WHAT THE SIBERIAN SQUIRREL KEEPS INSIDE HIS NUTKIN — THE OPPOSITION STARTS NAMING THE OLIGARCHS AFTER PUTIN HAS DECIDED THEY MUST GO

By John Helmer, Moscow

When the archaeologists of the next millennium excavate, they will find the evidence of a tectonic shift and turning-point in Russian history that took place in the two months between December 28 and February 25. That’s from the day Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed government order number VP-P13-9308, and instructed Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin to supervise compliance; to the day when Alexei Navalny listed the most powerful oligarchs in the country (Switzerland too) as the target of the political opposition — after Putin wins the presidential election.

Navalny’s speech at last Saturday’s St. Petersburg rally marks the first time the oligarch system, and the oligarchs as individuals rather than Putin, have been made the public focus of the opposition movements. Navalny himself named the lines of business to identify the individuals, though he didn’t name names.
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SHEEP’S BALLS CAN BE DELICIOUS IF YOU ARE NOT A SHEEP – AUSTRALIA AND RUSSIA PUT THE BITE ON FIJI, WHERE OLEG DERIPASKA HAS A TENDER INTEREST

By John Helmer, Moscow

Eating sheep’s balls is an acquired taste, though if you’re from the Caucasus or Azerbaijan, the taste comes with your mother’s milk, so to speak. If you are an Australian politician, complaining in public that someone else is biting yours is an everyday thing.

Australia has always been sensitive below its belt, where the colonial and imperial powers – Great Britain, the United States, Japan (briefly), and China for the next millennium – like to keep a tight grip. The former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has a hands-on relationship with China, too – his brother Greg operates a fortune cookie business in Beijing. That hasn’t inhibited Kevin from promising Washington he is ready to go to war with China if the US Government thinks that’s a good thing.
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THE DAY SERGEI FRANK DESERVED A BANDAGE FOR HIS HEAD

By John Helmer, Moscow

I know, I know. It’s old fashioned to regard the celebration of February 23 as Red Army Day. And for all the awards heaped on my head for defending the Fatherland from its enemies, foreign and domestic, on this anniversary I plead paucity of means, and defer to those who have recently written to the Prime Minister promising to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in the Fatherland’s furthest reaches – the Arctic seabed, no less. Even when they are so severely wounded financially that they lack the money to honour their promises, I honour their intentions.
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KEKHMAN’S BANANA BANKRUPTCY – IS IT THEATRE?

By John Helmer, Moscow

It has been obvious for some time that Vladimir Kekhman’s banana financials were so rotten, his Joint Fruit Company (JFC) was republishing its second-quarter financial results as if they were the third quarter figures, postponing the fourth quarter and full-year releases, and refusing response to the question Why?

It has also been obvious that Kekhman has been trying not to pay a mounting bill from the UK High Court in London. There since last August, Star Reefers, the owner of the three freighters JFC chartered to carry banana cargoes from JFC’s Ecuadorian plantations to St. Petersburg, has won a compensation award of $16.3 million; additional costs and penalties; and judicial orders against Kekhman personally, along with his appointees at JFC, to disclose where they have put their money, and to freeze JFC transactions with funds the court has required to be paid to Star. Other litigation to seize JFC’s containers in the US, as well as threaten seizure of its banana boxes as they move on Maersk freighters, is also pursuing the fleet-footed Kekhman.
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NO-RISK LOVEMAKING WHEN MORGAN STANLEY PROSTRATES ITSELF TO ALEXEI MORDASHOV

By John Helmer, Moscow

In the memoirs of the great courtesans, much fondness is expressed toward the size of their patrons’ pockets, but never the size (or lack of it) of their male members. Morgan Stanley lacks that kind of discretion.

If you read the report issued on February 17 by the investment bank’s Moscow and London branches on Alexei Mordashov’s Nord Gold, the place to start is below the waist, as it were. “In the next 3 months,” runs the small print of the required US regulatory disclosures, “Morgan Stanley expects to receive or intends to seek compensation for investment banking services from…Nordgold…Within the last 12 months, Morgan Stanley has provided or is providing investment banking services to, or has an investment banking client relationship with …Nordgold…Within the last 12 months, Morgan Stanley has either provided or is providing non-investment banking, securities-related services to and/or in the past has entered into an agreement to provide services or has a client relationship with… Nordgold.
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GLENCORE GETS THE DROP ON SERGEI FRANK; FRANK HOLDS UP SEVMORNEFTEGEOFIZIKA

By John Helmer, Moscow

Russia’s government-owned fleet operator Sovcomflot, run by Sergei Frank, has announced that international commodity trader Glencore will take over, market and operate five of its newest oil tankers as they come out of the shipyard and put to sea.

The history of Glencore in Russia since 1991 is a simple one – only financially desperate enterprises agree to Glencore’s terms, when there is no cash to trade with, and no alternative for marketing. For example, in 2008 and 2009 Glencore had baled out Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal when it was on the brink of insolvency at negative $17 billion. When Russneft’s time came in 2010, the Kremlin preferred to make its deal to save the company with the original owner, Mikhail Gutseriyev, rather than leave Russneft in Glencore’s and Deripaska’s hands. More recently, after the lifting of the grain export embargo last July, the state-owned United Grain Company has intimated that it plans to attack Glencore’s dominant market share of the Russian grain export market.
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LUKOIL ADVERTISES ARCHANGEL DIAMOND MINE FOR SALE

By John Helmer, Moscow

LUKoil, the second largest of Russia’s oil producers and exporters, is thinking of disposing of its northwestern Russian diamond mine known as Grib, selling the subsidiary Arkhangelskgeoldobycha (AGD) which has held the controversial mining licence through fifteen years of litigation and arbitration with Archangel Diamond Corporation (ADC), a De Beers-owned company until its bankruptcy in 2010.

This isn’t the first time LUKoil has advertised such a sale. Because of the unresolved litigation and the mountain of evidence it has produced, the asset may be unsellable, at least to a foreign buyer. But if timing and tattle are telling against the sale, then is LUKoil doing no more than asking the state, through Alrosa, to take the diamond-mine off its hands at a conveniently high price?
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FIRST CAT’S PAW AWARD FOR 2012 – CATHERINE BELTON, THE FINANCIAL TIMES, AND SOLLY THE BENEFICENT DERVISH

By John Helmer, Moscow

The committee of administrators of the Personal Abasement Award (PAW), having sat on their hands for two years, have decided to nominate Catherine Belton (image left) and the Financial Times for a presentation of the affairs of Suleiman Kerimov (right) at the very moment he has been trying (failing) to cash out his stake in Polyus Gold with a merger into Polymetal.

The PAW award rules and procedures, along with the roll of past winners, can be found here. At this stage of the nominating process, the rules require that “each candidate will be advised of his nomination before publication, and given the opportunity to clarify meaning, and plead truth or justification.”
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PARACHUTE FAILURE — SCHILLINGS HITS THE ROCK AT THE END OF THE LONG JUMP

By John Helmer, Moscow

Depending on whose opinion you trust, there’s not a great deal of difference between the business of Rod Christie-Miller (image) and the business of Anton Malevsky. It’s the business of conveying fear to motivate action – or inaction. A parachute jump put an end to Malevsky’s line of work. The UK High Court decision on February 10 in the case of Nathaniel Rothschild and Associated Newspapers Limited may have put an end to at least one of Christie-Miller’s lines, the threat business; at least, the threat Schillings regularly issues to sue reporters and publishers investigating Russian oligarchs and their business relationships with western bankers.
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DERIPASKA BRANDED, ROTHSCHILD PILLORIED – THE UK HIGH COURT BECOMES THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE ON EARTH FOR RUSSIAN OLIGARCHS

By John Helmer, Moscow

In the London marketplace, there are less circumspect descriptions of the way Nathaniel Rothschild (image top) behaves in the presence of Oleg Deripaska (image front right). Last week, the UK High Court Justice Sir Michael Tugendhat decided the term which applies is that Rothschild ingratiates himself with Deripaska for financial gain.

The judge also ruled that in launching a defamation case against the Daily Mail newspaper and its proprietor, Associated Newspapers Ltd., Rothschild changed his evidence, either confusing or contradicting himself, and claiming memory failure on key points. That amounts to a ruling that Rothschild has been either a fool or a liar in his attempt to punish public reporting of what he has been up to with Deripaska. “I do not accept,” wrote Justice Tugendhat, “that there is a clear line between the business and the personal sides of Mr Rothschild’s relationship with Mr Deripaska. They have very extensive business relationships.”
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NAT ROTHSCHILD, OLEG DERIPASKA, PETER MANDELSON AND SCHILLINGS ARE DEFEATED IN THE HIGH COURT – JUSTICE TUGENDHAT FINDS TRUTH IS DEFENCE AGAINST LIBEL

By John Helmer, Moscow

The UK High Court action by the Schillings law firm, acting for Nathaniel Rothschild in a libel claim against the Daily Mail and Associated Newspapers, was dismissed today by Justice Sir Michael Tugendhat. The ruling also undermines libel threats by Schillings acting for Deripaska against newspapers in South Africa, Hong Kong, London, and the US, setting a new standard for reporting on the business affairs of Russian oligarchs, their bankers, and public officials whom they attempt to influence.
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PUTIN TO INTRODUCE PENITENCE SILVER FOR OLIGARCHS

By John Helmer, Moscow

Ten months ago in Russia, the venerable Chinese idea of penitence silver was proposed as a method of making the most powerful wrongdoers of the land pay for their sins — at least their original ones. It was recommended as an alternative to that Bolshevik cue, Expropriate the Expropriators!; the Khodorkovsky remedy, or the Chinese invitation to commit suicide (allowing the heirs to retain the dead man’s estate).

The original idea was Emperor Qianlong’s, whose 59-year rule came to a close in 1795, when he decided to step down from the throne. His plan was to prepare a retirement home in a corner of Beijing’s Forbidden City, and stock it with treasures to keep his mind occupied instead of power politics.
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THE SALMON, THE SALMONELLA AND THE RED HERRING

By John Helmer, Moscow

There is no family relationship between the fish and the bacteria; the latter are named after their discoverer, Daniel Elmer Salmon (1850-1914). But how much of a relationship there may be at the moment between salmonella in Norwegian salmon and Russian fish-eating security depends on another creature, the land-based red herring.

On the surface, according to Rosselkhoznadzor (RSKN), the federal service for veterinary and phytosanitary inspection, the half-billion dollar per year fish trade from Norway may be banned because of recent discoveries of salmonella and coliform infections in batches of imported salmon and other fish products. The threat was delivered in a letter, released on February 6, from RSKN to the Norwegian counterpart agency, referring to Russian laboratory evidence of the dangerous substances in the Norwegian imports.
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SECHIN ORDERS BOARDING PARTY AGAINST SUMMA AT NOVOROSSIYSK

By John Helmer, Moscow

Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin (image centre), the overseer of Russia’s ports and shipping, as well as of the trade which passes through them, has recommended that the state shareholdings in Novorossiysk Commercial Seaport Company (NMTP is the Russian ticker, NCSP the English) be sold to Rosneft, the state oil company. This is according to a January 31 letter from Sechin to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, which leaked to Moscow media yesterday. Government sources are neither confirming nor denying the letter; the government decision has yet to be made.
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THE ZYUZIN SMUDGE: WHAT IS SO SECRET ABOUT MECHEL’S STAINLESS STEEL PRODUCTION ONLY THE US GOVERNMENT IS ALLOWED TO KNOW?

By John Helmer, Moscow

Mechel, the steelmaker and coalminer owned by Igor Zyuzin, is the dominant producer in Russia of the type of alloyed steel known in the English-speaking world as stainless. In French, it is known as inox (inoxydable).

Neither term is quite accurate, but what is meant is everywhere clear. Because the steel includes chrome alloy, it is more resistant to corrosion and discolouration (effects of oxidation). Adding nickel and manganese alloys also helps this resistance and preserves the sheen of the steel.
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BRUSHING UP THE FUTURE – IGOR YURGENS PAINTS MEDVEDEV OUT OF THE PRIME MINISTRY

By John Helmer, Moscow

After he left Soviet trade union and youth organization work behind, Igor Yurgens became an advocate of the commercial Russian insurance industry. So he knows how to calculate risk and how to write an insurance premium to cover it. The Centre for Contemporary Development (INSOR), which Yurgens directs, has been widely viewed as the brain’s trust for Dmitry Medvedev’s run at a second term. But when Yurgens suggests the names of others more likely to become prime minister, after Vladimir Putin wins the presidential election in March, his assessment warrants careful attention. Like all insurance policies, it’s a good idea to read the small print.
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VLADIMIR LISIN TOSSES OLEG DERIPASKA OUT OF THE RING – PREPARES TO TAKE OVER VANINO PORT

By John Helmer, Moscow

Oleg Deripaska appears to have lost a nine-year long battle to take control of Vanino, an eastern seabord port on which Deripaska depends for imports of alumina to feed his aluminium smelters in Siberia, and to load finished aluminium for export to buyers in the US and East Asia.

The man who appears to have bested him is Vladimir Lisin, the steelmaker. The tussle for the port, on the Tatar Strait and the Sea of Okhotsk, won’t be over until Lisin wins the bidding for the state control shareholding – if he wins. But the flags now flying from the Vanino flagpole signal that Lisin has once again won over Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, the key decision-maker in the government for both the resources sector and for the maritime sector.
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RUSSIA BIGGERIZED — A DOSE OF QUADRATURIN FOR SIGIZMUND KRZHIZHANOVSKY’S BIRTHDAY

By John Helmer, Moscow

Quadraturin was the stuff which, when squeezed out of a tube and painted on the walls of an 8 square-metre Moscow room, turned it into a much larger one. Biggerized it — is the translator’s term from the Russian.

Russian politicians have been using it for years, long before the arrival in Moscow of $1,000-per hour election technology consultants from the US National Endowment for Democracy.

The author, who is enjoying a boomlet of revival in the literary salons of London and New York at the moment, is considered to be an “experimental realist” (who isn’t?). To help his books sell, he’s also being called “one of the greatest Russian writers of the last century”.
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MORDASHOV’S SEVERSTAL TAKES A TUMBLE

By John Helmer, Moscow

In the final quarter of 2011, Severstal, owned by Alexei Mordashov, lost its footing from the previous quarter as Russia’s leading steelmaker, falling behind Evraz, owned by Roman Abramovich, and Novolipetsk Metallurgical Combine (Vladimir Lisin) in total production of crude steel.

The chart, issued this morning by Alfa Bank steel analyst Barry Ehrlich, reveals what Ehrlich calls “a major negative surprise”. The recent production cutback is bigger at Severstal than for any of the five Russian steel majors.
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AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Agatha Christie’s whodunit entitled And Then There Were None – the concluding words of the children’s counting rhyme — is reputed to be the world’s best-selling mystery story.    

There’s no mystery now about the war of Europe and North America against Russia; it is the continuation of Germany’s war of 1939-45 and the war aims of the General Staff in Washington since 1943. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and President Vladimir Putin (right) both said it plainly enough this week.

There is also no mystery in the decision-making in Moscow of the President and the Defense Minister, the General Staff, and the others; it is the continuation of the Stavka of 1941-45.  

Just because there is no mystery about this, it doesn’t follow that it should be reported publicly, debated in the State Duma, speculated and advertised by bloggers, podcasters, and twitterers.  In war what should not be said cannot be said. When the war ends, then there will be none.  

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RUSSIANS RAISE THEIR GLASSES – THE TOAST IS TO BEATING THE BLOCKADE OF MOSCOW



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under  Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.

How little the Germans have changed.

But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.”  By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”  

So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.  

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THE INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY GOES TO WAR — GORILLA RADIO GOES NUCLEAR

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors voted to go to war with Russia by a vote of 26 member countries against 9.

China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa voted against war with Russia.  

The IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi (lead image, left) has refused to tell the press whether a simple majority of votes (18) or a super-majority of two-thirds (23) was required by the agency charter for the vote; he also wouldn’t say which countries voted for or against. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then covered up for what had happened by telling the press: “I believe that [IAEA’s] independence that exists and must be preserved is essential. The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties.” The IAEA vote for war made a liar of Guterres.

In the IAEA’s 65-year history, Resolution Number 58, the war vote of September 15, 2022,  is the first time the agency has taken one side in a war between member countries when nuclear reactors have either been attacked or threatened with attack. It is also the first time the IAEA has attacked one of its member states, Russia, when its military were attempting to protect and secure a nuclear reactor from attack by another member state, the Ukraine, and its war allies, the US, NATO and the European Union states. The vote followed the first-ever IAEA inspection of a nuclear reactor while it was under active artillery fire and troop assault.

There is a first time for everything but this is the end of the IAEA. On to the scrap heap of good intentions and international treaties, the IAEA is following the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the UN Secretary-General himself.  Listen to this discussion of the past history when the IAEA responded quite differently following the Iranian and Israeli air-bombing attacks on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Osirak, and later, the attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sites.

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INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY TAKES UKRAINE SIDE IN WAR IN SEPTEMBER 15 VOTE, MAKING UN SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES EITHER A LIAR OR A FOOL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided this week to take the side of Ukraine in the current war; blame Russia for the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP); and issue a demand for Russia to surrender the plant to the Kiev regime “to regain full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”      

This is the most dramatic shift by the United Nations (UN) nuclear power regulator in the 65-year history of the organisation based in Vienna.

The terms of the IAEA Resolution Number 58, which were proposed early this week by the Polish and Canadian governors on the agency board, were known in advance by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin in the late afternoon of September 14, before the vote was taken. Guterres did not reveal what he already knew would be the IAEA action the next day.  

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THE RUSSIAN SITUATION COMEDY IS NO LYING MATTER – THE JOKE IS ON THE OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Never mind that King Solomon said proverbially three thousand years ago, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”  

With seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, Solomon realized he was the inventor of the situation comedy. If not for the sitcom as his medicine, the bodily and psychological stress Old Solly had to endure in the bedroom would have killed him long before he made it to his death bed at eighty years of age,  after ruling his kingdom for forty of them.

After the British sitcom died in the 1990s, the subsequent stress has not only killed very large numbers of ordinary people. It has culminated today in a system of rule according to which a comic king in Buckingham Palace must now manage the first prime minister in Westminster  history to be her own joke.

Even the Norwegians, the unfunniest people in Europe, have acknowledged that the only way to attract the British as tourists, was to pay John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers to make them laugh at Norway itself.   This has been a bigger success for the locals than for the visitors, boosting the fjord boatman’s life expectancy several years ahead of the British tourist’s.  

In fact, Norwegian scientists studying a sample of 54,000 of their countrymen have proved that spending the state budget on public health and social welfare will only work effectively if the population is laughing all the way to the grave. “The cognitive component of the sense of humour is positively associated with survival from mortality related to CVD [cardio-vascular disease] and infections in women and with infection-related mortality in men” – Norwegian doctors reported in 2016. Never mind the Viking English:  the Norwegian point is the same as Solomon’s that “a sense of humour is a health-protecting cognitive coping resource” – especially if you’ve got cancer.  

The Russians understand this better than the Norwegians or the British.  Laughter is an antidote to the war propaganda coming from abroad, as Lexus and Vovan have been demonstrating.   The Russian sitcom is also surviving in its classic form to match the best of the British sitcoms, all now dead – Fawlty Towers (d. 1975), Black Adder (d. 1989), You Rang M’Lord? (d. 1988), Jeeves and Wooster (d. 1990), Oh Dr Beeching! (d.1995), and Thin Blue Line (d. 1996).

The Russian situation comedies, alive and well on TV screens and internet streaming devices across the country, are also increasingly profitable business for their production and broadcast companies – not despite the war but because of it. This has transformed the Russian media industry’s calculation of profitability by removing US and European-made films and television series, as well as advertising revenues from Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mars, and Bayer. In their place powerful  Russian video-on-demand (VOD) streaming platform companies like Yandex (KinoPoisk), MTS (Kion),  Mail.ru (VK), and Ivi (Leonid Boguslavsky, ProfMedia, Baring Vostok)  are now intensifying the competition for audience with traditional television channels and film studios for domestic audiences.  The revenue base of the VOD platforms is less vulnerable to advertisers, more dependent on telecommunications subscriptions.

Russian script writers, cameramen, actors, designers, and directors are now in shorter supply than ever before, and earning more money.  “It’s the Russian New Wave,” claims Olga Filipuk, head of media content for Yandex, the powerful leader of the new film production platforms; its  controlling shareholder and chief executive were sanctioned last year.  

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RUSSIAN AVIATION INDUSTRY CORRECTS YELTSIN YAW – BOEING, AIRBUS DITCHED



By Olga Samofalova, translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

It was the American humourist Mark Twain who didn’t die in 1897 when it was reported that he had. Twain had thirteen more lively years to go.

The death of the Russian aerospace and aviation industry in the present war is proving to be an even greater exaggeration – and the life to come will be much longer. From the Russian point of view, the death which the sanctions have inflicted is that of the US, European and British offensive against the Soviet-era industry which President Boris Yeltsin (lead image, left) and his advisers encouraged from 1991.

Since 2014, when the sanctions war began, the question of what Moscow would do when the supply of original aircraft components was first threatened, then prohibited, has been answered. The answer began at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1947 when the first  Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) or Parts Manufacturing Approval (PMA) was issued by Washington officials for aircraft parts or components meeting the airworthiness standards but manufactured by sources which were not the original suppliers.   

China has been quicker to implement this practice; Chinese state and commercial enterprises have been producing PMA components for Boeing and Airbus aircraft in the Chinese airline fleets for many years.  The Russian Transport Ministry has followed suit; in its certification process and airworthiness regulations it has used the abbreviation RMA, Cyrillic for PMA. This process has been accelerating as the sanctions war has escalated.

So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.

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FOR WANT OF A NAIL THE KINGDOM WAS LOST – ENGLISH PATHOLOGIST GUY RUTTY FACES CHALLENGE TO THE RELIABILITY OF HIS NOVICHOK EVIDENCE



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The weakest link in the British government’s four-year long story of Russian Novichok assassination operations in the UK – prelude to the current war – is an English medical expert by the name of Guy Rutty (lead image, standing).

A government-appointed pathologist advising the Home Office, police, and county coroners, Rutty is the head of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit in Leicester,  he is the author of a post-mortem report, dated November 29, 2018,  claiming that the only fatality in the history of the Novichok nerve agent (lead image, document), Dawn Sturgess, had died of Novichok poisoning on July 8, 2018. Rutty’s finding was added four months after initial post-mortem results and a coroner’s cremation certificate stopped short of confirming that Novichok had been the cause of her death.

Rutty’s Novichok finding was a state secret for more than two years. It was revealed publicly   by the second government coroner to investigate Sturgess’s death, Dame Heather Hallett, at a public hearing in London on March 30, 2021. In written evidence it was reported that “on 17th July 2018, Professor Guy Rutty MBE, a Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist conducted an independent post-mortem examination. He was accompanied by Dr Phillip Lumb, also an independent Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist. Professor Rutty’s Post-Mortem Report of 29th November 2018 records the cause of death as Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity.”  

Hallett, Rutty, Lumb, and others engaged by the government to work on the Novichok case have refused to answer questions about the post-mortem investigations which followed immediately after Sturgess’s death was reported at Salisbury District Hospital; and a cause of death report signed by the Wiltshire Country coroner David Ridley, when Sturgess’s body was released to her family for funeral and cremation on July 30, 2018.  

After another three years, Ridley was replaced as coroner in the case by Hallett in March 2021. Hallett was replaced by Lord Anthony Hughes (lead image, sitting) in March 2022.

The cause-of-death documents remain state secrets. “As you have no formal role in the inquest proceedings,” Hallett’s and Rutty’s spokesman Martin Smith said on May 17, 2021, “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.” 

Since then official leaks have revealed that Rutty had been despatched by the Home Office in London to take charge of the Sturgess post-mortem, and Lumb ordered not to undertake an autopsy or draw conclusions on the cause of Sturgess’s death until Rutty arrived. Why? The sources are not saying whether the two forensic professors differed in their interpretation of the evidence; and if so, whether the published excerpt of Rutty’s report of Novichok poisoning is the full story.   

New developments in the official investigation of Sturgess’s death, now directed by Hughes, have removed the state secrecy cover for Rutty, Lumb, and other medical specialists who attended the post-mortem on July 17, 2018. The appointment by Hughes of a London lawyer, Adam Chapman, to represent Sergei and Yulia Skripal, opens these post-mortem documents to the Skripals, along with the cremation certificate, and related hospital, ambulance and laboratory records. Chapman’s role is “appropriate” – Smith’s term – for the Skripals to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb and add independent expert evidence.

Hughes’s appointment of another lawyer, Emilie Pottle (lead image, top left), to act on behalf of the three Russian military officers accused of the Novichok attack exposes this evidence to testing at the same forensic standard. According to Hughes,  it is Pottle’s “responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry takes all reasonable steps to test the  evidence connecting those Russian nationals to Ms Sturgess’s death.” Pottle’s responsibility is to  cross-examine Rutty and Lumb.

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KILLING IS CHEAPER — THE US ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND WEAPONIZES TWITTER, FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, WHATSAPP, TELEGRAM

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The US Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been firing several hundred million dollars’ worth of cyber warheads at Russian targets from its headquarters at MacDill Airforce Base in Florida. They have all been duds.

The weapons, the source, and their failure to strike effectively have been exposed in a new report, published on August 24, by the Cyber Policy Center of the Stanford Internet Observatory.  The title of the 54-page study is “Unheard Voice: Evaluating Five Years of Pro-Western Covert Influence Operations”.

“We believe”, the report concludes, “this activity represents the most extensive case of covert pro-Western IO [influence operations] on social media to be reviewed and analyzed by open-source researchers to date… the data also shows the limitations of using inauthentic tactics to generate engagement and build influence online. The vast majority of posts and tweets we reviewed received no more than a handful of likes or retweets, and only 19% of the covert assets we identified had more than 1,000 followers. The average tweet received 0.49 likes and 0.02 retweets.”

“Tellingly,” according to the Stanford report, “the two most followed assets in the data provided by Twitter were overt accounts that publicly declared a connection to the U.S. military.”

The report comes from a branch of Stanford University, and is funded by the Stanford Law School and the Spogli Institute for Institutional Studies, headed by Michael McFaul (lead image).   McFaul, once a US ambassador to Moscow, has been a career advocate of war against Russia. The new report exposes many of McFaul’s allegations to be crude fabrications and propaganda which the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been paying contractors to fire at Russia for a decade.

Strangely, there is no mention in the report of the US Army, Pentagon, the Special Operations Command, or its principal cyberwar contractor, the Rendon Group.

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MARIA YUDINA OUT OF THE DARK – THE RUSSIAN CLASSICAL PIANIST PLAYS AGAIN

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Maria Yudina (lead image) is one of the great Russian pianists. She was not, however, one who appealed to all tastes in her lifetime, 1899 to 1970.

In a new biography of her by Elizabeth Wilson, Yudina’s belief that music represents Orthodox Christian faith is made out to be so heroic, the art of the piano is diminished — and Yudina’s reputation consigned again to minority and obscurity. Russian classical music and its performers, who have not recovered from the Yeltsin period and now from the renewal of the German-American war, deserve better than Wilson’s propaganda tune.

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