THE BOOMERANG AND THE HAIRY OCTOPUS—ARCHIPELAGO RESOURCES IN POLITICAL FIGHT FOR LIFE OF INDONESIAN GOLD PROJECT

After a series of battles with Newmont, Indonesian officials and NGOs keep up the anti-mine fight, this time targeting the Toka Tindung gold project.

Author: John Helmer
Posted: Monday , 31 Mar 2008

LONDON –

The boomerang is an Australian aboriginal word for a throwing stick; but the weapon itself isn’t indigenous to Australia. Its killer edge and return trajectory have been exploited on most shores of the Indian Ocean from East Africa to India and Australia.

On Indonesian islands like Sulawesi, game and trouble abound, but the rain forest is too thick for the boomerang to be a practical weapon. Single and double-edged knives and spears are the preferred type of throwing stick. When it comes to catching the underwater Hairy Octopus, the boomerang is useless.

The Hairy Octopus is one of dozens of creatures, which live on the sea bottom of the Lembeh Strait, at the northeastern tip of the Indonesian province of North Sulawesi. The seafloor is unique for “muck divers” from around the world. Their name distinguishes them from coral-reef divers.
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ACRON IS THE NEW RUSSIAN FERTILIZER PLAY AS WORLD POTASH PRICES SOAR

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian multi-mineral fertilizer group calls for investor upgrade ahead of IPO.

Traced on the map, Verkhnekamskoye (“Upper Kama”) looks like a molar tooth, with an unusually deep root. On the ground, in the Perm region of central Russia, it is the second largest deposit of potash known in the world.

About 3.8 billion tonnes of potash ore are estimated to lie at relatively shallow depth of less than 400 metres. Verkhnekamskoye is thus not only the largest undeveloped source of potash in the world; but it is also potentially the cheapest to mine, and bring to market.

Digging into this deposit is an opportunity that third-ranked listed Russian producer Acron acquired at a state auction on March 12, bidding Rb16.8 billion ($704 million). Crossing the Verkhnekamskoye threshold marks Acron’s biggest market move ahead of it’s plans for international public placement later this year.

It also marks a milestone in Acron’s five-year strategy to become vertically integrated upstream for raw materials, and to establish the independence of its complex fertilizer business of rival phosphate and potash mining companies. In October 2006, Acron bought licences for two apatite-nepheline deposits in the Murmansk region of northwestern Russia. In five years’ time, and with an investment of about $300 million, Acron’s North-Western Phosphorus Company (NWPC) is expected to produce 1 million tonnes of phosphates; and another 1 million tonnes of nepheline (for processing into alumina).
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DERIPASKA AND PROKHOROV ARGUE OVER PUTATIVE NORILSK NICKEL TAKEOVER TERMS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Deripaska and Prokhorov holding companies trade claims over Norilsk Nickel deal contract.

Onexim, the Moscow holding unit for Mikhail Prokhorov, has broken its silence on the troubled sale of a 25% stake in Norilsk Nickel — in a manner of speaking.

Terms for the deal between Prokhorov and Oleg Deripaska, controlling shareholder of United Company Rusal, were first negotiated last August and September; the deal was announced in November. If fully consummated, it represents the largest corporate takeover in Russian history, and the most expensive hostile bid on the Russian record.

Mineweb reported yesterday on evidence of the apparent breakdown in the six-month old bid by Deripaska to take control of Norilsk Nickel from Vladimir Potanin and the Interros group, formerly Prokhorov’s partner:

http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page67?oid=49850&sn=Detail
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THE UNRAVELLING OF RUSAL’S AMBITION FOR NORILSK NICKEL

By John Helmer in Moscow

When T.S. Eliot was summing up what he knew of hollow men, he concluded: “this is the way the world ends/not with a bang but a whimper”. This is also the way Russia’s biggest-ever hostile takeover, Oleg Deripaska’s bid to take control of Norilsk Nickel, is ending.

The contract deadline for deal closing, according to insiders, is next Monday, March 31.

It won’t be clear until then whether it’s Deripaska, or Norilsk Nickel seller, Mikhail Prokhorov, who is doing more of the whimpering. If Deripaska fails to deliver on the terms of their agreement – an 11% shareholding in United Company Rusal, $4.438 billion in cash, and $2.7 billion in deferred cash – then Prokhorov will get to keep his 25% plus one share in Norilsk Nickel. Also, he will not be obligated to pay Deripaska the $300 million break-fee the two had agreed on, if Prokhorov developed cold feet.

Mineweb reported the transaction details last December: http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page36?oid=41934&sn=Detail
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IMF BLOWS WHISTLE ON TAJIK CORRUPTION

By John Helmer in Moscow

The wind-chill factor this winter in Tajikistan has produced record low temperatures and uncounted miseries for a population struggling with inadequate electricity supply and failing heat. Tajik newborns have been reported as having died from hypothermia while in hospital wards.

But on March 5, a single whistle-blow from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sent a chill through the one well-heated residence in the country. That’s the presidential palace of Emomali Rakhmonov (aka Rahmon), the head of the land-locked Central Asian country since 1992.

For the IMF revealed publicly for the first time, and at the level of the fund’s board of directors, that the National Bank of Tajikistan (NBT) and the Finance Ministry in Dushanbe have been fiddling the country’s accounts for several years, falsifying the flow of funds and concealing the disappearance of as yet uncounted millions of dollars of international loan funds.

On March 5, the “Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) met today to review a report from the Managing Director on noncomplying disbursements to the Republic of Tajikistan and a breach of obligations under Article VIII, Section 5 of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement”.
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MOSCOW MARKET JUDGES SEVERSTAL’S AMERICAN STEEL GAMBIT A LOSER

By John Helmer in Moscow

PR spin battles US recession to hype Russian steel deal

Taylor Rafferty is an international public relations company which works for Alexei Mordashov, the controlling shareholder of Severstal, third ranked Russian steelmaker. Its job is to help Mordashov extricate his foot from his mouth, and his hand from public shareholder pockets.

Mordashov can be a nervous fellow, if he thinks the Kremlin disapproves of what he is doing. In 2006, when Mordashov applied to President Vladimir Putin for permission to buy other Russian steel companies, he was told no. But he was told he would be allowed to stretch his own neck in Europe. This meant Kremlin approval of Mordashov’s attempt in mid-2006 to take over Arcelor, the leading European steelmaker at the time. Mordashov’s bid failed when it was beaten by Lakshmi Mittal, who mobilized more effective investment banking by Goldman Sachs, more cash, and better PR.

Mordashov learned the PR lesson. The market hasn’t. According to Taylor Rafferty’s mission statement, it promises clients “a reality check and sharp focus to the investor relations program”.
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POLYUS PLAYS YO-YO – SELLING SAKHA GOLD MINES BACK TO ALROSA

By John Helmer in Moscow

Polyus public shareholders in the dark about proposed new gold mine asset sale

Sixty years elapsed between the first US patents issued for the yo-yo, and 1928, when the wooden axle on a string became a fad in California, and then spread across the US. By 1965, the yo-yo was so common, manufacturers couldn’t preserve their trademarks, even while they promoted competitions to popularize demand for the toy.

In yo-yo competitions, a standard routine is called sleeping. That’s when the axle is made to spin without rising up the player’s string. Another is called walking the dog. That’s when the axle is made to spin along the ground, also without rising up or down the string.

In innovative Russian business, as Mikhail Prokhorov has been practicing it, the trick is to keep assets in motion, earning their proprietor cash as they spin. It can be difficult to know what trick Prokhorov intends to pull at the end of his string. Two years ago, when he bought gold mines and prospects to add to the Polyus portfolio, the rationale was obvious – and so was the payoff, if only to count Prokhorov’s 25.5% stake in Polyus’s growing capitalization. (Market reports indicate that Prokhorov may hold as much as 28% of Polyus’s stock.)
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BELLWETHER FOR RUSSIAN POTASH STILL BOOMS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Uralkali keeps the initiative as potash breaks $600.

A series of Russian government decisions this month, awarding new mining licences at a premium valuation; imposing export duties; and regulating the domestic price of fertilizers for the next five years has triggered fresh forecasts for the direction of Russian potash producers, now the price-setter for the global commodity trade.

The biggest test of the clout of the potash miners began a week ago, on March 12, when the federal mine licensing agency Rosnedra conducted an auction of licences in the Urals region for the mining of new potash reserves. One week later, and the first impression of decisiveness on the government’s part has begun to dissolve, with a fightback orchestrated by the leading producer and exporter, Uralkali.

The official announcement of the March 12 auction said that three licenses to mine potash reserves at the Verkhnekamskoye deposit, in Perm region, had been sold for a total of $2.35 billion. Global reserves of potash are concentrated in Russia, Belarus, and Canada, but all the Canadian deposits have been allocated long since. The Verkhnekamskoye field is one of the largest unmined sources of potash in the world, and the largest ever to be auctioned internationally. When and if mines open in about a decade, the field represents an estimated increase to global potash supplies of 9 to 10 million tonnes per annum. This is roughly equal to the total volume produced in 2007 by Russia’s lead producers, Uralkali and Silvinit combined
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TAJIKISTAN’S WINTER OF DISCONTENT GETS WORSE

IMF joins UK High Court in corruption investigations of Tajik aluminium dealing.

“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York”.

That’s the opening of the most vicious dynastic bloodbath on the English stage, spoken by the nastiest of Shakespeare’s royal villains — the hump-back plotter who becomes Richard III, for a short while.

Landlocked in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia, the ruler of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmonov (aka Rahmon), has been desperately hoping for the sun to relieve the very worst winter in recent history for his country — the poorest of the former Soviet states. Instead, he has run into three international fireballs that have fuelled charges circulating in and outside Tajikistan, that its miseries stem, not from the weather, but from the disappearance of the country’s earnings to a tropical haven in the Caribbean.

Directly substantiating the latter, for the first time, is documentary evidence presented in the UK High Court on February 15, before Justice Tomlinson.

But worse was to come for Rahmon. On March 5, in an unprecedented default announcement, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) disclosed that the Fund board had discovered systematic financial misreporting by the National Bank of Tajikistan, and “noncomplying disbursements”. The IMF said it was ordering an immediate “special audit” of the state bank, and calling in a repayment of $47 million.
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AFRICAN LOCKOUT FOR RUSSIAN NUCLEAR POWER

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russia has been locked out of the largest nuclear power contract ever prepared in Africa, despite two years of promises from the South African government that it would invite Russia’s nuclear industry to join a competitive tender with the French and American companies, Areva and Westinghouse.

The lockoutappears to be regional in scope, blocking a bid by the Russians to build a nuclear reactor in Namibia, that country’s first. It also makes unlikely that ambitious schemes to draw Russian investment into uranium mining, ore concentration, and uranium fuel enrichment will materialize in southern Africa.

According to the SA utility Eskom, the first SA reactor to be commissioned would cost an estimated R120 billion ($15 billion); six power stations to produce an estimated 20,000MW would cost more than R720 billion ($90 billion), Eskom officials have publicly estimated.

The circumstances in which SA officials made their decision to exclude the Russians have been kept secret for weeks, while crisis talks were held by officials of the two governments, first in Moscow on February 12, and then in Pretoria on March 10.
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RUSSIA OPENING UP THE ARCTIC MARKET

By John Helmer in Moscow

Icebreaking is the key to the expansion of energy and mineral shipments in the Arctic.

It is a little early for Russia to begin producing bananas and other soft, sun-dependent commodities. But depending on which global warming forecast you read, there may come a time when it will be cost-efficient to do so, earning the increment in export value of commodities, whose price is moving faster than the oil and gas-fired energy and fertilizers required for them to grow.

And since Russian energy leads the world in volume and value of export trade and reserves, it stands to reason that one Russian strategy for diversification downstream into energy-intensive products, and up the value chain, would be a form of agro-industry that is indifferent to Arctic cold.

Gazprom strategists are already contemplating one set of targets for this strategy. These are to acquire control of major nitrogenous and diversified fertilizers, and the intermediate ammonia producers providing feedstock for urea and nitrate fertilizer manufacture. An immediate target is the EuroChem group of Moscow, currently owned by Andrei Melnichenko, a metals and banking oligarch, who has offered to sell his 96% stake in the company; but who, according to Gazprom, is asking too high a price.
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NORILSK NICKEL WINS HUGE NICKEL PROSPECT, INVITES BHPB TO EXPLORE

By John Helmer in Moscow

Norilsk/BHP Billiton “alliance for development of huge Russian nickel deposit raises some questions.

Norilsk Nickel, Russia’s leading mining company, has announced that it has won a regional auction for exploration and mining rights to Russia’s largest undeveloped nickel prospect. The Iisko-Tagulsk deposit, located in the Irkutsk region of southeastern Siberia, was won at an open-auction tender for $30.7million. Exploration and other preliminary prospecting and feasibility work is estimated to cost another Rb2.5 billion ($100 million).

While this task and the amount are clearly within Norilsk Nickel’s financial and technical capacity to manage, the company announcement, issued Thursday, said it has invited BHP Billiton to join in the first phase of the project. The language used was: “the geological [work] will be done in alliance with BHP Billiton.”

This carefully skirts legislative amendments now proceeding through the State Duma, backed by Norilsk Nickel, which would exclude foreign mining companies from the Russian nickel sector entirely. As Mineweb reported early in the week, the list of strategic minerals on the foreign exclusion list are diamonds, uranium, quartz, cobalt, nickel, beryllium, lithium, the platinum group metals (PGM), tantalum, and niobium.

Alrosa, the state owned Russian diamond miner now diversifying into gold and other minerals, was the second, and losing bidder in the Irkutsk auction.
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RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT UNCERTAIN, AS DUMA CONSIDERS STRATEGIC MINING EXCLUSIONS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russia’s new parliament reopens debate on proposed limits on foreign mining.

A new round of debate on proposals to regulate access by foreign mining companies to the Russian resource sector has begun, this time with a set of legislative amendments that were submitted to the newly elected State Duma last week. But there is a catch.

This time, the origin of the amendments leaked to the press is not the federal Ministry of Natural Resources, the agency in charge of drafting the amending measures, and implementing the current mining law. The leaks have also been delivered to the press from a committee of the Duma which has played no role in mining regulation before. These are signs of an intense lobbying effort, most likely to undermine the conditions which have been disclosed, and force fresh changes. According to Russian mining sources, the power behind this lobbying is the oil and gas sector. A high-ranking mining administrator told Mineweb that what is happening now is “a mess”.

The threshold reserve levels, at which foreign mining companies are excluded from operating or equity control, appear to remain the same as Mineweb reported last October:

http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page675?oid=38965&sn=Detail

These have been fixed for four resources — oil, gas, gold, and copper.
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RUSSIAN FERROCHROME DEAL TO FETCH A BILLION DOLLARS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Nesis considers chrome sell-out in the most lucrative, short mining career on record

A press leak in Moscow on Monday, followed by a confirming announcement from Mechel, the Russian stainless steel producer, have indicated that Igor Zyuzin, Mechel’s controlling shareholder, is trying to buy out chrome producer Oriel Resources, owned by Alexander Nesis and the ICT group of St. Petersburg.

Mechel’s corporate office was initially reluctant to confirm the reported talks, and the company’s press release said only that Mechel “is currently contemplating the acquisition of Oriel. This process is at an early stage and there can be no certainty that any offer will ultimately be forthcoming.”

The target of takeover is an integrated ferrochrome producer based in the Leningrad region, the Tikhvin ferroalloy plant, with its own raw supply from two mines in Kazakhstan — a chrome mine called Voskhod, and a nickel mine called Shevchenko. Nesis’s ICT group have been involved in the chrome project for several years, when Nesis owned Polymetal, a St.Petersburg based silver miner. In 2006 Nesis sold Polymetal for $930 million in cash to Suleiman Kerimov, and began investing some of the proceeds in the chrome project.
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NORILSK SHARE BUY-BACK TO ROLL BACK THE RUSAL TIDE

By John Helmer in Moscow

Potanin’s cash and shares deal puts Deripaska in the hole.

Just two things are remembered about King Canute, a Viking who invaded England in 1013. One is that he had a large hooked nose. The other is that he tried to command the sea tide not to roll into shore. The second has made Canute’s name synonymous with the folly of being on the losing side, when you don’t have to be.

In the fierce war for Norilsk Nickel, the most expensive fight over a Russian mining asset ever fought, it is becoming as clear as arithmetic, and the sea tide, what the outcome will be. A recent report in a Russian newspaper, claiming that a member of the Norilsk Nickel board, Ralph Tavakolian Morgan, believes the company cannot afford to buy back a bloc of its shares is therefore interpreted as either a misquote, or Morgan’s miscalculation.

The buy-back scheme is part of chief shareholder Vladimir Potanin’s defence against a hostile takeover by Rusal and its owner, Oleg Deripaska. He and Potanin’s disgruntled former partner Mikhail Prokhorov began their assault on the company, after Prokhorov sold 25% plus 1 share in Norilsk Nickel to Deripaska in December. Mineweb has reported on the reaction to that deal, and Potanin’s new arrangement with the Kremlin, after Potanin met President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on February 5:

http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page67?oid=47758&sn=Detail
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SOUTH AFRICAN MINISTER SENDS BEST WISHES TO RUSSIAN MANGANESE OLIGARCH

By John Helmer in Moscow

Drilling into SA diplomatic communiqués comes up empty for manganese and platinum

An unusual meeting of South African (SA) and Russian government ministers two weeks ago in Moscow has triggered recriminations in Pretoria and Moscow. These follow the refusal of SA officials to clarify an upbeat description of co-operation in mining projects, which Russian sources deny.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, SA’s Foreign Minister, who headed the delegation to Moscow on February 12-13, claimed there has been commercial progress in the Russian-SA relationship. The evidence for that, according to an official communiqué issued in Pretoria on February 13, is the activity of a single, well-known Russian oligarch, Victor Vekselberg, who owns the Renova group. Dlamini-Zuma said in the communiqué she personally “welcomed progress with regard to Joint Venture Manganese Project by the Renova Group and South African company Pitsa ya Setshaba and wished the company well in the second phase of the project. ”

Renova refuses to provide details of its investment and exploration spending in South Africa, since the award of licences to Heuningdraii and Mooidraai in the Kalahari Manganese Field (KMF) in 2005.
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RUSSIA SOUR OVER NUCLEAR TENDER CANCELLATION

By John Helmer in Moscow

RUSSIAN government officials have revealed that relations with SA are in crisis, after cancellation by Pretoria of the two largest commercial agreements ever negotiated between the countries.

The crisis directly affects SA government plans for nuclear energy to increase Eskom’s power supply, and for SA military and civilian satellite communications.

The breakdown in relations triggered an urgent mission to Moscow two weeks ago by Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. But her failure to repair the damage has led to recriminations in Pretoria, and an order to South African ambassador Bheki Langa and other South African officials to cover up what has happened.

A multibillion-rand contract to build nuclear reactors for Eskom — one of the largest government contracts contemplated by SA — was to have been open for bidding by the Russian reactor builder, Atomstroyexport (ASE), according to agreements reached during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to SA in 2006, and reiterated by officials of the two governments in the middle of last year .

Eskom said the licensing process for the five nuclear power stations, which would produce up to 20000MW of electricity, would start this year.
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AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Agatha Christie’s whodunit entitled And Then There Were None – the concluding words of the children’s counting rhyme — is reputed to be the world’s best-selling mystery story.    

There’s no mystery now about the war of Europe and North America against Russia; it is the continuation of Germany’s war of 1939-45 and the war aims of the General Staff in Washington since 1943. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and President Vladimir Putin (right) both said it plainly enough this week.

There is also no mystery in the decision-making in Moscow of the President and the Defense Minister, the General Staff, and the others; it is the continuation of the Stavka of 1941-45.  

Just because there is no mystery about this, it doesn’t follow that it should be reported publicly, debated in the State Duma, speculated and advertised by bloggers, podcasters, and twitterers.  In war what should not be said cannot be said. When the war ends, then there will be none.  

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



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under  Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.

How little the Germans have changed.

But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.”  By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”  

So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.  

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors voted to go to war with Russia by a vote of 26 member countries against 9.

China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa voted against war with Russia.  

The IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi (lead image, left) has refused to tell the press whether a simple majority of votes (18) or a super-majority of two-thirds (23) was required by the agency charter for the vote; he also wouldn’t say which countries voted for or against. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then covered up for what had happened by telling the press: “I believe that [IAEA’s] independence that exists and must be preserved is essential. The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties.” The IAEA vote for war made a liar of Guterres.

In the IAEA’s 65-year history, Resolution Number 58, the war vote of September 15, 2022,  is the first time the agency has taken one side in a war between member countries when nuclear reactors have either been attacked or threatened with attack. It is also the first time the IAEA has attacked one of its member states, Russia, when its military were attempting to protect and secure a nuclear reactor from attack by another member state, the Ukraine, and its war allies, the US, NATO and the European Union states. The vote followed the first-ever IAEA inspection of a nuclear reactor while it was under active artillery fire and troop assault.

There is a first time for everything but this is the end of the IAEA. On to the scrap heap of good intentions and international treaties, the IAEA is following the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the UN Secretary-General himself.  Listen to this discussion of the past history when the IAEA responded quite differently following the Iranian and Israeli air-bombing attacks on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Osirak, and later, the attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sites.

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided this week to take the side of Ukraine in the current war; blame Russia for the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP); and issue a demand for Russia to surrender the plant to the Kiev regime “to regain full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”      

This is the most dramatic shift by the United Nations (UN) nuclear power regulator in the 65-year history of the organisation based in Vienna.

The terms of the IAEA Resolution Number 58, which were proposed early this week by the Polish and Canadian governors on the agency board, were known in advance by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin in the late afternoon of September 14, before the vote was taken. Guterres did not reveal what he already knew would be the IAEA action the next day.  

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Never mind that King Solomon said proverbially three thousand years ago, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”  

With seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, Solomon realized he was the inventor of the situation comedy. If not for the sitcom as his medicine, the bodily and psychological stress Old Solly had to endure in the bedroom would have killed him long before he made it to his death bed at eighty years of age,  after ruling his kingdom for forty of them.

After the British sitcom died in the 1990s, the subsequent stress has not only killed very large numbers of ordinary people. It has culminated today in a system of rule according to which a comic king in Buckingham Palace must now manage the first prime minister in Westminster  history to be her own joke.

Even the Norwegians, the unfunniest people in Europe, have acknowledged that the only way to attract the British as tourists, was to pay John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers to make them laugh at Norway itself.   This has been a bigger success for the locals than for the visitors, boosting the fjord boatman’s life expectancy several years ahead of the British tourist’s.  

In fact, Norwegian scientists studying a sample of 54,000 of their countrymen have proved that spending the state budget on public health and social welfare will only work effectively if the population is laughing all the way to the grave. “The cognitive component of the sense of humour is positively associated with survival from mortality related to CVD [cardio-vascular disease] and infections in women and with infection-related mortality in men” – Norwegian doctors reported in 2016. Never mind the Viking English:  the Norwegian point is the same as Solomon’s that “a sense of humour is a health-protecting cognitive coping resource” – especially if you’ve got cancer.  

The Russians understand this better than the Norwegians or the British.  Laughter is an antidote to the war propaganda coming from abroad, as Lexus and Vovan have been demonstrating.   The Russian sitcom is also surviving in its classic form to match the best of the British sitcoms, all now dead – Fawlty Towers (d. 1975), Black Adder (d. 1989), You Rang M’Lord? (d. 1988), Jeeves and Wooster (d. 1990), Oh Dr Beeching! (d.1995), and Thin Blue Line (d. 1996).

The Russian situation comedies, alive and well on TV screens and internet streaming devices across the country, are also increasingly profitable business for their production and broadcast companies – not despite the war but because of it. This has transformed the Russian media industry’s calculation of profitability by removing US and European-made films and television series, as well as advertising revenues from Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mars, and Bayer. In their place powerful  Russian video-on-demand (VOD) streaming platform companies like Yandex (KinoPoisk), MTS (Kion),  Mail.ru (VK), and Ivi (Leonid Boguslavsky, ProfMedia, Baring Vostok)  are now intensifying the competition for audience with traditional television channels and film studios for domestic audiences.  The revenue base of the VOD platforms is less vulnerable to advertisers, more dependent on telecommunications subscriptions.

Russian script writers, cameramen, actors, designers, and directors are now in shorter supply than ever before, and earning more money.  “It’s the Russian New Wave,” claims Olga Filipuk, head of media content for Yandex, the powerful leader of the new film production platforms; its  controlling shareholder and chief executive were sanctioned last year.  

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RUSSIAN AVIATION INDUSTRY CORRECTS YELTSIN YAW – BOEING, AIRBUS DITCHED



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

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

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

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

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

So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.

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



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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