RUSSIA’S ARMZ HAS NEW URANIUM REACH

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian state uranium miner now no.2 in control of world uranium resources.

The structure for managing and -run capitalizing the mining of uranium in Russia, and Russian uranium mining ventures abroad, is now clear. And also large, as Russia has recently moved into the number-3 spot in the world ranking of uranium reserves — number-2 if Russia’s equity stake in Kazakhstan reserves is counted.

After a confusing spell, in which it was preceded for a year by the Uranium Mining Company (UMC), Atomredmetzoloto (ARMZ) has been authorized to take equity and operational control of Russia’s three operating uranium mines; five planned new mines; and joint ventures in Kazakhstan, Namibia, and Canada.

Atomredmetzoloto — literally, “atomic, rare metal and gold” — is a venerable name from the Soviet era of the nuclear industry administration, when it was an enterprise of the atomic energy ministry. In those days, it not only supervised uranium mining, but also gold at the well-known Muruntau deposit in Uzbekistan.
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DERIPASKA’S BID FOR NORILSK NICKEL IS OVER

By John Helmer in Moscow

Oleg Deripaska’s bid to take control of Norilsk Nickel, Russia’s premier mining company, came to an end on Monday at a meetingin Moscow. The meeting, to which Norilsk Nickel controlling shareholder Vladimir Potanin was also summoned, concluded with an unambiguous veto on Deripaska’s ambition to buy a controlling stake in Norilsk Nickel, and make a reverse listing of Rusal through the takeover.

At Deripaska’s Basic Element holding, Deripaska’s spokesman Sergei Bobichenko wasasked if Deripaska had met Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. He responded that he can neither confirm nor deny the information. Sources close to Potanin also declined to confirm or deny the meeting and its outcome. Sechin’s spokesman refused to say, and referred the question to the prime minister’s press service. An official there said he did not know, and requested the question to be submitted in writing.

Sechin is formally in charge of Russian policy for industry and oil. He is acknowledged to be the most important policymaker under Putin on the award of the country’s natural resource concessions.
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MECHEL FACES BREAKUP — RUSAL FACES TAX PROBLEMS

By John Helmer in Moscow

In Robert Louis Stephenson’s version of the way English pirates used to issue shareholder summonses for asset distributions, the Black Spot was a ink-blot, spilled on the page of a bible, and delivered by a blind-man. You could hide from the delivery, but not from the consequences.

A second attack on the Mechel group by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday evening has increased the market perception that Igor Zyuzin, the controlling shareholder of the specialty steel and mining group, is facing a government-assisted breakup of his assets.

He may be alone in a cardiological clinic at the moment. But Mechel isn’t alone, as mid-level government officials have now been emboldened to press a campaign in favour of increasing their tax-take from ferrous and nonferrous metal exporters; and against tax optimization schemes used by the Russian non-ferrous metal exporters, such as the tolling used by United Company Rusal.
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FEAR OF NATIONALIZATION SPOOKS RUSSIAN MARKET

By John Helmer in Moscow

The collapse of Mechel’s share price (MTL:US), following a direct attack by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the company and its owner, Igor Zyuzin, for its coking coal price tactics, has generated a market-wide apprehension that strong, and stronger, measures are in store for mill profits and their proprietors’ health.

On Friday, the Russian index fell 5.6% on the day, but some steelmakers dropped further. According to the London Stock Exchange trading data, Novolipetsk fell 7.2%; Severstal, 6.7%; Evraz, 5.5%; and Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine, 4.4%.

As Moscow trading ended on Friday, and US trading opened, Mechel issued its first official statement; this followed a day of no comment from spokesman, Ilya Zhitomirsky. The statement said: “Mechel shares the concerns of the Government of the Russian Federation, steel plants and metallurgical industry in regard to the growth in prices for steel products and raw materials in the recent time. As was previously announced, Mechel has started the process of forming long-term commercial relationships with key partners and has signed a number of agreements for delivery of its products to the end of this year. Mechel is ready for cooperation with federal authorities of the Russian Federation and, if required, will provide complete information on any arising issues.”
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RUSSIAN STEEL AND COAL PROPRIETORS UNDER THE KNOUT

By John Helmer in Moscow

Mechel metal & mining group threatened by price-rigging charge.

There is an old Russian expression that the only way to run anything is “sknutom i pryanikom” — with the club or the cake.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was therefore doing what comes traditionally when, yesterday in a provincial river town, at a policy session on steelmaking, he berated the Mechel group (ticker MTL:US) — Russia’s fifth largest steelmaker and largest coking coal miner — and its owner, Igor Zyuzin.

Zyuzin’s steel business benefits from two vital forms of government protection — penalty duties on imports of European stainless steel, and an export tax on steel scrap; the former removes price competition from the European product entering the Russian market; the latter helps lower export demand and enables domestic mills to buy scrap for their furnaces at a lower price. Mechel’s coal reserves — on which the company’s market capitalization depends — benefited last year when the Kremlin ruled that major foreign bidders, such as ArcelorMittal, should be excluded from the state auction of Sakha region coal assets.

On Thursday morning, Mechel’s market cap was $17 billion; by evening it was $9.5 billion. This is the one of the largest one-day crashes in privately held Russian corporate value since Putin launched the state campaign against the Yukos oil company, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in the autumn of 2003.
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ALROSA FINANCIAL REPORT REVEALS SURPRISES

By John Helmer in Moscow

On most indicators the first full financial report issued since Sergei Vybornov took command of Alrosa in February 2007 indicates modest retreat.

Sales totalled Rb90.7 billion; converted to US dollars at the December 31, 2007, rate, this is equivalent to $3.7 billion. The result marks a 4% decline in Alrosa revenues, compared to 2006.

Cost of sales diminished slightly to Rb51.4 billion ($2.1 billion), and royalty payments were cut in half to Rb4.8 billion ($196 million).
Net profit was Rb16.2 billion ($659 million), a drop of 6% compared with 2006.

Operating profit, before increased financing costs and income tax were taken, amounted to Rb24.4 billion ($995 million). This trailed the result for 2006 by just Rb109 million ($4.4 million).
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COURT CASTS SHADOW OVER RUSAL LISTING

By John Helmer in Moscow

MOSCOW – It is the clash of the titans of the global nickel, aluminum, copper, bauxite, cobalt and platinum markets – Vladimir Potanin’s Norilsk Nickel, Russia’s largest mining company, versus Oleg Deripaska’s United Company Rusal, the world’s biggest aluminum producer.

Deripaska, Russia’s richest man, is seeking to take over Norilsk, but his campaign has run into an unprecedented series of international court rulings, blowing the whistle on his business tactics. Blackening reputations, a court in Britain has ruled, is a red-card offense – whether committed in Russia, England, Switzerland, West Africa or Central Asia.

Hong Kong’s market regulators are obliged to follow carefully, because Rusal has publicly said it may try to sell its at present unlisted shares on the Hong Kong market if it fails to gain admission to the London Stock Exchange. No significant Russian company has previously listed on the Hong Kong exchange (HKEx) while, with the exception of the HSBC and Standard Chartered banks, there are no large non-Chinese companies on the bourse that are also co-listed outside Asia.
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EUROCHEM ENTERS GLOBAL POTASH RACE

By John Helmer in Moscow

Eurochem, Russia’s diversified fertilizerproducer owned by Andrei Melnichenko, and still unlisted, has unveiled a series of ambitious plans to challenge Russia’s two largest potash miners, Uralkali (URKA:RU) and Silvinit (SILV:RU).

According to Eurochem sources, the company will move from zero now to planned production of 2.3 million tonnes of potash (potassium chloride) by 2012; and 4.6 million tonnes by 2015; with resource capacity of more than 6 million tonnes of potash by then.

Uralkali has announced that by 2011 it will be producing 7 million tonnes — with additional capacity potential from its Mine-5 still under study. Silvinit is currently producing at 5.5million tonnes of potash per annum. In May, Silvinit told shareholders it is planning an increase of output to 6 million tonnes by next year. A combination of Silvinit with Acron, a producer of complex fertilizers (NPK), at a planned new mine at Verkhnekamskoye, would add an unmeasured volume to their combined potash capacity; the number has yet to be defined by feasibility studies now under way.
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LUNDIN MINING UNDER PRESSURE ON SIBERIAN LEAD-ZINC PROJECT

By John Helmer in Moscow

Lundin looks set for replacement on the Ozernoye base metals project.

Lundin Mining Corporation (ticker LMC:US) is adamant that it will say nothing at all about its two-year old zinc and lead project in Russia, one of the largest in the world.

Speculation that Lundin, a Canadian listed and Swedish controlled polymetallic miner, may be contemplating a voluntary exit from the Ozernoye, in the southeast Siberian region of Buryatia, was encouraged by a red-light paragraph in the company’s annual report for 2007, issued this past March. “The Company has initiated a review of whether evolving investment terms, license amendment progress, and local issues meet the Company’s criteria for ongoing involvement.”

On June 6, shortly before the company moved its headquarters from Vancouver to Toronto, a Toronto newspaper warned that “Lundin could sell Russian zinc mine.” On June 10, a Moscow newspaper reported more accurately – since there is no mine, only drilling, proving and feasibility works – that Lundin was considering the sale of its 49% interest in the project, while its 51% Russian partner, East Siberian Metals(MBC), a subsidiary of the Moscow-based Metropol investment group, is thinking of a new Russian partner. Metropol is controlled by Mikhail Slipenchuk.
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BP TRIES LEVITATION IN BID TO STOP RUSSIAN LOSS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russians go to court for to oust CEO Dudley.

In the middle of 17th century Paris, Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (that’s the real one, not the 19th century stage character), wrote a fantasy about a voyage to the moon.

To get there, he describes several contrivances, in addition to his own. One, which reportedly delivered the biblical prophet Elijah, involved a large magnetic ball and an iron chariot. To propel the latter into the sky, and thence to the orbit of the moon, the prophet tossed the ball into the air, so that magnetic force would draw the chariot after it. He was obliged to keep catching and tossing to sustain the upward momentum. When it was within gravitational range of the moon, the magnetic ball was tossed downward, and then upward again, in order to break the speed of the chariot’s fall.
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EVRAZ STARTS CAPE LAMBERT IRON-ORE PLAY

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russia’s Evraz steel group makes bid for Cape Lambert iron-ore.

Speculation that the Evraz group (EVR:RU), Russia’s largest steelmaker, is preparing a takeover bid for Cape Lambert Iron Ore Ltd (CFE:AU), the West Australian junior miner, drove the latter’s share price up by 9% in the first day of trading, and another 7.5% today.

Cape Lambert has issued a statement that its board has been meeting Evraz and Merrill Lynch in Singapore, following the disclosure that Evraz had bought a 16% stake in the company early in the week at a price of 73 Australian cents. The current share price is 86 cents, making for a market capitalization of A$324 million.

According to one of Cape Lambert’s directors, the Australians told Evraz and their bankers that for a takeover, they will require a 64% premium over Evraz’s initial acquisition price, or A$1.20 per share.

Evraz, with a market capitalization of $37.6 billion, traded up 2% on Thursday’s news, after falling almost 3% for the week, 8% on the month.
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MECHEL SHARE PRICE LOSES COAL PREMIUM UNDER GOVERNMENT PRESSURE

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian steel and mining group faces government investigation after announcement of spinoff and IPO plan for coal-mining and ferroalloy units

The Mechel group (MTL:US, NYSE; MTLR:RU, RTS) — Russia’s leading specialty steelmaker and one of the leading producers of coking coal in the world — has lost 5% off its Moscow-listed share price on Thursday, following the public announcement two days earlier that it is under Russian government investigation for price-rigging and other anti-trust violations.

Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) announced on July 15 that it has opened an inquiry into price-rigging and other anti-trust violations by the Mechel Group’s coal division. The move is the first ever taken by Russia’s anti-trust watchdog against coking coal suppliers to the Russian steel industry.

Mechel is very sensitive to signals from the federal government, as the steel division has been a takeover target for two years past. For the time being, Mechel is claiming it knows of no complaints from clients regarding its coking coal supply or price policy. The company spokesman has also announced that “we haven’t received any official documents about the case.”
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RUSAL REPUTATION CAMPAIGN SEES RED

By John Helmer in Moscow

Despite a brace of judicial rulings from the English courts against blackening reputations as a business tactic, United Company Rusal has reacted to the defeat of its candidates for the Norilsk Nickel board with this blistering ad hominem attack:

“Moscow, 8 July 2008 – UC RUSAL, the world’s largest aluminium and alumina producer and 25% shareholder in Norilsk Nickel, is issuing the following statement in relation to the results of the first meeting of the new Norilsk Nickel Board of Directors which was held on 7 July 2008. The decisions made at this meeting demonstrate that the Board is controlled by Interros and does not represent the interests of all shareholders.

“The election of Sergey Batekhin, deputy CEO of Interros, as the CEO of Norilsk Nickel was made without any search being carried out to establish a shortlist and was not supervised by a Nomination Committee. Indeed the candidacy of the new CEO was presented by Interros at the meeting of the Board right after Vladimir Potanin, owner of Interros, had been elected as the Chairman. Members of the Board were denied the opportunity to have meetings with the candidate or study his biography and professional track-record. Mr. Batekhin has no meaningful experience in metals and mining sector and has never served as the CEO of a public company. Furthermore there was no proper discussion as to why Denis Morozov, the current CEO who proved to be truly independent, was no longer suitable. It is thus not surprising that the vote to appoint Mr. Batekhin passed by a margin of one director.
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OPEN DOOR OR PORTCULLIS? – RUSSIA TO REVIEW FOREIGN MINER STAKES AND SHAREHOLDINGS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian government gears up to open new, and old, foreign investment deals.

The new Russian legislation to supervise foreign investment in the mining and resource sectors is already taking gold miners by surprise.

According to a Russian junior, which is planning to list on the domestic stock market shortly, it has discovered that, before its shares can be sold to foreign portfolio buyers, the Federal Service for Financial Markets (FSFM) must determine whether the foreign buyers are eligible. That requires a government listing of all Russian companies holding gold reserves above the 50-tonne (1.6 million ounce) threshold. That threshold was fixed in the law defining strategic reserves, from which foreign miners and investors are excluded.

The new legislation sets out the list of strategic sectors and metals, and also thresholds for oil, gas, copper and gold. However, there is no government list of companies working with reserves that has been officially verified. As the gold miner has just discovered, the FSFM doesn’t have such a list, because it hasn’t been compiled yet. So the miner cannot get clearance from the market watchdog to sell its shares on the market.
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RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT DELAYS ON STEEL AND COAL PRICING

By John Helmer in Moscow

The proverb that good things come to those who wait has recently been used to sell a brand of ale that takes a long time to pull into the glass.

An older version makes the waiting less optimistical. “Wait, thou child of hope,” coined the 19th century aphorist, Martin Tupper, “for Time shall teach thee all things.” But then Tupper was that special type, the London lawyer, for whom time is money. Tupper’s best known aphorism is the one legal opinion he didn’t manage to charge for. On his gravestone, it is claimed – “Although he is dead, he will speak.”

The time the Russian government is taking over policy towards the domestic cost of steel and its raw materials, coking coal and iron-ore, is instructive, as the policy debate runs now into its third month. There have already been several misleading announcements of decisions that have yet to be finalized. As a tussle between the Russian oil and gas industry, which consumes the steel in pipe form; the steel industry, which supplies the steel for pipes; and the mining industry, which fills and fuels the blast furnaces, the length of time the contenders and decision-makers require to resolve their differences indicates how unprepared the new government is to make the difficult choices.
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RUSSIAN MINING WATCHDOG UNDER PRESSURE TO RESIGN

By John Helmer in Moscow

Oleg Mitvol, Deputy Head of Rospriradnadzor, looks to be on the way out, perhaps for stepping on too many toes

In the first days of aerial warfare, during World War I, pilots had no tactical guidebook to help them plot their offence or defence. Attackers could fly unexpectedly out of the blinding light of the sun. Or they could lurk in cloud banks, waiting for an ambush. Those who survived describe their learning experience as akin to an animal instinct. In anticipating what the enemy might be likely to do, they imagined where and how they would conceal themselves for the attack. To defend themselves, they would then watch the sky for their alter ago.

Oleg Mitvol, deputy chief of Rospriradnadzor, Russia’s environmental protection and resource inspectorate, has been flying blind since he took his post several years ago. He has no alter ego, but he hasn’t lacked for enemies waiting in ambush. In the short history of post-Communist Russia, Mitvol is the first, and the only, federal government official to pursue the major and junior mining companies working in Russia for licence violations. He has also attacked major metal producers, like the steel group Evraz, for waste water violations, imposing the largest individual fine in the brief record of Russian environmental enforcement.
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OLEG DERIPASKA LOSES BATTLE TO STAY OUT OF THE HIGH COURT

By John Helmer in Moscow

Oleg Deripaska is not having a good week.

On Monday, he revealed he was at maximum stretch to garner just enough shareholder votes for two seats on the Norilsk Nickel board, plus a seat for his highly unpredictable and unreliable shareholding ally, Mikhail Prokhorov.

On Thursday, Justice Christopher Clarke issued a 63-page ruling, granting the application of Deripaska’s former patron and business partner, Mikhail Chernoy (Michael Cherney), the right to a High Court trial of his $6 billion claim to his stake in Rusal, and in Deripaska’s holding, Basic Element. For the first time in an international court, Deripaska has been defeated on the issue of jurisdiction, and must now accept service and stand trial for the partnership agreement he allegedly signed with Cherney at the Lanesborough Hotel in London in March 2001.

According to Clarke’s ruling, “the two most important witnesses are the parties themselves. A substantial proportion of the relevant material (e.g. as to company structures, instructions to lawyers and accountants and movement of funds) must be in writing. Several witnesses, such as the representatives of Syndikus and Mr Philipides, Mr Mishakov and others are likely to be seasoned travellers. Neither party has suggested that they will suffer significant prejudice if the trial takes place here.”
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NORNICK SHAREHOLDERS PREFER THE DEVIL THEY KNOW

By John Helmer in Moscow

“The cleverest subtlety of all is knowing how to appear to fall into the traps set for us,’ is the maxim coined by La Rochefoucauld, one of the cleverest of the 17th century French courtiers. His wounds as a soldier, and the even more serious ones he took in politics, qualified him for early retirement, which he spent making sophisticated ladies nod in agreement at his bitter apophthegms. “People are never caught so easily as when they are out to catch others.”

The outcome of the voting this week by 77% of Norilsk Nickel’s shareholders indicates that although Oleg Deripaska has won a seat for himself on the board, plus one for his chief executive, Alexander Bulygin, and a third for his shareholding ally, Mikhail Prokhorov, he’s in a trap of his own making, from which it will take time to extricate himself.

The stock market reaction to the vote at the AGM of Norilsk Nickel (GMKN:RU) initially misunderstood the result, and cut the share price by 4% to $242; that was decidedly worse than the RTS index as a whole for the day. The pessimism appears to have stemmed from the view that there had been no decisive outcome — neither for controlling shareholder, Vladimir Potanin, nor from hostile takeover bidder UC Rusal, the Deripaska company.
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AFTERSHOCK OF NORD STREAM EXPLOSIONS RUMBLES WARSAW — POLISH POLITICIANS GO “NUTTERS”

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The Polish government in Warsaw, facing re-election in less than a year, wants all the credit from Washington for their joint operation to sabotage the Nord Stream gas pipelines on the Baltic seabed.

It also wants to intimidate the German chancellor in Berlin, and deter both American and German officials from plotting a takeover by the Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, next year.

Blaming the Russians for the attack is their cover story. Attacking anyone who doesn’t believe it, including Poles and Germans, Warsaw officials and their supporting media claim they are dupes or agents of Russian disinformation.

Their rivals, Civic Platform (PO) politicians trailing the PiS in the polls by seven percentage points,   want Polish voters to think that no credit for the Nord Stream attack should be earned by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. They also want to divert  the Russian counter-attack from Warsaw to Washington.

“Thank you USA” was the first Polish political declaration tweeted hours after the blasts by Radoslaw Sikorski (lead image, left), the PO’s former defence and foreign minister, now a European Parliament deputy. In support and justification,  his old friend and PO ministerial colleague, Roman Giertych, warned Sikorski’s critics: “Would you nutters prefer that the Russians find us guilty?”

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THE BORNHOLM BLOW-UP REPEATS THE BORNHOLM BASH — POLAND ATTACKS GERMANY AND BLAMES RUSSIA

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The military operation on Monday night which fired munitions to blow holes in the Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor, near Bornholm Island,  was executed by the Polish Navy and special forces.

It was aided by the Danish and Swedish military; planned and coordinated with US intelligence and technical support; and approved by the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

The operation is a repeat of the Bornholm Bash operation of April 2021, which attempted to sabotage Russian vessels laying the gas pipes, but ended in ignominious retreat by the Polish forces. That was a direct attack on Russia. This time the attack is targeting the Germans, especially the business and union lobby and the East German voters, with a scheme to blame Moscow for the troubles they already have — and their troubles to come with winter.

Morawiecki is bluffing. “It is a very strange coincidence,” he has announced, “that on the same day that the Baltic Gas Pipeline  opens, someone is most likely committing an act of sabotage. This shows what means the Russians can resort to in order to destabilize Europe. They are to blame for the very high gas prices”.   The truth bubbling up from the seabed at Bornholm is the opposite of what Morawiecki says.

But the political value to Morawiecki, already running for the Polish election in eleven months’ time, is his government’s claim to have solved all of Poland’s needs for gas and electricity through the winter — when he knows that won’t come true.  

Inaugurating the 21-year old Baltic Pipe project from the Norwegian and Danish gas networks, Morawiecki announced: “This gas pipeline is the end of the era of dependence on Russian gas. It is also a gas pipeline of security, sovereignty and freedom not only for Polish, but in the future, also for others…[Opposition Civic Platform leader Donald] Tusk’s government preferred Russian gas. They wanted to conclude a deal with the Russians even by 2045…thanks to the Baltic Pipe, extraction from Polish deposits,  LNG supply from the USA and Qatar, as well as interconnection with its neighbours, Poland is now secured in terms of gas supplies.”

Civic Platform’s former defence and foreign minister Radek Sikorski also celebrated the Bornholm Blow-up. “As we say in Polish, a small thing, but so much joy”.  “Thank you USA,” Sikorski added,   diverting the credit for the operation, away from domestic rival Morawiecki to President Joseph Biden; he had publicly threatened to sabotage the line in February.  Biden’s ambassador in Warsaw is also backing Sikorski’s Civic Platform party to replace  Morawiecki next year.  

The attack not only escalates the Polish election campaign. It also continues the Morawiecki government’s plan to attack Germany, first by reviving the reparations claim for the invasion and occupation of 1939-45;  and second, by targeting alleged German complicity, corruption,  and appeasement in the Russian scheme to rule Europe at Poland’s expense. .

“The appeasement policy towards Putin”, announced PISM, the official government think tank in Warsaw in June,  “is part of an American attempt to free itself from its obligations of maintaining peace in Europe. The bargain is that Americans will allow Putin to finish building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in exchange for Putin’s commitment not use it to blackmail Eastern Europe. Sounds convincing? Sounds like something you heard before? It’s not without reason that Winston Churchill commented on the American decision-making process: ‘Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.’ However, by pursuing such a policy now, the Biden administration takes even more responsibility for the security of Europe, including Ukraine, which is the stake for subsequent American mistakes.”

“Where does this place Poland? Almost 18 years ago the Federal Republic of Germany, our European ally, decided to prioritize its own business interests with Putin’s Russia over solidarity and cooperation with allies in Central Europe. It was a wrong decision to make and all Polish governments – regardless of political differences – communicated this clearly and forcefully to Berlin. But since Putin succeeded in corrupting the German elite and already decided to pay the price of infamy, ignoring the Polish objections was the only strategy Germany was left with.”

The explosions at Bornholm are the new Polish strike for war in Europe against Chancellor Olaf Scholz. So far the Chancellery in Berlin is silent, tellingly.

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LEMONS, MIMOSAS, AND STALIN’S SHOVEL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The only Russian leader in a thousand years who was a genuine gardener and who allowed himself to be recorded with a shovel in his hand was Joseph Stalin (lead image, mid-1930s). Compared to Stalin, the honouring of the new British king Charles III as a gardener pales into imitativeness and pretension.   

Stalin cultivated lemon trees and flowering mimosas at his Gagra dacha  by the Black Sea in Abkhazia.  Growing mimosas (acacias) is tricky. No plantsman serving the monarchs in London or at Versailles has made a go of it in four hundred years. Even in the most favourable climates, mimosas – there are almost six hundred varieties of them — are short-lived. They can revive after bushfires; they can go into sudden death for no apparent reason. Russians know nothing of this – they love them for their blossom and scent, and give bouquets of them to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Stalin didn’t attempt the near-impossible, to grow lemons and other fruit in the Moscow climate. That was the sort of thing which the Kremlin noblemen did to impress the tsar and compete in conspicuous affluence with each other. At Kuskovo, now in the eastern district of Moscow, Count Pyotr Sheremetyev built a heated orangerie between 1761 and 1762, where he protected his lemons, pomegranates, peaches, olives, and almonds, baskets of which he would present in mid-winter to the Empress Catherine the Great and many others. The spade work was done by serfs. Sheremetyev beat the French king Louis XIV to the punch – his first orangerie at Versailles wasn’t built until 1763.

Stalin also had a dacha at Kuskovo But he cultivated his lemons and mimosas seventeen hundred  kilometres to the south where they reminded him of home in Georgia. Doing his own spade work wasn’t Stalin showing off, as Charles III does in his gardens, like Louis XIV before him. Stalin’s spade work was what he had done in his youth. It also illustrated his message – “I’m showing you how to work”, he would tell visitors surprised to see him with the shovel.  As to his mimosas, Stalin’s Abkhazian confidante, Akaki Mgeladze, claimed in his memoirs that Stalin intended them as another lesson. “How Muscovites love mimosas, they stand in queues for them” he reportedly told him.  “Think how to grow more to make the Muscovites happy!”

In the new war with the US and its allies in Europe, Stalin’s lessons of the shovel and the mimosas are being re-learned in conditions which Stalin never knew – how to fight the war for survival and at the same time keep everyone happy with flowers on the dining table.

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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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