MOSCOW – After years of on-off negotiations and recriminations between Beijing, Moscow and Tokyo, Russia’s state pipeline company Transneft agreed this week to complete construction of a pipeline to deliver crude oil between Skovorodino, in southeastern Siberia, and Daqing, the oilfield and refinery hub in northeast Heilongjiang, in China.
The agreement, signed during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Moscow to meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, will be sweetened by up to US$15 billion in long-term Chinese credits for Russian state oil producer Rosneft, and up to $12 billion to Transneft. In return, the Russians will commit to delivering not less than 300,000, and up to 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day to Daqing, including pipeline and rail deliveries.
Just 60 kilometers separate Skovorodino from the Chinese border, but getting the Russians and Chinese to agree to pump oil over that distance and join a Chinese-built pipeline on the other side of the border has been a protracted affair lasting for more than four years. There’s just one catch to the new agreement – it has been agreed more than once before. (more…)
Now you see Murli Deora, now you don’t — what game are the Indians playing with Russian oil?
By John Helmer in Moscow
India’s Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Murli Deora, was to have been in Moscow last week to urge approval of a controversial plan to put ₤1.4 billion into a London-listed company called Imperial Energy Corporation, whose oil deposits in the Tomsk region of Siberia are years from full production; whose current operations are loss-making; and whose oil, when it finally is lifted, will either be refined in Russia, or be exported by pipeline to China.
Satbir Singh, acting ambassador at the Indian Embassy in Moscow, was flummoxed when asked to explain whether or not Deora had been expected on October 23, the minister’s announced date of arrival. “We have no concrete information”, Satbir said through a spokesman, while the official spokesman of the Embassy, A.V.S. Rameshchandra, made himself incommunicado for the day. He left a message on his desk, advising callers that if they had a question about Deora, they should call Delhi.
There, it turned out, Deora’s subordinates were announcing that Deora would be in Moscow on November 4. They added that he isn’t making the trip to promote the Imperial Energy takeover by the state-owned offshore oil holding, ONGC Videsh. According to S. Sundareshan, a ministry official, Deora’s two-day trip next month will aim at securing the Russian government’s support for ONGC to buy stakes in other Russian oilfields and gas fields, though which ones Sundareshan didn’t say. R.S. Sharma, chairman of the Oil and Natural Gas Company (ONGC), the parent of ONGC Videsh, announced that “the Imperial transaction may not be on the agenda.” (more…)
An attempt by lenders to Alrosa to increase charges for a $350 million one-year syndicated loan has triggered recriminations between the banks in the syndicate, and a categorical denial by Alrosa that it has agreed to pay more.
Morgan Stanley heads the syndicate, which also includes Bayerische Landesbank (BayernLB) and WestLB. BayernLB has recently reported heavy writedowns from exposure to high-risk derivatives in the US market. WestLB says it has been less directly affected, in part because it sold its risky securities portfolios to a special purpose vehicle, thereby ring-fencing the profit of the main bank.
BayernLB is one of the weakest of the German banks exposed to the current financial crisis; it reported this week that it will have “negative earnings before taxes of around EUR 1 billion for the third quarter”. The losses will grow in the fourth quarter, the bank has admitted. (more…)
The share price of Archangel Diamond Corporation (ADC) collapsed yesterday as a company statement acknowledged that its fund-raising of $174.4 million to restart the Grib pipe mining project, in northwest Russia, will be returned to shareholders.
ADC issued its statement after PolishedPrices.com had reported that delays in issuing project approvals by the Russian government had violated last Friday’s October 17 deadline for implementation of the funding commitment.
The text, issued from ADC’s Toronto office, said: “With respect to the US$172.4 million private placement of Subscription Receipts described in the Corporation’s news release dated June 24, 2008, Archangel announces that the Escrow Release Conditions as defined in the Subscription Receipt Agreement dated June 24, 2008 between the Corporation and Computershare Trust Company of Canada (“Computershare”) were not satisfied by 4.00 pm Toronto time on October 17, 2008. The Corporation was unsuccessful in obtaining an extension, consequently each Subscription Receiptholder’s escrowed funds, plus any accrued interest earned thereon, will be repaid pro rata to each such holder by Computershare in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Subscription Receipt Agreement.” (more…)
Novlipetsk Metallurgical Company (NLMK), the third ranked Russian steelmaker owned by Vladimir Lisin, is considering whether to cancel two recently announced US acquisitions — John Macneely Corporation (JMC) and Beta Steel. JMC was purchased for $3.54 billion in August; Beta Steel for $400 million in September. The deals are not complete, but closure had been expected before the year’s end.
NLMK spokesman Evgeniy Lukashevich claimed Friday that nothing was happening, telling CRU Steel News: “I have no update to our previous statement, when we announced that we expect to close the deal in 4Q2008.”
Two days earlier, on October 15, in a filing with the US federal district court in New York, the Carlyle group, seller of JMC, revealed that there was a disagreement over revising the price for the JMC transaction. Carlyle and its subsidiary, DBO Holdings, which owns JMC, asked the court to enforce completion of the transaction, or require NLMK to pay costs and damages. According to Moscow reports, which NLMK sources no longer deny, NLMK has asked Carlyle to lower the sale price to take account of the changed circumstances in the global steel market, the fall of steel prices, and a sharp rise in borrowing costs for the deal. NLMK’s bankers — Merrill Lynch, Societe Generale, and Deutsche Bank — have reportedly lifted the interest rate from an initially agreed LIBOR plus 45 points to LIBOR plus 145-320 points. (more…)
Delay and new cost conditions may persuade De Beers to abandon the Grib pipe
By John Helmer in Moscow
Unclear conditions set for De Beers’ s new Archangelsk region diamond project, and unexplained delays by the Russian government in communicating them, are likely to trigger the cancellation of the $172 million fund-raising, held last June by Archangel Diamond Corporation (ADC). The money to finance the restart of the big diamond mining project has been held in escrow since the placement was closed on June 24. It is now likely to be returned to its contributors, who have seen the value of their shareholding in ADC fall by 60% since June.
On October 10, Russia’s Control Commission for Foreign Investment, a cabinet-level body chaired by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, reviewed the application by De Beers and LUKoil for state approval of its joint venture to mine the Grib diamond pipe, with an estimated $7 billion in mineable diamonds. A public announcement of the approval was issued to the press by a member of the commission, Igor Artemyev; he heads the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), which is the staffing agency for the commission.
The commission should have produced a signed protocol of its ruling, and sent it to De Beers and LUKoil within three days of signing. But ADC has not announced this receipt yet. FAS sources were unable to say on October 20 whether the protocol has been signed. According to the commission regulations, once the signed notice of decision has been sent to the applicants, they have 20 days to confirm their acceptance. (more…)
The first sign of a Russian economic crisis is a line of desperate people, pushing and shoving outside a locked door, on which a scribbled sign has been posted indicating that the cash those outside thought they owned would be unavailable until further notice.
In the classic Soviet tradition, a handful of enterprising individuals would go to the back door to see what could be arranged out of the glare of publicity and with a little bribery for those inside. There they were told the truth – their money had gone.
So far, as the financial crisis continues to engulf the world, only four or five Russian banks have gone to the wall, visibly – KIT Finance, a small St Petersburg investment institution connected to cabinet ministers; Bank Soyuz, the cash box of Oleg Deripaska’s aluminum-based holding; EvrasiaTsentr (“Eurasia Center”), a tiny Moscow lender; and Globex, a slightly bigger retail deposit bank, also in Moscow.
All have been swiftly secured, without the distress becoming too public or a line of angry depositors forming outside. The sale of Renaissance Capital, a fifth investment house, for a fraction of its pre-crisis value, was another distress sign, but not in the mass market. (more…)
Russia’s vice premier for energy and resources, Igor Sechin — who is also chairman of Rosneft, the state owner oil producer and lead exporter — met behind closed doors on the weekend with the heads of Russia’s oil and gas majors to discuss their refinancing problems.
State intervention to support the oilers’ debt rollover is likely to be followed by further support measures for the state-controlled tanker companies, which faces rising foreign debt bills for their tanker newbuilds. Sechin, who also supervises shipbuilding and ports, and is closed aligned with Gunvor owner, Gennady Timchenko, has recommended giving the oil companies a total of $9 billion via the state development institution, Vnesheconombank (VEB), so that they can refinance foreign loans over the next nine months. Analysts believe this will be divided into $1 billion for Gazprom, $1.8 bilion for TNK-BP, $2 billion for LUKOIL, and $4.2 billion for Rosneft. The final distribution of the funds will be decided at the VEB board, which is chaired by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Russian oilers are believed to owe about $80 billion in foreign-sourced loans.
Gunvor has told Fairplay it is actively seeking finance to expand Timchenko’s stakes in the Baltic oil trades, including the new Ust-Luga terminal, rail transportation of oil, fleet operations, and independent gas exports. (more…)
When United Company Rusal, the international aluminium producer controlled by Oleg Deripaska, invited a 37-man delegation of Chinese reporters and cameramen to Russia last month, the aim was to get across the message that China is the central kingdom in the Deripaska empire; that as much or more investment is promised for China than Rusal has so far committed to Russia itself for the next few years.
Deripaska’s future, wrote a reporter for the Hong Kong Standard, “may depend on China. It is the mainland’s voracious appetite for raw materials that has fueled a boom in aluminum prices that is expected to continue unabated.”
Another Chinese reporter in the delegation reported Rusal chief executive, Alexander Bulygin, as describing a roadshow in Hong Kong, which Rusal ran in parallel to the media tour of Russia: “How can I not like Hong Kong. I have been there twice in the past six weeks.” That roadshow, Bulygin confided, was aimed at finding a handful of Chinese investors to buy into Rusal, ahead of a public share listing. “We plan to find a whole spectrum of strategic investors – not one, but five to seven different investors representing different sectors,” he said. The private Chinese placement was intended to sell a 2% shareholding stake in Rusal; a later IPO at selling between 10% and 20%. (more…)
Deep cuts in steel output at Russian mills have been exaggerated by some steelmakers and the press and reflect attempts by some Russian proprietors, like Alexei Mordashov, owner of Severstal, to sustain profit margins, according to industry sources.
“Although the market is not in the best mood right now, and there are real problems, I think the cutback announcements are part of a PR campaign as well,” said Lev Chesalov, an analyst at the Russian steel market monitor, Rusmet.
“The proprietors may regard the push-down on the falling share price as an opportunity to buy back their own shares. I don’t believe MMK will oust 3,000 people as has appeared in the press, or that Severstal may cut 30% of its production.”
Mordashov has ordered a 25% cut in crude steel at Severstal’s Cherepovets mill in Russia, and a 30% cut in output for October at the group’s US and Italian mills. (more…)
Russia’s aluminium and nickel oligarchs go to the mat for state bank funding.
A fierce battle has begun for access to state bank cash to determine who ends up in control of Russia’s largest metal and mining companies, Norilsk Nickel and United Company Rusal.
Rusal spokesman Vera Kurochkina disclosed officially in Moscow on Wednesday that Rusal has applied for a large loan from Vnesheconombank (VEB), a wholly state owned institution, which has been ordered by the Kremlin to provide stand-by financing to domestic banks in current difficulty.
In addition to banks, several Russian oil majors, plus Gazprom, have told the government they need emergency financing to enable them to refinance their external debt in the global financial crisis. LUKoil says it wants to borrow between $2 billion and $5 billion. Rosneft, which is state owned, must pay $750 million by year’s end, and a further $2.4 billion in the first half of 2009.
Trading in Russian stocks has been halted more than once this week, but based on latest figures, Gazprom is 67% off its high price, with a current market value of $117 billion; LUKoil is 62% down with a current market value of $37 billion; the respective numbers for Rosneft are 68% down and $41 billion, and for Norlisk, 83% down and $11 billion. (more…)
Norilsk Nickel investigation of asset spinoff leads to questioning of shareholder intention
Mikhail Prokhorov’s holding company, Onexim, has officially confirmed that Mikhail Prokhorov will not proceed with the asset division agreement he signed on September 14 with former partner, Vladimir Potanin.
A statement issued to Mineweb by the holding’s chief executive, Dmitry Razumov, claims: “We made a proposal to Interros [Potanin’s holding company], but have not yet received an answer. The ball is in Interros’s court.” Referring to Russian press agency reports that Prokhorov had called off the deal after declaring force majeure is not explained by Razumov. Instead, his statement claims: “information on any force majeure on our side, preventing us from reaching an agreement with Interros, has nothing to do with reality.”
Mineweb reported a week ago that the deal had collapsed. A source close to the negotiations told Mineweb: “This was not a formal agreement. It was a protocol, in simple written form, not an agreement according to Russian legislation, though it may be so according to other countries.” Interros has told Mineweb it is not commenting on the terms that were and agreed and signed. (more…)
Russia’s biggest iron-ore miner defers public share sale due to global cash crisis
Metalloinvest, the Russian steel and iron-ore holding controlled by Alisher Usmanov, has failed to fix an international market value for listing and sale of its shares. This is the market interpretation after an announcement on Thursday by chief executive, Maxim Basov, that the group (also referred to as Gazmetall) will not proceed with a planned Initial Placement Offering (IPO) this year.
Basov was quoted in a Russian press agency bulletin as saying “our shareholders and management examined the possibility of conducting an IPO this autumn as an option for growth. But we decided against this. There’s a serious crisis in the world and an IPO simply doesn’t make sense.”
Usmanov holds 50% of the private shareholding; Andrei Skoch, 30%; and Vasily Anisimov, 20%. The main assets in the holding are the Ural Steel (Nosta) and Oskol steelmills, and the two iron-ore mines, Lebedeinsky and Mikhailovsky.
In February, negotiations for a merger between Usmanov and the Ukrainian Industrial Union of Donbass (IUD) foundered over valuation and control issues. At the time, Usmanov had valued his assets at $20 billion, while he insisted that a swap of shares should leave IUD with less than a 50% stake in the new, merged company. (more…)
Polyus Gold waits for the green light – or is it red?
Glenn Gould, the world’s greatest pianist, and a notorious automobile driver, once admitted: “It’s true that I’ve driven through a number of red lights on occasion. But on the other hand, I’ve stopped at a lot of green ones but never gotten the credit for it.”
Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian oligarch who controls Polyus Gold, Russia’s most valuable gold miner (ticker PLZL:RU), may not be getting all the credit he deserves. It is understandable, therefore, that through spokesmen at his Moscow holding, Onexim, and indirectly through the media, he has been publicising a number of cash demonstrations in a marketplace stripped of most of its liquidity.
There is, for example, the $500 million he paid in September, plus another $500 million or so in pledged capital, for Renaissance Capital, a Moscow investment house that strenuously denies it holds toxic obligations, or operating losses it cannot cover.
There is also €496 million for the most expensive house ever sold in France. According to sources in the Nice area and Onexim, as well as French press reports, during the summer Prokhorov sent his representatives to inspect the villa at Villefranche-sur-Mer; negotiated the price; and paid a non-refundable €50 million deposit. No trace of such a payment has been reported in France, nor notarial evidence of the deal. Onexim said Prokhorov had not bought the house in France – as of mid-August. (more…)
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 BlueLine (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.
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.
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.