THE IRON CURTAIN DROPS ON FLINDERS MINES

By John Helmer, Moscow

Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine (MMK) announced Thursday it will not agree to extend the time for its agreement to buy Flinders Mines, an Australian iron-ore miner, after the deal deadline or quit date expires tomorrow, June 30. “Magnitogorsk’s decision on its future actions regarding the agreement will be taken only when the results of the court hearings are known,” Kirill Golubkov, a spokesman for MMK, said.
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RUSSIAN READING AWARD GOES TO DANCES WITH BEARS

The inaugural award of the Russian Register for the Revival of all Reading (RRROAR) has been announced today. According to the citation, Dances with Bears is “attracting unprecedented resources to the written word. This deserves the recognition that it is doing more than any other published source in print or on the internet to revive reading in Russia this year.”

The award competition was initiated following reports from Russian book publishers that their business is collapsing. According to Oleg Novikov, chief executive and co-owner of Eksmo, the dominant book-publishing company in Russia today, the market of book readers is contracting by 5% to 7% per year, compared to less than 3% in other countries of comparable literacy. Every year, says Novikov, 2% fewer Russians tell pollsters that they regularly read books. Over the past decade, the proportion of the Russian population reading books has dropped from 55% to 35%. Compared to watching television, playing computer games, and tweeting, Novikov says, “reading books is a more complicated intellectual activity.”
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RUSSIAN WINE FOR INVESTORS – BOTTLE HALF-FULL, OR HALF-EMPTY?

By John Helmer, Moscow

If wine were an investment, like company shares, gold, or real estate, then you would expect the Russian oligarchs to put their hands into this particular till. But hobby vineyards and French chateaux aside, there haven’t been many. Still, Vadim Varshavsky’s Croizet cognac (Charente) has not proved to be as ill-fated as his steel business. Eugene Shvidler’s Chateau Thenac (Bergerac) is doing better than that with a range of wines selling for as little as £7.95, but as a business among Shvidler’s holdings it’s still small beer.

Thinking less of price than rate of return, the value of wine over the past decade has generated 15% per annum growth, according to the Liv-Ex Fine Wine Index. That’s equal to gold, but much, much better than stocks. Of course, most of the contents of wine caves is drunk, not traded. So the rate of return is a nominal one. That may be why wine doesn’t meet the swift payback standard of the Russian oligarchs, and why they haven’t taken positions in the Russian wine business as they have in pigs, fish, grain, farm land and fertilizers.
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RUSSIAN PLATINUM PLATING — BAZHAEV GROUP PROMOTES SHARE SALE OF ARCTIC RESOURCES AS FAREASTERN ONES DISAPPEAR

By John Helmer, Moscow

Like the metal itself, Russian Platinum is shy, but ambitious in turn to be recognized as expensive. This isn’t as persuasive as a junior miner of precious metals needs to be if it wants to raise money and find share buyers in the market, as Russian Platinum’s owners, the Bazhaev family, are now proposing.

But their first attempt at a private offering to Russian private equity funds in Moscow last December failed, and they are hiding the presentation document that was distributed. Whether a second attempt will be made at an initial public offering (IPO) on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange depends on whether the company can overcome its coyness and disclose the normal amount of information to be truth tested by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
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NODDY AND THE GIANT JELLY – ALEXEI MORDASHOV SWEARS OFF GETTING BIGGER, BUT LOOK AT HOW MUCH BIGGER HIS SHAREHOLDING HAS GROWN!

By John Helmer, Moscow

At the conclusion of a share buyback offer, Severstal has announced that 170 million of the 1.01 billion shares outstanding will be purchased. Alexei Mordashov, the control shareholder with 66% of the shares before the buyback, tendered his shares to the offer in full, as did the associated control company, Lybica Holding, with 19%. There was relatively low participation on the part of investors and shareholding institutions which comprise the current 15% free float.
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LIES TO COURT, LEAKS TO PRESS – OLEG DERIPASKA USES OLD METHODS TO ATTACK OLD FRIEND, ANDREI RAIKOV

By John Helmer, Moscow

When Oleg Deripaska and the Rusal group of companies attack one of their most senior executives for a nine-year old crime that wasn’t, the question that arises is: what does the target know about Deripaska and his methods that may be so dangerous, his credibility and his livelihood should be destroyed? Why resort to lying in the courts of New York and Cyprus, despatch false claims to international banks, and leak fabricated allegations to the Russian press, unless Deripaska is personally threatened by the possibility that old friends are ready to spill the beans on him?

Why is Deripaska so afraid of Andrei Raikov that Rusal is claiming he is on an international wanted list, when Interpol says he isn’t?
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HOW TO POKE A PIG IN A POKE — ALROSA PLANS 18% INCREASE IN DIAMOND OUTPUT, 61% INCREASE IN RESERVES – OFFERS VAGIT ALEKPEROV A TAKEOVER OF HIS DIAMOND ASSET AT NO MONEY

By John Helmer, Moscow

Alrosa has announced new strategic targets until the end of 2021, following this week’s meeting of the Supervisory Board, as Alrosa’s board of directors is known. How much of the projected growth will depend on Alrosa getting the Kremlin to persuade Vagit Alekperov of LUKoil to do what he doesn’t want to do is the big question for them all — especially for Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, who has been demonstrating sharp interest recently in the price he can arrange for an Alrosa asset sale.

An Alrosa statement says its current diamond production level of about 34 million carats per annum will be lifted to between 38 and 40 million carats, a cumulative growth rate of 6%, by increasing production at the new underground mines in Yakutia, and expanding open-pit production at mines in the Arkhangelsk region of northwest Russia. At the same time, the company’s diamond reserves are to be lifted to 1.19 billion carats, a 61% increase over their present level.
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NEW BID FOR KREMLIN TO ACT AGAINST OLEG DERIPASKA — SERGEI STEPASHIN ANNOUNCES JULY START TO INVESTIGATION OF RUSAL TRADING SCHEMES, TAX EVASION, TOLLING

By John Helmer, Moscow

The personal rapport between Oleg Deripaska (left) and Sergei Stepashin (right), chairman of the Accounting Chamber, has been famously uncordial. Some say Stepashin believes Deripaska plotted to cut his term as prime minister to just three months – May 12 to August 9, 1999 – and was one of those persuading the late President Boris Yeltsin to promote Vladimir Putin as prime minister instead. A lot of murky business has transpired since then. But when it comes to discharging his mandate as the state auditor, noone accuses Stepashin of letting his feelings get in the way of his duty. The converse isn’t believed of Deripaska.
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BLACK HOLE FOR EVRAZ, BLACK EYE FOR ROMAN ABRAMOVICH — $35.8 MILLION LAWSUIT LAUNCHED IN UK HIGH COURT OVER IRON-ORE AND COAL TERMINAL ON BLACK SEA

By John Helmer, Moscow

Evraz, the Russian steelmaker listed on the London Stock Exchange main board, is being sued in the UK High Court for $35.8 million by a group of Swiss investors over a failed project to build a terminal for iron-ore and coking coal at Yuzhny port, on the Ukrainian Black Sea coast near Odessa. The dispute is over an asset on which Evraz has put a substantially higher value on its own balance-sheets than the Swiss investors are claiming in valuation and compensation in court.

The High Court claim papers were filed on April 26. At the same time, a court in Cyprus agreed to impose a freeze over money in the accounts of an Evraz subsidiary operating in Cyprus called Watney Ltd.
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THE MONEY SHOT IN MOSCOW


 

READER CAUTION: in tough times collection methods get tougher. The following translation from the Russian, originally published on June 14, is presented without editing. A slightly different version appeared in Izvestia on June 13. One of Russia’s leading investigative journalists comments: “the hired criminals did exactly what they were instructed. They did not kill, but intimidated. Completed the task and disappeared. Judging by the state of the law enforcement agencies, they will not be found soon, if ever. Criminals of this kind do not carry the requisition order with them. There are different versions of who could be the customer. The question is whether there is evidence.” Basic Element, the holding owned by Oleg Deripaska, and now directed again by his longtime collaborator Gulzhan Moldazhanova, issued a release on September 6, 2010, charging that shareholder funds had been misappropriated through false invoicing. At the time the holding said it had filed charges with the police, and that it “will try to get back the funds, if possible” As for last week’s acts, nothing should be read into this report to suggest there is any public evidence whatsoever about the identity of the perpetrators, their employers, or the motives. The reader is cautioned against the suspicion that the shooting has had precedents involving any of those identified. For more information about the history of Sochi port’s construction problems, see here.

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O UNLUCKY MAN! ROMAN TROTSENKO HAS HAD ENOUGH OF RUSSIAN SHIPBUILDING, AND VICE VERSA

By John Helmer, Moscow

Roman Trotsenko (centre), chief executive of the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), has resigned suddenly. No reason has been announced by USC, which has confirmed that Trotsenko is leaving by July 1.

First appointed by the Kremlin in 2009 to oversee the consolidation of state stakes in shipyards around the country, and inspire the shipyard managers to boost domestic new vessel orders, Trotsenko had been a millionaire developer of commercial real estate and airports, and owner of the Moscow River Shipping Company.
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HONG KONG FOOTNOTE – ANATOLY TIKHONOV GETS THE BOOT, BARRY CHEUNG IN LIMBO, AS OLEG DERIPASKA DITHERS OVER KREMLIN ORDERS

By John Helmer, Moscow

The annual general meeting (AGM) of Rusal shareholders in Hong Kong on Friday removed Anatoly Tikhonov (image centre) from the board of directors, and replaced him with Matthias Warnig. But meeting in virtual secrecy afterwards, the new Rusal board omitted a decision on the chairmanship from its agenda. Despite a press opportunity after the shareholder meeting, the company has issued no announcement of the board change, and has yet to post the new membership of the board or other results of the shareholder votes.

According to sources in Hong Kong, the appointment of the Rusal chairmanship has been postponed. This leaves in place Barry Cheung (right), the interim chairman who was voted into the position on March 16, after Victor Vekselberg had resigned charging chief executive Oleg Deripaska (left) with mismanagement. According to a source from the Rusal meeting yesterday, “probably Cheung will resign himself during the next two or three months in order to give his place [as chairman] to Warnig.”
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SOUTH AFRICAN OLIGARCH BEATS OLEG DERIPASKA TO THE POT IN GUINEA

By John Helmer, Moscow

A group of South Africans, led by Tokyo Sexwale (image left), has devised a scheme to take over mineral assets and mining concessions in the west African republic of Guinea, which the government plans to renationalize after revoking deals struck by previous Guinean governments. The Sexwale scheme is a growing threat to Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal in Guinea, as the offers Deripaska (image right) has proposed to Guinean President Alpha Conde and his family miss their mark.

On the eve of Rusal’s annual general meeting of shareholders in Hong Kong, due on June 15, there has been no fresh warning to Rusal shareholders that their Guinean bauxite mines and alumina refinery are facing confiscation, and transfer to a state mining company controlled, indirectly, by the South Africans. These Guinean assets account for more than half of Rusal’s global bauxite reserves. On last year’s production results, the Guinea assets represent 36% of Rusal’s annual bauxite production of 13.5 million tonnes; 7% of Rusal’s alumina output of 8.2 million tonnes. Both totals were down below past-year volumes.
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SURGUTNEFTGAS AND BP’S BOB DUDLEY – WATCH THE DOUGHNUT, NOT THE HOLE

By John Helmer, Moscow

In the short run, possibly for three quarters of this year, BP, run by chief executive Bob Dudley, will be short of its half-billion dollar quarterly cash dividend from TNK-BP. In the long run, whether Mikhail Fridman and his partners sell their 50% stake in TNK-BP to BP or to another Russian oil company, BP is on the skids, either out of Russia entirely, or remaining on terms that will give a Russian stakeholder new power over BP’s main shareholding – potentially the single largest stake in BP.

This is definitely not the understanding you would form if you read the Anglo-American press. The spoon-fed correspondent at the Financial Times quoted “one person close to the company” (BP) as claiming that the Russians had been “wrongfooted by BP’s decision to pursue a sale.” The Telegraph reports Dudley’s tactic is to “smoke out the troublesome oligarchs who are proving impossible to work with – to make them cooperate or sell their stake to a more compliant bedfellow.” The Wall Street Journal thinks Dudley is playing the card game of Mississippi Stud, in which “players have three opportunities to raise the stakes, or fold and walk away… Upping the ante a third time might be a winning strategy in poker. But in Russia they favor a different, and much more dangerous game of chance.”
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WHO’S FOR COMPETITION IN THIS STEEL TRADE CONTEST? SEVERSTAL GOES AGAINST NUCOR

By John Helmer, Moscow

The first international trade dispute involving Russian exports to be tabled since Russia was accepted in the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a claim by a US steelmaker that Alexei Mordashov’s Severstal is dumping hot-rolled steel products in the US market at a price below the domestic American price. That at least is the allegation of Nucor and its Washington lawyer, Alan Price, who has sharp words for what he calls Severstal propaganda.

Price is publicly forecasting penalty import duties against several categories of hot-rolled steel from Russia of between 78% and 180%. Enough to kill the trade, which last year generated 5.7 million tonnes of Russian exports to the US, worth $3.8 billion, according to Russian customs figures.
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FOOTNOTE — SHUVALOV STUBS TOE ON ALROSA SCHEME, POSTPONES KICKOFF

By John Helmer, Moscow

The Kremlin has not decided yet how it should privatize Alrosa, according to official disclosures at yesterday’s cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The kickback, I mean kickoff of the diamond privatization worth at least $14 billion remains out of reach for the time being.
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TALE OF TWO CANADIAN CHAIRS – PROKHOROV FALLS OFF HIS

By John Helmer, Moscow

The greatest Canadian whom the Russians have ever known was Glenn Gould, the pianist. But when he played in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1957 – over the strenuous objections, even threats from the Canadian and US governments – he didn’t take his chair with him. That special chair, on which Gould played until his retirement from the concert hall, was this week presented to Canada’s National Arts Centre in Ottawa, together with Gould’s Steinway CD 318. The piano will be played in a first new recital on June 20. The chair will not be sat on for performance except for even more special occasions.
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PENULTIMATE MESSAGE FROM VICTOR RASHNIKOV — WHEN WILL FLINDERS MINES UNDERSTAND?

By John Helmer, Moscow

A three-judge appeals court panel in Chelyabinsk this morning preserved the injunction against Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine (MMK) completing its takeover of Australian iron-ore miner, Flinders Mines.

Today’s proceedings were a continuation of the May 30 hearing in Appeal Court no. 18 of the Chelyabinsk Arbitrazh Court, when Judge Galina Fedina, accompanied by judges Irina Sokolova and Svetlana Ershova, postponed consideration of parallel appeals submitted by MMK and Flinders Mines. Lawyers for the Australian company submitted additional materials on June 1, according to a notice on the court website.
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ABRAMOVICH DOES IT AGAIN: TAKES $69 MILLION IN PUBLIC SHAREHOLDER MONEY FOR ONE OF HIS POCKET ASSETS — NUMIS SECURITIES LEADS THE CHEERS

By John Helmer, Moscow

What an enterprising lad! While Highland Gold, a London-listed public stockholding company, was looking in a forward direction, last Friday Roman Abramovich sold it a gold and silver prospect called Klen for the greater part of which he had paid $103,774 eighteen months earlier. Abramovich has now relieved Highland Gold of $69 million of its hard-earned money for this exchange. In the interval, since Abramovich spent peanuts on prospecting , his rate of return was 34% per month, 610% overall.

This, at least, is one arithmetic of what has happened. Abramovich’s spokesman, John Mann, says there is another truer one, although one of the crucial numbers in that calculation is missing. Highland Gold’s spokesman, Dmitry Yakushkin, isn’t providing that number. Nor is he explaining how Highland Gold counts the reserves and resources which Abramovich has just sold it.
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KERIMOV AND SHUVALOV COOK UP NEW SCHEME FOR ALROSA AS RUSSIAN AS APPLE PIE – MAKE THAT ЧЕРНИКА

By John Helmer, Moscow

If President Vladimir Putin is intending to demonstrate he has already lost control of the newly appointed government and their oligarch business partners, then in the proposal of Suleiman Kerimov to expand Alrosa’s asset base by buying BHP’s diamond mines in Canada, and privatize 51% of the company in a public share offering, he has his chance. And who better to address this problem (opportunity) than the First Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Shuvalov?

Kerimov made his proposal on May 14 in Vedomosti, and followed with an unprecedented acknowledgement by his spokesman in Bloomberg. In the Vedomosti report, Alrosa sources were reported to have said that last year Kerimov had asked Alexei Kudrin, then finance minister and chairman of Alrosa’s supervisory board, to endorse a deal in which a 51% state shareholding in Alrosa would be put up for sale. Kerimov reportedly told Kudrin also that the international marketability and value of the Alrosa shares should be supplemented by adding diamond mines in Canada which BHP is offering for sale at an initially reported price of about $750 million. Naturally, Kerimov added, his friends at VTB, one of Russia’s state banks, would be happy to lend whatever BHP wanted for the deal.
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AFTERSHOCK OF NORD STREAM EXPLOSIONS RUMBLES WARSAW — POLISH POLITICIANS GO “NUTTERS”

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LEMONS, MIMOSAS, AND STALIN’S SHOVEL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

How little the Germans have changed.

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

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

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RUSSIAN AVIATION INDUSTRY CORRECTS YELTSIN YAW – BOEING, AIRBUS DITCHED



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

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

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

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

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

So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.

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



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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