POTANIN AND VEKSELBERG TEACH DERIPASKA THE CLASSICS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Trojan horse in reverse — Vekselberg & Potanin attack Rusal

Laocoon the Trojan is on record as warning not to trust the famous wooden horse; nor the Greeks bearing gifts. But he, Homer and Virgil can’t help with the corporate raider’s version of the Trojan Horse ploy. This is –if you are planning to attack with the horse, make sure all your men inside are on your side.

Vladimir Potanin, co-owner of Norilsk Nickel, Russia’s dominant mining company, may be going into the June 30 AGM, with one vote no-one had anticipated, least of all his adversary and attacker, Oleg Deripaska, the controlling shareholder of United Company Rusal. That vote is Victor Vekselberg’s, who (with partners) controls 18.9% of Rusal; and who, for the time being, is chairman of the Rusal board.

Potanin has begun negotiating with Vekselberg for a transaction that may exchange the latter’s unlisted, unpriced Rusal shares for the former’s much more valuable Norilsk Nickel stock. First word was leaked publicly last week by Alisher Usmanov, who has also thrown his 50% stake in Metalloinvest – an iron-ore mining and steelmaking group – on to Potanin’s side, and against Deripaska’s attempt to seize control of Norilsk Nickel. Sources at Interros, Potanin’s holding, have told Mineweb: “We don’t hide that there have been consultations with Vekselberg regarding the creation of the joint company.”
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CHAPTER 2 — BP AT KREMLIN GATE, HOIST ON ITS OWN PETARD

By John Helmer in Moscow

In the old days, before artillery fire could be directed with precision, the only way an attacking force could breach a fortified gate or wall was to manually deliver a large package of gunpowder; fix it to the target; light the fuze; and run away. Our word for the modern mortar, and the French word for this medieval device, are related. But the French has a double-meaning, because it also refers to the breaking of human wind.

It was Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who appreciated both, when he dispatches two men he knows to be plotting to kill him with altered letters that will seal their doom, instead of his. As Hamlet expresses the famous thought: “tis sport to have the engineer/Hoist with his own petar.”

In all the meanings Hamlet meant can be found the predicament in which British Petroleum (BP:PZ, LSE; BP:US, NYSE) ) is now hoist in Moscow. What chief executive Tony Hayward and TNK-BP CEO, Robert Dudley, thought was the brilliant stroke of making an alliance with Gazprom, and President Dmitry Medvedev, to rid themselves of three Russian oligarchs, has turned into an embarrassment for Gazprom and the new men in the Kremlin; a boon for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Rosneft; and the one thing BP dislikes most about Mikhail Fridman – a boost to his ability to shake a second fortune out of the pockets of a mark he’s already scored once.
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POLYUS GOLD VOTE LEAVES PROKHOROV IN CONTROL

By John Helmer in Moscow

The share price of Polyus Gold started tumbling on the Moscow exchange even before the votes were counted at today’s Annual General Meeting of shareholders in Moscow. At the Moscow bell, Polyus was down more than 3% on the day to $60 per share.

Since May 21, when the share price spiked on shenanigans already reported, the Polyus price has dropped 25%. There was still time for the London exchange to keep the price tumbling, which it did through the afternoon, dropping more than 6% as this was being written. Almost $4 billion in market capitalization has evaporated in a month; $106 million per day, and that includes weekends.

The results of voting on the new board of directors indicated that Mikhail Prokhorov has retained his own and four other seats. These are to be sat on by chief executive Evgeny Ivanov and Valery Rudakov, beneficiaries of a lucrative and lawful share options scheme reported in Mineweb early this month. In addition, two other sitting directors, Yekaterina Salnikova and Yevgeny Braiko, have been re-elected to positions backing Prokhorov. Prokhorov’s holding Onexim declined to characterize the outcome of the board vote, and spokesman, Igor Petrov, told Mineweb: “We don’t have a position. Please read the Polyus statement.”
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RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT POSTPONES DECISION ON STEEL EXPORT DUTY

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russia tries cooling steel prices.

The Russian government has postponed a decision on whether to impose export duties of up to 20% on steel products, despite a flurry of press and brokerage reports claiming the government’s senior industry minister has already promised not to levy new taxes.

A meeting between steelmakers and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin on Saturday last, June 21, did not reach a policy conclusion, both government and industry sources report.

The duty scale proposed by the government may parallel the regime recently adopted by the Indian government — 5% for zinc-galvanized products; 10% for cold-rolled and hot-rolled products; and 15% for semi-fabricated slabs.
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CHAPTER 1-BEFORE BP FALLS, GAZPROM RISES

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russians out-play Saudis as Gazprom calls for OPEC replacement.

The view from British Petroleum’s front-window on to St. James Square in London is an irony BP Chairman Peter Sutherland and Chief Executive Tony Hayward have not noticed; at least not yet.

In the middle of the gated garden, there is a fine statue of William of Orange, the Dutch champion of Protestantism, who became King William III, and, by reputation, rescued the English from a Roman Catholic dynasty, and all manner of French and popish plots.

William is mounted on a fine horse. The plaque fails to mention that William met his death when he fell from the horse; broke his collar-bone; contracted pneumonia; and promptly expired. Because the horse tossed the king after stumbling in a mole’s burrow, William’s enemies used to toast “the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat”.
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RUSSIAN INVESTMENT MIRAGE IN ZAMBIA

By John Helmer in Moscow

Reported Russian billions for Zambian copper are flash in the pan.

The prospect of several billion dollars in Russian mining investment in southern Africa cannot fail to be alluring.

But an announcement by a single newspaper in Moscow last week that three major Russian mining companies “hope to announce a major investment worth more than $2 billion in Zambia next month” triggered the reaction from miners and investment advisors alike that it’s a mirage. According to one well-known SA mining advisor, “it sounds like an unlikely story to me. Russians never actually invest their money into Africa, and especially not into Zambia.”

He claims that a major Euro-Russian ferrochrome acquisition from Samancor in SA was financed internally by SA banks and cashflow from the project itself.
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NORILSK NICKEL’S FREE FLOAT PREPARES AGM VOTE

By John Helmer in Moscow

Rusal seeks four seats on the Norilsk Nickel board.

Capt. W.E. Johns, the favourite novelist of English schoolboys, wrote 104 books about Biggles – Flight Captain James Bigglesworth, a World War I air ace. The boys’ demand for his adventures was so great, Johns had to press him back into service against the Luftwaffe in World War II.

Johns and his Biggles series are publicly celebrated for many things, but not the most important. Through hundreds of dogfights in the air, and adventures on the ground, Johns illustrated a maxim he didn’t coin – wickedness has character, cleverness none. The German Erich von Stalhein is vicious, since he’s always after Biggles’ blood. But since he also always manages to fail, his vices never materialize beyond the leer on his lips. He doesn’t even get worse when he becomes a Nazi.

Biggles, on the other hand, is clever to the point of genius, but internally blank, externally unlovable. Not even an affair with a beautiful French woman, whom Biggles meets after landing lost (a true story about Capt Johns, it turns out), generates a scintilla of sympathy for the mechanics of successful cause and effect.
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TAJIK ALUMINUM BECOMES SHOOTING MATCH

By John Helmer in Moscow

MOSCOW – The spear points of the fence that guards the Royal Courts of Justice, off Fleet Street in London, haven’t been used to display the severed heads of criminals for half a millennium. They remain sharp, and deterring, nonetheless. Inside, and upstairs to the left, the swinging oak doors of Courtroom 4 are also deterring, if you are the Tajikistan Aluminum Plant, the biggest-spending plaintiff in recent English legal history.

It is in this courtroom that the fates of the smelter owners, the rulers of far-off Tajikistan, are being decided. On June 10, in a hearing before High Court Justice Tomlinson, English lawyers argued over whether Hassan Saduloev (also spelled Sadullaev in Russian, Asadullozoda in Tajik) the second man in Tajikistan, brother-in-law to President Emomali Rahmon, and a key witness in the London court case, is alive or dead. Reports that he had been shot were published last month.

Saduloev is required to testify in court, and if he is dead he cannot. If he is alive, he must. If he is in hiding, he may be cited for contempt of court, and the case may be dismissed by the judge.
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MECHEL SPINS OFF MINING AND FERROALLOY UNITS TO DETER ATTACK

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian specialty steelmaker spins off coal-mining and ferroalloy units to add value, deter asset attack.

A series of new executive appointments, announced this week by Mechel, suggests that the group’s controlling shareholder, Igor Zyuzin, is preparing for the possible, much rumoured sale of the Mechel steel division to the state-owned RusSpetsStal (“Russian Special Steel”, RSS) group.

What isn’t clear yet is whether Zyuzin’s new structure is meant to repel, or absorb, an attack. This structure, comprising separate steel, mining, ferroalloy, and other divisions, is interpreted by some industry sources as a defense against a takeover. Others view it as making Mechel’s steel assets cheaper for a state steelmaking company to acquire, and easier for Zyuzin to let go.

There is no explanation from the company as to why the group’s coal and iron-ore mines are located in the mining spinoff, while chromium and nickel mines are in the ferroalloy unit; nor why transportation and electricity supply have been prized apart from steelmaking, the original function of Mechel, Russia’s fifth ranked steelmaker.
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KERIMOV SELLS OUT OF POLYMETAL, RUSSIA’S MAJOR SILVER MINER

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian largest silver and third largest gold miner, Polymetal, goes back to Nesis family.

Suleiman Kerimov finally did what he was always expected to do with Polymetal, Russia’s principal silver miner — he has sold out.

The move was confirmed in a Monday morning press release from one of the buyers, the ICT group belonging to former Polymetal owner Alexander Nesis. He has acquired a 24% shareholding. The sale to a consortium, which also includes Moscow investor Alexander Mamut (19%), and the PPF group of Prague (25%), also indicates that, in Kerimov’s judgement, Russian gold and silver miner valuations have reached their peak for the foreseeable future.

The ICT announcement says no price or valuation will be disclosed in their transaction. ICT says only that it is buying a 24% stake in Polymetal from Kerimov’s aggregate holding of 69%. The ICT press release also quotes Nikolai Dobrinov, a partner of Nesis, as hinting that Kerimov may have been obliged to accept less than he once thought his stake was worth.
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CHINA STUMBLES IN FORGING RUSSIA GAS DEALS

By John Helmer in Moscow

China is a power behind global commodity flows as well as prices. But Beijing has been slow to understand that it is the horse that pulls the cart; the whip hand belongs to the coachman.

Chinese negotiators have already made one colossal mistake in pricing their supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG). They are making a second in trying to draw out of Russia a discount for natural gas. For China to insist on tying Gazprom down to the extraction cost of Siberian gas – at a fraction of the price Gazprom sells its gas to Western Europe – is producing an impasse in current negotiations and slowing down Russia’s readiness to invest in the pipeline systems, on which Chinese calculations depend.

President Dmitry Medvedev visited China last month. Ahead of the visit, he was reported as cautioning that Russian plans to export natural gas to China were under way, but that “technological details are still being discussed” and “negotiations were ongoing to finalize the price formula of Russian gas supplies to Chinese consumers”.
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POLYUS GOLD FACES WEEK OF DISCLOSURES

By John Helmer in Moscow

Co-owner of Polyus Gold Mikhail Prokhorov and chief executive Evgeny Ivanov are planning a roadshow this week to answer questions from minority shareholders. The presentations have been scheduled two weeks before the annual general shareholders meeting of the company, Russia’s largest and most valuable goldminer, due on June 26.

Prokhorov kicked off with a statement that flies in the face of everything that has emerged to date from his year-long conflict with co-controlling shareholder, Vladimir Potanin. Speaking on the sidelines of a St. Petersburg economic forum, Prokhorov said: “I didn’t break any agreements, the situation simply changed…And we are still friends.”

Continuing gyrations in the stock price of Polyus Gold, along with new evidence that a share option agreement of last July was designed to reward loyalists to Prokhorov, and disadvantage Potanin’s supporters, suggest that the negotiation between Prokhorov and Potanin is anything but friendly, while the appearance of their conflict continues to threaten the future of the company’s value, and add fuel for investigation by the London regulatory agency, the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
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POLYUS FIGHT TAKES RUSSIAN DUELLISTS TO THE PRECIPICE – NEXT EPISODE

By John Helmer in Moscow

After rejecting a share-buy by a Potanin ally, Prokhorov makes a counter-bid to start new share price spiral.

The end of Sherlock Holmes came when he and his greatest adversary, Professor Moriarty, wrestle at the cliff’s edge above the Reichenbach Falls, in the Swiss Alps. Locked in combat, they take each other to their deaths down the 250-metre drop – although Holmes was subsequently resurrected. The Alps, on the French side, have also been bad luck for Mikhail Prokhorov.

In his latest move, he has taken his fight over Polyus Gold, the leading Russian gold miner, with ex-partner, Vladimir Potanin, to the precipice. There, with one more stumble, each risks having acquired more than 30% of the shares of the company; and with that, the costly obligation to buy out the minority shareholders.

After share trading last Friday evening, Polyus Gold confirmed that it had received an offer from Prokhorov’s holding company, Onexim, to “acquire the 12,476,401 ordinary shares in Company held by the Company’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Jenington International Inc. (representing approximately 6.54% of the total issued and outstanding ordinary shares of the Company) and confirms receipt of such offer. The offer is stated to expire at 6 p.m. (Moscow time) on 6 June 2008. There can be no assurance as to whether the offer will be accepted, or on what terms.”
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UKRAINIANS TRY THE UP-AND-DOWN OIL GAMBIT ONE MORE TIME

By John Helmer in Moscow

Profit defeats politics in Ukraine’s bid to make crude oil run uphill.

In the annals of topographic desperation, it is unclear which foolish Duke of York did this to his army, but not even the nursery rhyme leaves any doubt about what he did:

Oh, the grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half way up,
They were neither up nor down.

Last week, in an unjoking effort at emulating the Duke’s performance, Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko announced in Kiev that Azerbaijan has agreed with the Ukraine to supply 5 million tonnes of crude (about 98,000 barrels per day) for refining at two western Ukrainian refineries. This crude is to be piped by Azerbaijan to Poti or Batumi, Georgian ports on the Black Sea; tankered across the Black Sea to Odessa; and from a terminal at Odessa port pumped by pipeline towards Brody, in western Ukraine, near the Polish border.
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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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