-holding of its value; and ultimately depriving Cherney of his buyout share, first signed by the two men in March 2001, and tied to a larger set of agreements for enforcement in London.
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EVRAZ FACING RUSSIAN MILL SHUTDOWN FOR WATER POLLUTION

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian environmental inspector to despatch bailiffs to halt Evraz steelmill for water pollution.

Evraz, Russia’s largest steelmaker, is testing for the second time in two years the will of the Russian government to enforce environmental protection and water emission rules.

At stake is the continued operation of the biggest rail producer in Russia — and the drinking water of the two rivers serving Novokuznetsk city, in the Kemerovo region of Siberia.

A series of federal government environmental inspections, just completed at two of Evraz’s steelmills in Novokuznetsk, has found that one of the mills, West Siberian Metallurgical Combine (Zapsib), has met a court-ordered emission standard, but the second, Novokuznetsk Metallurgical Combine, has not. The result is that the federal regulator, Rosprirodnadzor, has gone to court for an order that may force the closure of the Evraz mill.

The disclosures by Rosprirodnadzor follow two years of bitter recriminations, court litigation, and political lobbying. In September 2006, they resulted in the largest penalty ever imposed on a Russian company for industrial pollution.
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BATTLE FOR POLYUS GOLD MOVES TO LONDON

By John Helmer in Moscow

Polyus Gold’s rival owners appeal to the London market and the London High Court to resolve asset-stripping charges.

It’s an entirely new version of the tale of Dick Whittington and his cat.

In the 17th century story, a poor orphan boy goes to London where he dreams the streets are paved with gold, only to discover they aren’t. Everything turns out fortunately, though, for he sells his cat to the rat-ridden King of Barbary for a fortune, which he then invests to make another fortune. Rat-catching was Dick’s capital.

The new tale pits the two former partners of Russia’s richest goldmining company, Polyus Gold, against each other. They are already gold-plated. But they are going to London to try to save, not to make their fortunes. Under way in front of Polyus’s institutional shareholders, investment analysts and fund managers there is an unprecedented roadshow and counter-roadshow, making rival presentations for shareholder support.

Soon, it is expected that one of the two partners will file suit in the London High Court, charging the other with violating the terms of their agreements, and asking the court to sort out how to divide the goldminer’s assets, before they are spirited away. Dick’s cat has his work cut out for him this time.
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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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