TAJIK ALUMINIUM COMPANY SETS $120 MILLION RECORD FOR COURT CLAIM

By John Helmer in Moscow

Herbies beats aluminium into profit shares

Herbert Smith, one of the largest billing of the UK law firms, has been forced to reveal this month in the UK High Court that it is charging the Tajikistan government more than $100 million for a 3-year court claim ordered by the Tajik President, Imomali Rakhmonov (Rahmon). Rahmon’s targets are a group of aluminium traders and managers, now based in London, who were ousted from the Tajikistan Aluminium Plant (TadAZ, Talco) after getting too close to the president’s interest in Tajikistan’s principal industry.

The fee numbers and estimates were part of the disclosures that were tabled in a High Court hearing on April 15, 2008, before Mr Justice Tomlinson. Herbert Smith is the law firm acting for the Tajik smelter (Talco), which is wholly owned by the Tajikistan government, and directly supervised by President Rahmon. The estimate of costs from Herbert Smith (aka Herbies in London legal slang) also covers barristers’ fees, which include those of Murray Rosen QC, who is acting for Talco on Herbies’ instructions.

Additional case fee charges of GBP10 million ($20 million) have also been revealed. These are being run up by a British Virgin Islands registered company called CDH, which is a cutout in the complex aluminium trading arrangements devised by Rahmon’s government between Talco and its Norwegian supplier and partner, Hydro Aluminium. CDH is being represented in the High Court by Osborne Clarke.
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NOVOSHIP RESULTS DISAPPOINT MOSCOW MARKET

Maritime flag

By John Helmer in Moscow

The Novorossiysk Shipping Company (Novoship) disappointed Moscow maritime analysts and the stock market today with FY 2007 financial results, just issued. Reported revenues totaled $615.3 million, 10% above the 2006 figure, but below consensus estimates and projections by transport analysts at Renaissance Capital and Finam. Net profit was reported at $207.9 million, up 37% on 2006. However, adjusting revenues, earnings, and profit for the sale of vessels from the Novoship fleet during the year, the adjusted Ebitda result comes in at $342.7 million, a gain of 8% year on year. Adjusted net profit is $182.7 million, up 8% also.

“The published financials slightly missed our expectations,” reported Finam, “largely due to adverse conditions in the freight market in 4Q 2007. The company’s 9M revenue increased by12% y-o-y, but revenue growth slowed to 9.7% for FY 2007. It is noteworthy that the published results do not paint the full picture of the shipper’s operating results and need to be adjusted for the company’s revenues from the sale of the fleet.” About $53 million was gained by Novoship on its fleet selloff last year.
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DERIPASKA’S DEAL ISN’T THE PROOF OF THE PUDDING

By John Helmer in Moscow

Deripaska is obliged to pay Prokhorov more to leave one uncertainty for a greater one

Oleg Deripaska, owner of United Company Rusal, the global aluminium producer, has invited a small group of reporters to have an Easter luncheon with him at Café Pushkin this Saturday.

The hors d’oeuvre is the announcement, issued this evening, that Rusal has closed its deal with Mikhail Prokhorov to buy his stake in Norilsk Nickel, 25% plus one share, for a 14% stake in Rusal. This is 3% larger than the stake the two had agreed on last December. The change reflects Prokhorov’s concern at the higher risk of holding the unlisted Rusal, with Deripaska in charge.

A press release, just issued by Rusal, did not clarify how much cash Prokhorov will receive in the new deal. The December terms provided him with $4.438 billion on closure, w3ith a deferred payment of $2.7 billion to come on terms that have not been disclosed.
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RUSSIAN COAL – NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T

By John Helmer in Moscow

At current prices, old King Coal is a merry old soul in Russia.

In the bad old days, when Boris Yeltsin was in charge of Russia, all you had to do to acquire a steelmill on the cheap was to cut off its gas, electricity, iron-ore, scrap metal, or its coking coal. Adapting Honore de Balzac’s maxim just a little, behind every Russian steel fortune there is a raw material crime. Not because they had read Balzac, the Russian steelmakers came to understand that in order to protect their easily taken assets, they were obliged to insure and control their raw material supplies, especially iron-ore and coal.

The resulting interlocking shareholding schemes, by which most of Russia’s coal mines are controlled, and deter raiders, are very difficult to unravel. It’s a condition even PriceWaterhouseCoopers might call non-transparency. But that was in an economy recovering from the damage Yeltsin did to it. Today’s Russian GDP is growing at a rate of 7%, and while state policy can probably sustain that relatively comfortably, accelerating inflation rates pose problems that President Vladimir Putin was not threatened by. Official inflation is running at 1.2% per month, but the price of hot-rolled steel is up 25% over the past month; cold-rolled steel, 29%.
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URALKALI LIFTS SPOT POTASH ABOVE GOLD

By John Helmer in Moscow

Uralkali reports spot price for potash goes above $1,000 a tonne as shortages bite.

Uralkali and its global sales agent, Belarusian Potash Company (BPC), revealed this morning that spot-price cargoes of potash will fetch more than $1,000 per tonne of standard grade, including freight and insurance (CIF). Higher grade granular potash will go up to $1,010. The new price will take effect for shipments commencing on July 1.

The announcement has come sooner than Uralkali executives had been forecasting, or industry analysts predicting. The price charge follows on from BPC’s recent negotiations with India and China, which fixed new contract delivery prices at $625 and $650, respectively. A fortnight ago, BPC’s deputy general director, Oleg Petrov, said the $1,000 price threshold was approaching “rather fast”.
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ARCELORMITTAL TRIES NEW APPROACH TO BREAK INTO RUSSIAN STEEL

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian boom creates beauty contest for European steel investors.

The rapid acceleration in iron-ore and coal costs can be camouflaged on the books of a vertically integrated steelmaker, who supplies his own raw materials to his own blast furnaces. But mineral cost inflation has begun to hurt, even in integrated steel industries fired by 7% annual GDP growth — that is to say, even in the Russian boom, the only one open in the developed economic world.

But the Russian boom isn’t open to foreign steelmakers.

To illustrate how the door can be shut against their expectation, Mineweb has been chronicling the pit and pratfalls of Lakshmi Mittal, whose ArcelorMittal, world’s biggest steelmaker, has stumbled from one promised Russian opportunity to the next, egged on by provincial governors, and Moscow touts. At last count, the Mittal group has closed its acquisition for $720 million of central Siberian coalfields; and it continues to pursue a scrap-fired mini-mill project in the Tver region, near Moscow.
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CHINA CAUGHT IN POTASH CRUNCH

By John Helmer in Moscow

MOSCOW – The magnitude and growth rate of demand from China still drives global commodity prices. But in the fertilizer sector, where China this month has had to agree to a price for potash more than double what it paid last year, the inflexibility of Chinese demand for food has made it difficult for the country’s negotiators to hang on to the commercial advantages they are accustomed to enjoying from being the world’s largest consumer.

Last year, Chinese buyers of potash lost their traditional discount; that is, the lower price Chinese importers would pay compared with other buyers in the Asian, Latin American, and European markets on account of the larger volumes they contract for recently, the Chinese agreed to pay a premium for their supplies, and they will receive less than they had bargained for.

Chinese buyers also face the shortening of contract terms, canceling their last commercial advantage in the potash market – annual contracts, with prices fixed from one springtime contract agreement to the next.
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GAZPROM AND QADDAFI ARE ON A WINNING STREAM

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian energy giant makes gains in Africa and Europe

The days when American journalists wandered around Tripoli, acting as covert target spotters for the US Air Force to target Muammar Qaddafi for assassination, are gone. The maverick Berber has outlived, outwitted, outsourced, and outprofited five US presidents, four Russian heads of state.

He has also just cut a 50% discount out of the Soviet-era debt he ran up for the arms that warded off a land invasion in the 1980s. For the first time, Qaddafi’s long-held dream to place Libya, and himself, at the energy supply crossroads between Africa, the Mediterranean, and Europe has a better than 50% chance of materializing. Qaddafi has also cocked a snook at the pro-American rivals he has always detested in neighbouring Algeria. And all because of President Vladimir Putin and Gazprom.

The state visit to Tripoli by the Russian president this week, accompanied by Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller, has produced less print than the deals they have consummated would warrant. Resolution of the Soviet debt dispute with Libya is a clever piece of bargaining on both sides. Russian Finance Ministry officials have been reluctant for years to put a figure on exactly how money Libya owed for Soviet arms since US President Ronald Reagan launched his campaign to kill Qaddafi and change regimes in Tripoli. Not even then deputy finance minister Mikhail — Misha Two-Percent — Kasyanov could strike a deal with the Libyans on a number for settling. At one point, estimates ran as high as $10 billion.
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ARCHANGEL DIAMOND DEAL FACES KREMLIN EQUITY REVIEW BEFORE CLOSING

By John Helmer in Moscow

New Russian diamond mine is bigger and better.

Blind Man’s Buff is a game which, in King Henry the Eighth’s time, was played by men at court to grope for ladies.These days it entertains children to hide from the blindfolded one, who plays “it”, and must catchwhoever he can, until no-one is left in the game.

It isn’t customary for respectable stock exchanges to play games with blindfolded shareholders. Nor is it lawful for the management and proprietors of listed companies to treat their minorities as “it”.

As details emerge of the deal that was signed early this week for the world’s largest new diamond mine — the Verkhotina project in northwestern Russia — the terms of the transaction warn of two possible disputes over the equity in the asset. One is whether the Kremlin will agree to the shareholding split, allowing De Beers a 49.99% stake in the project, through its affiliate Archangel Diamond Corporation (ADC); and LUKoil, a 50.01% stake, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Arkhangelskgeoldobycha (AGD).
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MORDASHOV RESHUFFLES MANAGEMENT SEATS AT SEVERSTAL

By John Helmer in Moscow

Poor performance and uncertain prospects dog Russian steel and mining magnate Mordashov and management reshuffle not seen as improving the situation.

Severstal, Russia’s third ranked steelmaker, is far from the Titanic, but seat-changing at the steel and mining group has failed to convince steel industry observers and the Moscow stock market that the downward trend of its stock price can be reversed.

So far this month Severstal’s share price has lost almost 7%, the worst performer among its Russian peers. On Monday, it lost 0.4%, following a company reorganization announcement. The share price continued downward on Tuesday, then flattened in midweek trading.

The company announcement claimed that a “new structure, taking effect in April, will reduce the number of reporting lines between individual operations and senior management, ensuring greater operating efficiency and capitalizing on Severstal’s international diversity by providing for the continued growth of the global business.”
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RUSSIAN RAIDERS BURY HATCHET WITH DE BEERS OVER ARCHANGEL DIAMOND – BUT WHO WILL WIELD THE SHOVEL?

By John Helmer in Moscow

LUKoil ends raid against Archangel Diamond’s Russian project, opening up new mine possibility.

Grib is Russian for mushroom, and this isn’t the season for harvesting them. Grib is also the name of a diamond pipe, first discovered in northwestern Russia in 1996 — and the target of a Russian raid ever since.Until yesterday, that is.

According to an overnight announcement from De Beers in London, Nicky Oppenheimer has signed an agreement with Vagit Alekperov, chief executive and controlling shareholder of LUKoil, to end a decade of dispute and litigation over the fate of the Grib pipe, at the Verkhotina prospect, in Arkhangelsk region, in Russia’s northwest.

The signing was blessed at a brief meeting which Oppenheimer and Alekperov had with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in Moscow. LUKoil confirmed the meeting with Putin, but the Kremlin is saying nothing. How little or how much Putin meant, by way of endorsement of the proposed new diamond mine remains to be seen.

Oppenheimer told Alekperov at yesterday’s ceremonies that De Beers has bought assets in Russia in the past, but has no experience of developing and operating a mine in Russia. He and Alekperov appear to agree that, for the time being, neither has decided how the Grib pipe will be mined, and with whom.
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MINING POTASH HAS NEVER BEEN SO GOOD

By John Helmer in Moscow

Potash prices are soaring and the major beneficiary is LSE quoted Uralkali, Russia’s largest producer.

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains. That is what the Dutch used to say, while watching their tulips grow.

But for the world’s potash miners, meeting this month in Canada, a bushel of grain is another kettle of fish. Referring to the April 3 record of $6 fixed for a bushel of corn on the Chicago Board of Trade’s May contracts, a leading Canadian potash miner said this was a “beautiful chocolate sundae”. The increasing pressure on the corn price of North American ethanol demand, he added, is the “cherry”on the cake.

The mixed metaphors make the point. The global feast of foodstuffs is driving potash demand far faster than the miners can produce it. The result is that the benchmark commodity price being set by Uralkali and its trader, Belarusian Potash Corporation (BPC), the swing producer in the world, is driving up the share prices of the mining companies, which deliver the fertilizer to the market.
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RUSSIA’S BIGGEST COPPER CONTEST IS DECIDED ON CLOUT

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russia’s big copper contest goes on the boil

Russia’s biggest copper contest is going to be a very private affair. Even if there are just two, possibly three contenders, all Russian household names, predicting who will win over the next 90 days of the contest may prove to be more frustrating than it looks.

Forecasting the award of rich state assets like these, over the transition period between the two Russian presidents, should be a reminder of the ancient Harpies. Zeus, the Greek god, was so jealous of Phineas, the man who knew too much, he sent him to an island, sat him down at a dinner-table, and loaded it with food, which the Harpies would fly in to steal, before Phineas had a chance to eat. The Harpies – three winged creatures, with feminine bodices and monster trunks – left their guano behind to make Phineas feel even worse about his appetite.

Udokan, located in the southeastern Siberian region of Chita, near the Chinese border, isn’t made of guano. The largest unmined deposit of copper in Russia, and one of the largest in the world, Russian studies indicated a year ago that its mineable ore reserves break down into sulfides 43%, mixed 40%, and oxides 17%. Official reserves, according to the Russian classification, amount to 1,310.8 million tonnes of ore, 19.7 million tonnes of copper (average grade 1.51%) and 11,900 tonnes of silver (average grade 9.6 g/t). International studies, which include BHP and Bateman, estimate Udokan reserves at 27 million tonnes of copper. At current copper prices, this is a feast worth more than $170 billion, plus another $7 billion for the silver.
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POTANIN TAKES THE INITIATIVE IN NORILSK NICKEL BATTLE

Norilsk Nickel shareholders ask where the cash for the new deal will come from

Oleg Deripaska and his United Company Rusal were trounced in their bid to elect three directors on the Norilsk Nickel board today. The vote saw Vladimir Potanin’s Interros holding, plus most of the free float of 40%, put a full-stop to Rusal’s six-month ambition to take control of Russia’s largest mining company, and become the largest mining and metals conglomerate in the country.

A brief announcement from Norilsk Nickel said that at voting early in the afternoon, an emergency general meeting of shareholders voted against early termination of the current board of directors, and against new elections. Prokhorov had called the meeting with the proposal to replace his men on the board, with those of Rusal, to whom he was planning to sell his Norilsk Nickel stake. Unofficial reports of the EGM voting indicate that Prokhorov voted his shares (34.5%) in favour of this proposal, but they were outvoted by the opposition (64%). Notwithstanding the way he voted, Prokhorov has changed his mind on the Rusal takeover, and he now argues that Rusal cannot meet its buyout and payment terms.
The outcome is the status quo ante, and so the 9-man board remains. Norilsk Nickel chief executive Denis Morozov sought to portray the result as a vote in favour of “professionalism and outstanding service of the acting Board of Directors… I would like to thank our minority shareholders for their support and active participation in voting in such crucial time for Norilsk.”
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RUSAL MAKES CONCESSIONS TO STRIKING BAUXITE MINERS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian miners’ union confident of gaining strike demands as Rusal postpones legal action.

Striking bauxite miners at the Rusal-owned Severuralsk mine, in central Russia, have called off their occupation of one of the mine shafts, on signs that Rusal is ready to make wage, welfare, and other labour contract concessions.

A spokesman for the striking miners, Oksana Sgibneva, told Mineweb that a court hearing, convened last Friday on Rusal’s move to call in police and marshals, was postponed until April 8. “Everything now depends,” she said, “on the condition of the case.”

Severuralsk (“North Ural Bauxite Mining Company”, Russian acronym SUBR ) operates five shafts, and all have been shut down since the day after miners at the Red Riding Hood mine refused to come to the surface, when their shift had ended on March 26. The miners then circulated a list of 11 demands. Rusal warned that the strike was illegal, and promised court action to put an end to the occupation.
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POLYUS GOLD HOLDS A BIRTHDAY BASH

By John Helmer in Moscow

Polyus shareholders give Potanin big win over rival plan to transfer assets.

In Harold Pinter’s play, The Birthday Party, a group of seedy characters in a rundown boarding house, at a miserable English seaside town, arrange a birthday celebration for one of their number. But he denies it’s his birthday, and in the drunken uproar, he tries to strangle one of the women, and rape another. On the morning after, two other characters end the play bv telling the birthday boy that they are going to take him away. In sing-song alternation, they say: “We’ll watch over you. Advise you. Give you proper care and treatment. Let you use the club bar. Keep a table reserved. Help you kneel on kneeling days. Give you a free pass. Take you for constitutionals. Give you hot tips.” Some of Pinter’s interpreters believe this to symbolize the impact of the all-powerful state on the hapless individual.

Russian billionaires tend not to be hapless. But they do crave proper care and treatment, not to mention free passes and hot tips.
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ALROSA RENEWS BID FOR AFRICANMINE CONCESSIONS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Underground mine costs are pushing Alrosa towards diamond prospects in southwestern Africa

Back in the good old friendly days,one thing was always understood by the senior executives and mine engineers of De Beers and Alrosa, the world’s diamond mining leaders. Alrosa faced serious risks and incalculable costs in trying to mine underground, as its open-pit operations at Mirny and Udachny reached exhaustion.

From the De Beers point of view at the time, that meant that Alrosa’s annual production of rough diamonds was facing inevitable decline — and with that, its global market challenge to De Beers itself.

Alrosa’s annual report for 2006 showed what was happening. Udachny, supplying 35% of Alrosa’s total carat output, had suffered a 13% decline over the prior two years (measured in dollar value, because carat data are not released). Offsetting the decline at the Udachny open-pit operation, the new Nyurba mine grew 29% in value, while Mirny,where underground mining had started, gained 28%. Gain overall, however, was less than 8%, and rising dollar prices for diamonds in the period masked the trouble carat volumes were facing.

Sincedecline remained an unpleasant prospect, Alrosa’s planners and prospectors argued, it stood to reason that it might be cheaper for the company to try to find new diamond pipes in Russia — starting, naturally, in Alrosa’s backyard, Yakutia (Sakha), and in Arkhangelsk, on the western side of Russia.
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RUSSIAN BAUXITE MINERS STRIKE AGAINST RUSAL

By John Helmer in Moscow

An unprecedented strike by Russian bauxite miners halts Rusal production in Urals

Richard the Lionheart (1157-99) was the greatest of English soldiers; the greatest artilleryman of all time. In laying siege to an enemy’s position, Richard applied the principle of concentrating force at the point of least resistance – bombarding a castle wall at its weakest point, at the same time as sappers dug under the foundation to bring the structure down.

The Independent Miners’ Union of Russia hasn’t read the playbook of Richard’s sieges. They are professional, however, when it comes to undermining a fortified position. Their down-tools strikes at coal pits and rail blockades in 1995 compelled then President Boris Yeltsin to make concessions to wage demands, which no other Russian workforce has been able to achieve since the end of Communist power. The independently unionized bauxite miners have now emerged to wage a week-old strike against Oleg Deripaska’s United Company Rusal in the Urals mining town of Severuralsk, in central Russia.

This is the first organized claim by miners against a Russian metals oligarch for a share in the wealth he has been accumulating in the current commodity boom. It is also the first break by an independent miners’ union to overwhelm resistance from the company-favoured union.
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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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