Russia’s Economic Development Minister, Elvira Nabiullina (pictured left), has confirmed the government’s intention to privatize the shares of the oil tanker group, Sovcomflot (SCF), which is currently 100% owned by the state.
Nabiullina, speaking at an investment conference in Moscow, said that in order to increase state budget revenues, the privatisation of “ports…airports, Sovcomflot [is] now [being] discussed,” according to news agency reports.
Nabiullina’s ministry spokesman declined to say if the government has decided on a valuation of SCF for the sell-off, on the volume of shares to be sold, or the revenue target to be aimed at. At her public appearance, Nabiullina claimed the proceeds of the selloff might be “several tens of billions of roubles”. (more…)
The Guinean Government in Conakry says it has enough evidence to launch a new court claim against Russian aluminium company, Rusal, for at least $1 billion. A local court filing is expected shortly, government sources in Conakry say, citing evidence of inflated costs and allegations of manipulation of financial accounts that have reduced taxes the government says Rusal was obliged to pay in Guinea over several years. At the same time, the Guinean government has decided to engage an internationally recognized accounting firm to analyze both the internal financial accounts, and also Rusal’s export declarations, to support the court claim, and if warranted, increase it. (more…)
Oleg Deripaska, the controlling shareholder and chief executive of Rusal, Russia’s bauxite and aluminium monopoly, is attempting to run the gauntlet of international courts and Hong Kong stock exchange investigators, as time runs out for him to meet his cash-or-list obligations to his shareholding partners, Russian oligarchs Mikhail Prokhorov and Victor Vekselberg. They, like Michael Cherney, Deripaska’s founding partner in the aluminium business, hold signed undertakings from Deripaska that if their private shares in Rusal do not achieve a public market listing by deadline, Deripaska must buy back their shares for cash.
And as Russia’s most indebted man, with about $20 billion in obligations, not counting the share value, Deripaska has no money to spare.
The pressure on the Russians has turned into an unprecedented problem this week for the Hong Kong Exchange (HKEx) listing division, headed by Mark Dickens; and the Hong Kong government market regulator, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), headed by Martin Wheatley. Dickens, an Australian with three decades of Australian and Hong Kong market experience, has had no investigative involvement with Russian companies. Wheatley, an Englishman, was with the London Stock Exchange until 2005, before the Russians started to list there. (more…)
Vadim Varshavsky, the owner of the bankrupt Estar group of midsize, specialty steel mills, has made his first public appearance in Russia since his financial group collapsed with debts of up to $4 billion. Until recently, he had been thought to be staying in London, or in another location abroad.
Varshavsky was in Rostov on Saturday to meet the Rostov region governor, Vladimir Chubb, the governor’s spokesman told CRU Steel News. The meeting also included the Mechel group chairman and controlling shareholder, Igor Zyuzin. According to the governor’s office, the meeting was intended to confirm terms of transfer of Varshavsky’s management and financial interest in the operation of four Estar units in the region — the Rostov Electrometallurgical Works (REMZ), the newest of the mills of the Estar group; Lomprom, a scrap unit of the Estar group; a power station supplying electricity to the Rostov mill; and a small coal mine. (more…)
According to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Nemone, Queen of the City of Gold, was one of those notorious Hollywood types – too beautiful, not enough brains, and a perverse streak that enjoyed making people suffer. Tarzan gets help from his pet lion, and together they despatch the worst Nemone sends after them. Nemone is a sore loser, and seeing no purpose in life without getting her own way, she kills herself.
Alexei Mordashov is smarter than Nemone, but he is a sore loser nonetheless. After confronting the combined forces of the minority shareholders in High River Gold (ticker HRG:CN) for six months, and losing, he’s despatched in the space of a single week the chief executive of the company, the head of investor relations, and a member of the HRG board. (more…)
Key: Rear left, Congressman Bill Pascrell, Democrat, New Jersey
Rear right, NBA Commissioner David Stern
Centre, Stuart Levey, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Intelligence
Rack: Mikhail Prokhorov
Front left, Senator Paul Sarbanes, author of financial accountability statute
Front right, Daniel Goelzer, Chairman of Public Company Accounting Oversight Board
For Immediate Release
September 23, 2009
For Information Contact
Paul Brubaker (973) 523-5152
CONGRESSMAN PASCRELL REQUESTS NBA COMISSIONER
DAVID STERN TO INVESTIGATE NEW JERSEY NETS SALE
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8) today sent a letter to NBA Commissioner David Stern urging him to thoroughly investigate former nickel mining baron Mikhail Prokhorov, who reached an agreement today to buy the New Jersey Nets. (more…)
A secret meeting in the middle of the night in the presidential palace in the Guinean capital of Conakry, requested by the Russian aluminium oligarch Oleg Deripaska, has triggered a Guinean court ruling and a tax investigation of claims amounting to $700 million. The claims catapult the Guinean government and its leader, Army Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, to the head of the table of international creditors seeking more than $8 billion from the insolvent Russian aluminium monopoly, United Company Rusal.
Guinean government officials say that Deripaska, who is chief executive and controlling shareholder of Rusal, made the arrangement to meet Camara through an intermediary, Raoul Delaware. A British passport-holder from Mauritius, he is well-known in Conakry from his involvement in international business deals during the 25-year rule of President Lansana Conte. Conte died last December. He has been replaced by the Guinean Army. (more…)
Mahmoud Thiam, the US-trained banker turned resource policymaker for the Guinean government (pictured right), says that the nine-month review he has initiated of the country’s major mineral and mining concessions is not intended to reopen or renege on every deal done with foreign miners during the 25-year rule of Lansana Conte, Guinea’s president until last year. When Conte died suddenly in December, he was replaced by the Guinean Army, led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. Thiam, who was educated in France and the US, and worked at Merrill Lynch and UBS, was appointed Minister of Mining, Energy, and Hydraulics last January.
“We view concessions as legally binding,” Thiam told Minesite.com, and “we intend to respect them.” Distinguishing his approach from mine licence and privatization investigations under way elsewhere in Africa, Thiam said: “we have tried to avoid a blanket questioning , which can be time-consuming and expensive. Freezing everything and putting everything in question is not the right approach. We didn’t come to renege.” (more…)
The state-owned tanker company Sovcomflot will try to sell up to 20% of its shares in a public offering, the former board chairman Igor Shuvalov (pictured right) said yesterday. But the timing may be delayed if a UK High Court trial, focusing on the company’s internal affairs, goes against the management; this is now supervised by Sergei Naryshkin, the Kremlin chief of staff, who has replaced Shuvalov as chairman of the Sovcomflot board.
Shuvalov, a deputy prime minister in the Russian government, told a Bloomberg television interviewer yesterday that to claw back cash to offset the government’s deficit spending, a programme of privatization sales is being considered. Sovcomflot CEO Sergey Frank (pictured left) had proposed the share sale, and postponed it more than once before last year’s financial crash intervened. Before Frank took over the company, CEO Dmitry Skarga commissioned JP Morgan to advise on the placement of a 10% stake. According to Shuvalov, he would like to run the IPO before the end of this year. (more…)
The State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, was last elected in December 2007. The outcome was the following distribution of seats: United Russia, 315; Communist Party, 57; Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, 40; and Fair Russia, 38.
Vadim Varshavsky, 49, was elected to the Duma in 2005 on the United Russia slate, and reelected in 2007. He represents the Kamensky district of the Rostov region, where he owns a steelmill. Varshavsky is also a member of the Duma Committee on Industry. After defaulting on debts estimated to total between $3 billion and $4 billion, Varshavsky has decamped. A bank creditor says it has received telephone-calls from him, but does not know where he is calling from.
Varshavsky has also disappeared from his deputy’s seat. Representatives of the parliamentary parties and the Duma committee of which Varshavsky is a member, have responded with the following statements: (more…)
Mikhail Prokhorov is an accomplished athlete, whose sports include skiing, basketball, kickboxing, and waterskiing. He is also an upstanding Russian patriot, dedicated to the introduction of high-technology skills to Russians who have been crippled in their ball-handling skills by seventy years of Marxism-Leninism.
In response to the reports appearing here on his business plans for American basketball and Italian football, Igor Petrov, Prokhorov’s spokesman, has invited readers to take note of the following announcement, issued on September 22, of Prokhorov’s intentions to raise an international bank loan of $700 million, secured by his personal guarantee, for the advancement of Russian basketball, and a place to watch the game in the middle of Brooklyn. (more…)
In the ancient world, it befell to the Stoic philosopher Chrysippos to be contemplating one day the relationship between altruism and heroism. Into his viewfinder two donkeys appeared. It isn’t clear whether they started drinking wine from a cup Chrysippos had absent-mindedly left behind. Or whether he deliberately fed them with the drink. What happened next has been famous for 2,216 years. After imbibing, the donkeys started nibbling on a basket of figs Chrysippos had ordered for lunch. But at that sight, Chrysippos started to laugh; he couldn’t stop; and he died of the joke. To be sure, Chrysippos’s ticker was past 70 years old, and he may already have accelerated it fatally by beating his asses to the brew. But of one thing noone is in doubt – the wine, the donkeys, and the figs made a hilarious and fatal combination.
The history of Rome also has something to do with figs, for it was a fig-tree on the banks of the River Tiber that snared the basket containing the twins Romulus and Remus, who were floating away from their homicidal uncle; he was disposing of them, he thought, to save his inheritance. They were suckled by a she-wolf, according to legend. Then Romulus grew up to murder Remus, also for inheritance purposes. (more…)
In the original game of basketball, invented by Dr James Naismith in 1892, there were 13 rules. Rule 5 was the disqualifier. In the playbook of Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, there is just one rule – and that’s the disqualifier. Mikhail Prokhorov’s decision to buy into the American National Basketball Association is his signal he’s out of the Russian game.
Prokhorov has been acutely sensitive to the coverage he has been getting in the American media for some time, and according to a source in his circle, that is because he does not want to be seen by the Kremlin as getting too close to the US Government. Taking ski vacations in Aspen, Colorado, is one thing; shaking hands with the President of the United States is another (in a crowded room). (more…)
Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev has presented two bears to Switzerland, with the warning that if any harm comes to them, or to Victor Vekselberg, a Russian oil and aluminium oligarch, all the Russian money that goes into, or is presently sitting in Switzerland, may vanish.
The Swiss Foreign Ministry says that no Russian head of state has ever visited Switzerland. But the Kremlin’s memory is a little longer. It reports that Tsar Alexander 1 (pictured) was there in 1819. In fact, for many years before, there had been a mutual soft-spot between the tsar and the Swiss. This had produced Alexander’s veto of a Prussian and Austrian military scheme to invade Switzerland on the way to attacking Napoleon. But the Swiss found their own way round that, and on January 14, 1813, following an army of Austrians and Bavarians, Alexander celebrated the Russian New Year in Basel. As Swiss schoolchildren used to be taught, the anti-Napoleonic alliance had rescued the Swiss from the French, turning them out of Geneva, Valais and Neuchatel, and creating thereby the confederation of Swiss cantons with something close to its modern political geography. The neutrality of the new state was from the beginning a pro-German, pro-Russian, anti-French idea. (more…)
Shares of uranium mining companies, like other energy sources, generally follow the commodity price, so when oil and the others collapsed a year ago, the Russian uranium miner, Priargunsk Chemical and Mining Company (ticker PNGO:RU), went down with them. From a historical peak of $800 per share struck in April of 2007, it drifted down, despite the upward movement of spot uranium prices, to the 2008 peak of $585 on May 22, 2008. Then in July, the share price started diving, and hit bottom of $100 on February 16. How then to explain the 140% takeoff from then to this week’s price of $240?
Part of the answer is that the glow of the share is coming from tiny trades of 300 or less shares. Just 18% of the company’s share issue is potentially open to trading; 82% is closely held by the state-owned uranium mine holding called Atomredmetzoloto; ARMZ for short. The other part of the answer is the upward pull of the Russian stock market (RTS) index as a whole, driven primarily by the rising spot price of crude oil. (more…)
Hard on the heels of a Russian Foreign Ministry warning to Canada against denying an entry visa to Senator Mikhail Margelov last week, a veteran of Volgotanker, once Russia’s largest oil transportation fleet, announced today that he is challenging Interpol for encouraging the arrest of travellers on charges trumped up in Moscow.
Ilya Katsnelson (pictured top), the Copenhagen-based US executive associated with the now bankrupt Volgotanker group in Russia, is challenging Interpol for continuing to issue a red (arrest) notice on the instruction of the Russian prosecutor-general. The US, Germany, and Denmark have all rejected the Russian claims against Katsnelson. On July 29, the Danish Ministry of Justice formally issued its rejection of a Russian extradition request for him. Katsnelson told Fairplay he is charging Interpol with multiple violations of the UN and European Conventions on Human Rights for maintaining the red notice on its database. (more…)
On December 14, 2008, as then President George Bush was speaking at a press conference in Baghdad, Mountazer al-Zaidi rose abruptly from about twelve feet away, lifted his right arm, and tossed a shoe at the president’s head while shouting in Arabic: “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” Bush ducked and the shoe narrowly missed him. A few seconds later, the journalist tossed his other shoe, this time shouting, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!”
Canada has refused an entry visa for Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin’s special representative to Africa. The reason, according to Canadian sources, is Margelov’s past connexions to the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency.
While officially, the Canadian Embassy in Moscow and government in Ottawa refuse to comment publicly on individual visa issues, a Moscow newspaper has published Margelov’s account in which he says “my conclusion is that they rejected me because of something in my biography… Since I got visas in 2005 and 2006…in my biography three things have changed: a young son was born; I have grown thinner by 10 kilograms; and in December 2008 the President appointed me the special representative for Sudan.” Margelov makes no secret of his family and career ties with the KGB. He has told Business Day he studied Arabic under intelligence agency auspices, and then taught the subject at an agency school in the 1980s. (more…)
A Republic of Guinea tribunal ruled this week in Conakry that United Company Rusal, one of the largest bauxite, alumina and aluminum producers in the world, unlawfully acquired its shareholding control of the Friguia alumina refinery in the country in 2006, and should make restitution.
The judgement comes before the federal court in Nigeria rules on a parallel case, challenging Rusal’s takeover of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (Alscon) in the same year. But before the Nigerian court decides, a report from the National Committee on Privatisation has already gone to Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’ Adua (pictured top centre), concluding that violations of the privatisation rules and subsequent investment conditions for Alscon should lead to the revocation of Rusal’s concession in that country.
The West African decisions have come despite recent visits to both countries by Deripaska himself. He was in Nigeria in June, where he had, according to his company website, “a series of consultations with Nigerian government authorities and businessmen”. Nigerian sources claim he sought a meeting with Yar’ Adua, but was turned down. Six weeks later in early August, Deripaska was in Guinea. This time the company says he “had a series of meetings with the management of the company’s operations in Guinea and representatives of local communities.” (more…)
In the sharpest warning issued to date by an international ratings agency about a major Russian steelmaker, Standard & Poors (S&P) said yesterday there is “significant doubt about the group’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
Evraz is Russia’s largest steel and mining group. It is controlled by the Millhouse holding of Roman Abramovich and Eugene Shvidler (pictured left to right, respectively) , plus the last of the founding shareholders, Alexander Abramov, and his protege Alexander Frolov. Until recently, these men have been considered among the most bankable of Russian metal magnates, and Abramovich the most secure of Russian oligarchs.
The S&P report, authored by analysts Alex Herbert and Andrey Nikolaev, downgrades Evraz’s corporate credit and unsecured debt ratings from BB- to B+. The move, according to S&P, reflects “our opinion that there is heightened uncertainty about the willingness of banks to agree to waive or amend financial covenants, and the ability of Evraz to address its currently very weak liquidity. This follows the announcement by Evraz of operating results for the six months to June 30, 2009, that were even weaker than we had previously anticipated. Evraz faces a difficult combination of very low cash flow generation caused by the severe steel industry downturn and substantial adjusted debt from previous debt-financed acquisitions. In addition, the group has persistently high short-term debt and faces potential financial covenant breaches, which may be more difficult to address than management expects.” (more…)
Port logs for the MV Arctic Sea — the small Turkish-built, Russian-owned vessel recently reported at the centre of an alleged piracy and extortion attempt — reveal that the timber-carrier has been making regular voyages between Finnish ports and either Algerian or French Mediterranean ports for the past three years. However, the disappearance reported to have occurred between July 24 and August 24, triggering a spate of feverish speculation in Tel Aviv and London about secret missile smuggling, appears not to be the first time the Arctic Sea has disappeared; or at least gone missing from the maritime record known as the international Automatic Identification System (AIS).
Each year recently, according to AIS records, the vessel appears to be missing from the logs in the Mediterranean for up to 20 days at a time. In April of this year, the Arctic Sea is missing from AIS port-call records between April 1, when it transited the Gibraltar Straits, moving east, and April 11, when it returned through the straits, moving west. A similar gap in the log records appeared a year earlier, between February 13, 2008, when the Arctic Sea sailed east past Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, and 20 days later, on March 4, when it transited the Gibraltar Straits moving westwards. In 2007, the gap in the logs appears between April 26, when the vessel entered the Mediterranean, and May 14, when it exited. In all cases, the vessel appears to have taken on cargo at Loviisa and Kotka (Finland), and Tallinn (Estonia). (more…)
Two weeks ago, without fanfare, the US Government decided it will not allow General Motors (GM), in which the government owns the controlling 60% stake, to sell its European automobile division to a Russian combination of the state savings bank Sberbank, Oleg Deripaska’s GAZ auto plant, and Deripaska’s Canadian partner, Frank Stronach’s Magna. Compared to the refusal of the US to grant Deripaska a visa to enter the country, this was a more powerful, definitive, and public message.
Deripaska conceded this week in an interview with a Moscow newspaper that his attempt to go international with the acquisition of Opel of Germany (as well as the UK’s Vauxhall and Sweden’s Saab units) has failed, because of the US government’s veto. Asked if the “attitude towards Russian business abroad is still ambiguous”, Deripaska replied: “Unfortunately, yes. But in the Opel case, the US Department of State’s prejudices are also a problem.” (more…)
No sooner had De Beers and Archangel Diamond Corporation (ADC) revived last Friday, September 4, their US litigation plan of attack against LUKoil and its senior management, headed by Vagit Alekperov, than Alekperov issued an unprecedented statement saying he is thinking of selling out of diamonds altogether.
Until now,Alekperov has insisted, both privately and publicly, that he would never sell the mining rights to the deposit at Verkhotina, in the Russian northwestern region of Arkhangelsk. According to US court documents, Alekperov, together with his one-time friend and business partner, Alisher Usmanov, was responsible for the takeover of the mining licence in 1998, two years after its discovery, through Arkhangelskgeoldobycha (AGD), a regional state geology organization, which was privatized and ultimately taken over by LUKoil. (more…)
The Russian wine market has been drying up, though it’s on account of falling incomes, not because of recent exhortations by mental health specialists and President Dmitry Medvedev to curb drinking.
“The average statistical man in our country is a drunkard,” according to Alexander Nemtsov, a department head at the Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry. That’s because Russians drink about 15 litres of pure alcohol a year, 80% of it in high-proof form.
Medvedev has responded with a recent appeal to “stop the growing consumption of alcohol among young people. The habit of drinking with and without a reason may lead to heavy alcohol addiction in a rather short time. According to the data we have, one-third of young men and almost 20% of young women use such drinks daily or every other day…The sale of alcohol to people under the age of 18 is banned in Russia now as it has always been. It’s no secret that this requirement is often ignored, which it was not in Soviet times.” (more…)
De Beers has accepted a new plan which makes litigation in a Denver, Colorado, courtroom against LUKoil the centrepiece of the diamond-miner’s survival strategy; and the prospect of multi-million dollar compensation the Toronto-listed company’s most valuable asset.
A new document, filed this week in the US Bankrupty Court in Denver (case number 09-22621-HRT), sets out the terms of the agreement to revive the court case against Russians charged with contract violations and fraudulently withholding the mining licence rights for the Grib pipe in northwestern Russia of Archangel Diamond Corporation (ticker: AAD:V). De Beers owns 56% of ADC’s shares. In legal jargon, the new plan converts an involuntary bankruptcy scheme under Sect 7 of the US bankruptcy code into a section 11 voluntary arrangement. The first scheme had been proposed in July by ADC’s principal lawyer, Bruce Marks (pictured right), and two minority investors, Firebird Global Master Fund, a US investor, and Clive Hartz, an Australian. They acted after De Beers had threatened ADC with foreclosure on a loan of almost $10 million, and the abandonment of the two legal claims ADC has been waging — in the Coloroado District Court, and in the Stockholm international arbitration tribunal. (more…)
Depending on how fanciful you wish to be, the Flying Dutchman is either a reference to the nautical refraction phenomenon that makes phantom ships appear at sea, like mirages, in conditions of temperature inversion; or else it’s a tale of a half-mad Dutch sea captain, whose 17th century navigational ineptitude caused him to confuse his position inside False Bay, off the southern South African coast, and to be lost with all hands.
A lesser Dutch phenomenon that has been plying Russian waters since 1990 is the Moscow Times, a newspaper that was started, and is still run, by Derk Sauer (pictured); who offered it to Mikhail Khodorkovsky; and sold it another two times over through the late Leonid Rozhetskin. Some of the lesser, and some of the greater humourists of post-revolutionary Russian journalism got their first bylines into print there. But fun and fact are two different phenomena: as the Sauer crew peer from their poop deck, they have the bad habit of seeing their own vessel as much mightier than it is. (more…)
Ronald McDonald is the most famous brand-name franchise in the world.
It operates 32,000 sales points, with more than 58 million clients, in about 118 countries around the world. Currently, the McDonald’s Corporation has a market capitalization of $61 billion; this is only 16% below the peak of its pre-crisis value last year.
This is what the McDonald’s Corporation says about how it does business: “McDonald’s has always been a franchising company and has relied on its franchisees, our Owner/Operators, to play a major role in the System’s success. McDonald’s remains committed to franchising as a predominant way of doing business. We are actively seeking highly qualified business people to join our System as Owner/Operators. Owning a McDonald’s restaurant is a tremendous opportunity. We are seeking individuals with significant business experience who have successfully owned or managed multiple business units or have led multiple departments and who have significant financial resources. We are a family of over 2400 Owner/Operators passionate about satisfying our customers, growing our business, making money and having fun.” (more…)
A blindfold has been tied over the whereabouts of Russian member of parliament and steelmaker, Vadim Varshavsky, as estimates of his liabilities multiply, and questions are raised of how his borrowings were spent, and where the money is now.
The Rostov Electrometallurgical Works (REMZ), the newest of the mills of the Estar group, owned by Vadim Varshavsky, is being considered by state administrators for a handover to other Russian steel groups in order to prevent its collapse. The minimill was launched for operational testing in late 2007, with a capacity for 750,000 tonnes of liquid steel per annum, and a product portfolio of long products intended for the southwestern Russian construction sector. After a highly publicized commissioning in February of 2008, Rostov’s production reached design capacity by mid-2008, and had been slated for growth in 2009, according to company statements. This has not materialized. (more…)
Russia’s industrial and mining sectors are so thoroughly dominated by the handful of proprietors known as oligarchs, the only time that federal government regulators dare to interfere with their operations by attempting to enforce the law is when the regulators get their cue from a senior government official. And the only time that happens is when the official decides it is time to transfer ownership of an asset, or put the oligarch on notice that his franchise is about to cost him more — much more.
Responding to what it says was a recent individual complaint, Russia’s federal environmental safeguards regulator, Rosprirodnadzor (RPN), announced yesterday that it has started an “off-schedule inspection” of Severstal’s lead Russian mill at Cherepovets.Monday’s official notice by the regulator says the inspection will take eight days, and be focused on “compliance with the environmental protection legislation of the Russian Federation in the field of protection of atmospheric air, treatment of waste of production and consumption, protection of water objects, geological studies, rational usage and protection of mineral resources.” The announcement also claims that the check was started on “a complaint of a Cherepovets citizen… he specified that OAO Severstal dumps chemicals on the soil and breaks the rules of waste storage.” (more…)
Despite sinking Russian consumer incomes, the banana is holding firm, enabling the St. Petersburg-based Joint Fruit Company (JFC), to increase its share of sales at the expense of its domestic rivals. With turnover of $500 million in 2007 (the latest figure JFC has released), JFC says there has been no slipping of growth in demand and sales of bananas this year, and its Bonanza! brand is expected to turn the crisis conditions to its advantage.
Russians don’t eat as much fruit as they should, but the first fruit to break through when the Iron Curtain came down was the banana. With average annual consumption of fruit at just 53 kilograms for Russians — half the US consumer level – this year’s loss of real income (in May this was down 20%, compared to the year before) has pushed Russians into cutting their fruit imports, but eating more bananas.
The reduction in fruit imports to Russia has amounted to 6% so far this year, according to a report by maritime analyst Alexei Bezborodov. The cutback is less than the 41% reduction in imports as a whole, but it marks a sharp reversal in the fruit segment of the refrigerated container (reefer) trade, which has been feeding 12% annual growth in fruit consumption. This year, according to a market analyst in St. Petersburg, the Russian fruit market will shrink by 5% overall. (more…)
The Belgians like to speak of themselves as the victims when the great powers of Europe go to war. They were when the Germans invaded in 1914 and 1940.
But since 2014 when the Belgian government has been repeating it is gung-ho for the war with Russia, there has been no Russian attack, no occupation. Instead, there has been the amicable Russia-Belgium diamond trade worth more than $30 billion in annual exports and imports, supplied by the Russian state diamond company Alrosa.
If Belgian officials cut that trade off by agreeing to the European Union (EU) sanctions banning Russian diamond imports, as proposed by other EU states, that would liquidate ten thousand diamond polishing and related jobs concentrated in Antwerp, and destroy the country’s fifth largest export business forever. Alrosa would move its diamonds to Dubai, killing Antwerp as a diamond trading and cutting centre, just as Amsterdam as a diamond centre was killed by the German occupation of 1940. Antwerp took advantage of Amsterdam’s misfortune in 1946. Dubai will now do the same.
This is what Belgian government and diamond industry officials mean when they say they favour the toughest possible sanctions on Russian gas exports to Europe – but no sanctions on Russian diamonds. This is what Prime Minister Alexander De Croo meant when he told an Antwerp conference of diamantaires on September 14: “Sanctions should focus more on the aggressor than ourselves.”
Earlier, reacting to an attack on the diamond trade with Russia by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky in a speech to the Belgian parliament, the spokesman for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) said: “Not only are thousands of jobs in Antwerp at stake in the short term, but this decision will inevitably lead to a worldwide shift in the diamond trade in the long term. As long as international policy-makers worldwide do not adopt a unanimous position to sanction Russian diamonds in their entirety, Antwerp will be the only place that will bear the consequences of an EU sanction.”
By “worldwide shift” he meant Dubai.
De Croo has camouflaged Belgium’s resistance by repeating he will not veto a Russian diamond ban if there is “overwhelming support” for it in the EU. So a majority of the EU states have continued pressing; they are led by Poland. In March of this year, De Croo announced: “I would like to officially state that our country has never hindered any measures regarding diamonds. Our country did not interfere in this issue.” In private, however, De Croo has been casting Belgium’s veto.
The Poles have been attacking De Croo, pressing the case for an EU ban on Russian diamond imports as payback for De Croo’s insistence on imposing EU budget sanctions against the Warsaw government last year. De Croo is also refusing to accept Ukraine’s demand for accelerated membership of the EU and of NATO, and for fresh EU funding to pay Kiev’s war-fighting bills.
Instead, he has just announced €8 million in non-lethal aid to Kiev. “Ukraine can keep on counting on Belgium,” De Croo declared. “More than words, there are actions. Once again, Belgium is responding to concrete needs and will be providing essential equipment to Ukraine in the coming weeks.” The equipment is first-aid kits and pharmaceuticals produced by Belgian companies.
This week the secret Belgian veto campaign appears to have succeeded. The new draft of the eighth round of EU sanctions includes dental floss and deodorants; it leaves out diamonds. This omission is expected to be confirmed publicly on Friday of this week at the EU summit meeting in Prague.
“At the moment, diamonds are not included on the agenda for the next round of sanctions,” announced Tom Neys, the AWDC spokesman. “But things change quickly. [On] Friday [October 7] they will finalize discussions, and the EU [leaders decide] on October 6 and 7. The fact that sanctions also create other ethical problems, and that these sanctions will have no effect in Russia, are probably important elements in these debates. Now is the time to focus on international solutions.”
By “international solutions” the Belgians mean keeping Dubai from taking over Antwerp’s diamond business.
Timing is everything when you are telling jokes on stage; summing up for the jury in a murder trial; or when you are a general preparing to send your army over the top. Knock the comedian, lawyer, or general off his timing, and the laugh, the verdict, and the casualties will go against him.
John Mortimer, a London barrister and author of the Rumpole of the Bailey television show, once told the story of a friend who was coming to the end of his final jury address when he saw the judge writing a note and handing it to the usher. When it was passed to the lawyer as he was speaking, he glanced down to read: “Dear Jim, I thought you’d like to know that your flies are open and I can see your cock.”
Cocks which show or crow – like boys crying wolf – don’t comprehend the risks they create for themselves, and others. This is how it is in Berlin for Olaf Scholz and in Washington for Joseph Biden right now. They can afford to be impervious to the derision they are drawing in Warsaw; not so to the reaction to their antics in Moscow.
In this broadcast by Chris Cook, Gorilla Radio blows the final whistle before we all go over the top (Germans first, then the Poles). Even former Secretary of State John Kerry, career liar that he’s been, is revealed to be blowing on the same whistle this time round.
The official Russian reaction to the Nord Stream attack is to identify it as a US military operation, and to wait for an investigation to produce the evidence. That means wait, delay. No retaliation.
“How will we respond?” Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday in the most detailed briefing so far from Moscow. “We will respond with an investigation. This is a must, and our law-enforcement bodies have already launched it. This [the gas pipelines] is our property, resources, and infrastructure.”
“I would like to believe that the international investigation of what happened on the gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea will be objective… We will seek to conduct an honest and objective investigation… I hope that someone in the United States, or maybe someone in Europe — although, unfortunately, Europe in this case can no longer be counted on — someone from the independent investigators will have the desire to clarify the involvement of the United States, the special services and all other bodies in what happened on 25-27 September of this year in the Baltic Sea.”
This means that the Russian Government is waiting, delaying. There will be no retaliation for the time being.
The reason is that Russian officials suspect the Biden Administration of preparing an October Surprise just ahead of Election Day, November 8: an attack on domestic US infrastructure – the electricity grids, for example – which will be reported as the Russian retaliation that won’t be.
The Nord Stream attacks were a military operation of the US, Poland, Denmark, and Sweden, with additional NATO air surveillance support from bases in Italy. Politically, they were an attack on Germany, but the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has yet to say publicly what he knew in advance, what he knows now.
Who then knows what will come next except that there is now war in Europe, outside the Ukraine. Will the October Surprise begin war inside the United States?
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.