ZIYAVUDIN MAGOMEDOV ADVERTISES ANOTHER MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR IMPROBABILITY, THIS TIME A $3 BILLION TAKEOVER OF AUSTRALIA’S GRAINCORP

By John Helmer, Moscow

When he was last spotted at his own devices, Ziyavudin Magomedov announced on September 20 that some time in the next decade he and Gazprom intend to build a refinery to convert natural gas into liquefied natural gas (LNG) in bunker form to power a Magomedov fleet of newly designed, newly launched ocean-going ships. Magomedov’s current fleet comprises mostly tugboats with antique power plants, employed for tanker escort at Novorossiysk and Primorsk ports; he has declined to explain where the new fleet would come from, or why. So the announcement appeared to be no more than an advertisement that, in the current scramble for state budget and state bank funds, Magomedov has a powerful ally.

He has now followed with a placement in Bloomberg that he is thinking of making a bid to buy Australia’s GrainCorp, and must beat the takeover bid already on the table from Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) for A$2.77 billion (US$2.88 billion).
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RUSAL IN DESPERATE MEASURES TO SAVE NIGERIAN SMELTER

By John Helmer, Moscow

In the century-old story of the little boy and the four tigers, the latter force the lad to give up his clothes with threats to eat him, if he doesn’t come across. Then in a frenzy of envy and greed, the tigers chase each other until they turn to butter. Unscathed, the boy takes back his clothes, and his mother turns the tiger butter into pancakes.

In a turn-up for the books, after eight years of litigation in the US and Nigerian courts, pancakes is what the Nigerian government is now making of United Company Rusal. Not ready to take this lying down, lawyers for Rusal have asked the courts of London and Los Angeles to rule again on just who is the tiger, and who the boy in this story.
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OLEG DERIPASKA’S BOEING FOR SALE

By John Helmer, Moscow

In the good old days, when Rusal, Russia’s aluminium monopoly, was taking in great volumes of cash and Oleg Deripaska, the controlling shareholder, had his associates emptying it for other business as fast as they could, Deripaska operated a fleet of aircraft, large and small. That the biggest of the fleet, a 5-year old Boeing 337, is now in the catalogue of an aircraft broker for sale, indicates how diminished the company’s fortunes have become, and how little Deripaska himself controls what remains of the cashflow. In the mock-up, that is Deripaska inside the lounge of the aircraft, sitting next to his new creditor, Iskander Makhmudov.
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THE STELLA RIMINGTON VIEW OF RUSSIA – PERVERSE CRUELTY FOR PREPOSTEROUS MOTIVES, NO GAIN

By John Helmer, Moscow

Spy novels are a dime a dozen – make that £10 before they are remaindered; the fact that some of them are written by ex-spies or counter-espionage agents doesn’t make them more precious for their veracity or insight. What makes Stella Rimington (right) a cut above (or below) is what she reveals to be her understanding of her enemy’s character, purpose, modus operandi, and pathology, as inculcated in Rimington during her 27-year career as an MI5 officer. In that time she was promoted successfully through every branch (counter-espionage, counter-subversion, counter-terrorism) until she spent her last five years as Director-General. Since then Rimington has been writing fictional thrillers. The last of these, The Geneva Trap, published a few weeks ago, is about several agents of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). It’s what Rimington understands of them that makes the read worthwhile: not for what it reveals about such Russians, but what it reveals about the MI5 mind-set.
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POCKETS, NOT PALATES, HAVE THE BIGGEST TASTE FOR RUSSIAN COGNAC

By John Helmer, Moscow

Russian consumption of wine, beer and vodka declined during the last economic crisis in 2008 and 2009, and the early signs are that this is happening again. But cognac is in a very special category. All the alcoholic drinks, but one, respond to the availability of money in Russian consumers’ hands. When the supply of money dries up, and consumers are thirsty, they opt for moonshine. But even that obeys the laws of money supply and demand. Cognac, however, is a type of currency itself. The volume of cognac sales goes up when the value of bribes is rising.

Last week, the government regulator RosAlkogolRegulirovanie (RAR) announced that it has decided to raise the minimum price in retail of a bottle of domestic brand champagne (0.75l) to Rb115 ($3.71). The move, which follows an earlier one in 2010 to raise the minimum retail price of vodka to Rb125 (for 0.5l), has been requested by the sparkling wine producers association. The objective is to make it easier for the regulators to stop the sale of illegally produced champagne which is averaging Rb99 a bottle. At that price, it currently commands about 40% of the market. When the vodka minimum was raised, the effect, according to the experts, was to drive about one bottle in five of moonshine vodka off the market. A plan to do the same for still wine is under consideration at RAR at present.
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WE’RE SORRY, YOUR CALL CANNOT BE COMPLETED AS DIALLED — ALISHER USMANOV CANNOT SELL MEGAFON FOR THE TIME BEING

By John Helmer, Moscow

When it comes to interior decoration, no one does gilding better than Alisher Usmanov. And when it comes to serving delicacies to journalists, none cooks up the hors d’oeuvres better than he does. In the international stock markets, however, these qualities don’t quite cut the mustard. In consequence, in London this week Usmanov has set the Russian record for the number of attempts at initial public offerings (IPOs) or strategic share sales which have failed for buyers or price, or which he has withdrawn for related, if undisclosed reasons.

In between February and October 2008, there were at least two direct IPO tries for Usmanov’s Metalloinvest holding of iron-ore mines and steelmills, and one reverse listing attempt with Kazakhmys. In 2010 there was an attempt at selling a stake to Mitsui, and then a reverse listing negotiation with Nathaniel Rothschild’s ill-fated Vallar; both misfired. Between 2010 and 2011 another London Stock Exchange (LSE) bid was tried. Add to this reckoning the 2003-2004 negotiation with the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus; abortive schemes to add Ukrainian and Kazakh iron-ore assets to his Mikhailovsky and Lebedinsky mines; and a national metals champion plan to merge with Norilsk Nickel and Rusal in 2009.
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WHICH WAY IS GENNADY TIMCHENKO RUNNING?

By John Helmer, Moscow

Gennady Timchenko is usually so discreet, he engages lawyers to warn reporters away from peering too closely at his private life. So when his friends, all of a sudden and in unison, start telling a Moscow newspaper that he has decided to move back to Russia, Timchenko is either acting out of character, or he is engaged in damage limitation. The Vedomosti report of October 19 makes Timchenko appear to be running towards Moscow. A day later, a report published in the Geneva newspaper Le Temps makes it appear Timchenko may be running away from Geneva.
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BP’S PYRRHIC VICTORY – HOW BOB DUDLEY SAVED HIS JOB BY BECOMING IGOR SECHIN’S RETAINER

By John Helmer, Moscow

The London Paralympics aren’t over for BP’s chief executive, Bob Dudley. Even if he wins gold, he’s finishing with fewer limbs than he started with.

According to the Financial Times version of the negotiation to date between Rosnft, BP, TNK-BP, and between Igor Sechin, Bob Dudley, and Mikhail Fridman, a deal in which Rosneft buys out the 50% Russian shareholding in TNK-BP, and then buys out the equally sized BP stake for a total of about $56 billion, “ would mark a victory for Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, extricating the UK oil major from a partnership with a group of Soviet-born billionaires that has been plagued by often tempestuous shareholder conflicts. The deal would give BP $15bn-$20bn in cash plus a stake of 10-20 per cent in Rosneft, one person close to the situation said.”
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THE STINGER STUNG — DERIPASKA’S COSTS CHANGE RUSAL SHAREHOLDING

By John Helmer, Moscow

The disclosure of the costs Roman Abramovich incurred in defending against and defeating Boris Berezovsky’s claims — confirmed by an order of Justice Dame Elizabeth Gloster on October 12 — have turned out to be less for Berezovsky to pay than had been speculated in the press. But that’s because he had a contingency fee agreement (CFA) with his law firm, Addleshaw Goddard, which in turn carried an insurance policy. Berezovsky’s obligation to pay his lawyers depending on his winning. If he lost, as he did, Addleshaws’ insurer paid. The details of a “partial CFA deal with the client” have been reported in the London lawyer media.

What the order for Berezovsky to pay Abramovich £35 million ($56 million) also means is that Michael Cherney’s (Chernoy) legal bill for his similarly long, comparably complex and costly case against Oleg Deripaska was probably about the same amount. Consequently, it is possible to deduce how much Deripaska agreed to pay Cherney for the settlement they announced on September 27 – and how Deripaska financed the pay-out.
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THE LEVEL PLAYING FIELD, ACCORDING TO REFORM FINANCIER VLADIMIR ASHURKOV

By John Helmer, Moscow

Vladimir Ashurkov was advertising his principles last week in the Moscow Times. He is currently executive director of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption, one of the organs of the political opposition led by Alexei Navalny. Ashurkov is described by the newspaper as the principal fund-raiser for Navalny, and himself a candidate for election to the coordination council of the opposition movements.

He has identified his last employer from 2006 to 2012 as Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group. Before that, between 2004 and 2006, Ashurkov confirms he was vice president for strategic development of Sergei Generalov’s holding, Industrial Investors. Those were the years when one of Generalov’s strategic developments was a deal to acquire the Georgian mining company called Madneuli; borrow heavily from Deutsche Bank against its future gold production; and spend the money acquiring goldmining companies in Armenia and elsewhere in the name of GeoProMining, a Caribbean island-registered entity.
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THE WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY — VTB ACCUSES ITSELF OF RIPOFF AND IS TOLD BY THE UK COURTS TO TAKE ITS CASE TO THE RUSSIAN PROSECUTOR

By John Helmer, Moscow

A case that has been going through the courts in London for months, and will be argued afresh in November before the Supreme Court, Britain’s highest tribunal, reveals not only how easy it was for a group of alleged fraudsters to borrow $225 million from state-controlled VTB Bank. Also revealed is how VTB bank officials in Moscow ignored risk and security warnings against the loan from their subordinates in London, and channelled bank fees and commissions amounting to at least 10% of the loan through a fake consultant. That, the British courts have concluded, was an offshore entity intended to avoid Russian tax. More likely it was a kickback scheme to enrich the VTB bankers in Moscow making the loan approval. VTB’s misrepresentations on this and other scores have been judged to be so serious, the High Court has tossed out several claims by VTB, and charged the bank with “deliberate material non-disclosure” (aka lying, deceit).

Why VTB intends to reveal so much about its own banking practices in London without prosecuting the ripoff in Moscow is difficult to understand because VTB refuses to answer a single question about the case. The intimation is that VTB is afraid of launching a criminal or civil fraud case in Moscow for fear that prosecutors will turn up evidence that VTB bankers were in cahoots with the alleged fraudsters to share more than $20 million of the loan proceeds between them.
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YELLOWISM BEFORE REDDISM, VLADIMIRISM BEFORE MARKISM

By John Helmer, Moscow

Never was a Russian design more nobly intended for the edification of London’s upper class since Karl Marx scribbled away at the British Museum Library. Never were the fetish of the object and the alienation of labor more artfully combined. Had Mr Bean done it, the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London, maybe a naked prince and duchess too, would have fallen over each other to be photographed shaking the artful dodger’s hand.

And how modest the graffito: “Vladimir Umanets 12 A Potential Piece of Yellowism”. Imagine if Karl had scribbled “you have nothing to lose but your potential chains”. Who would have united for that? Would we be bitterly complaining the Romanovs alive and still on their thrones?
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GOLDMAN SACHS SPITS THE DUMMY AT ALISHER USMANOV’S MEGAFON IPO

By John Helmer, Moscow

It’s no surprise that when Alisher Usmanov (left) proposed an initial public offering (IPO) of Megafon, a mobile telephone company he controls, he decided to keep all his shares to himself, and to oblige new sharebuyers to bid for stock being sold from the treasury of Megafon, and from minority stockholder, Sweden’s TeliaSonera. That makes the IPO less a wager on the profitability of Russian telephones, more a referendum on who wants to be Usmanov’s minority shareholding partner.

It is also unsurprising that Goldman Sachs, one of the two co-managers engaged in June to manage the IPO, refused to do so, resigning days ago, just before Megafon completed its prospectus. Goldman Sachs didn’t have such a problem being co-manager of the listing of Yandex, the Russian search engine company, in April of 2011. In December of 2011, Goldman Sachs didn’t walk away from its role as co-manager in a $500 million loan syndicate for Vimpelcom, one of Megafon’s domestic competitors.
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UK COURT OF APPEAL RULES AGAINST OLEG DERIPASKA

By John Helmer, Moscow

Very occasionally it happens that the lie a man tells, or his lawyer, comes back to haunt him.

Here is the judgement in the case of Michael Cherney (Chernoy) v Oleg Deripaska, issued by the UK Court of Appeal on October 3. Not a word of it has appeared yet in the press in London or Moscow.

Deripaska had appealed to the higher court after the trial judge in the High Court, Justice Andrew Smith, ruled in July against his applications for witness protection orders.
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WHERE DO RUSSIAN ELEPHANTS GO TO DIE? NOT BY CHOICE INTO ROMAN ABRAMOVICH’S BONEYARD

By John Helmer, Moscow

The two 20-year veteran coalminers who have directed Raspadskaya, one of Russia’s leading coking coal producers, have unexpectedly sold out their stake in the company. According to the terms of the deal announced in Moscow yesterday, Evraz, the vertically integrated steel and mining group controlled by Roman Abramovich (left image), will pay Gennady Kosovoy, currently CEO, and Alexander Vagin, board chairman, $202 million in cash, plus an 11.06% share of Evraz’s equity.

Kosovoy is the coalmine boss; Vagin runs political interference at the regional level and protection wherever required. They haven’t enjoyed being the co-control shareholders, with Abramovich, of the publicly listed company. Even less, they haven’t cared for Abramovich’s pressure to pay him dividends from Raspadskaya’s profit — and that was when the mining company was making a profit, and when the two veterans wanted to reinvest the proceeds in the mine itself. Because Raspadskaya was the only half-way independent coal supplier to the steel industry in Russia, its takeover by Evraz significantly reduces competition in the Russian market.
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PATSY’S GOT BALLS — MORDASHOV TO PULL HIS PRICE FOR HIGH RIVER GOLD UPWARD, OR POCKET HIS OFFER ALTOGETHER

By John Helmer, Moscow

The Canadian valuer hired to provide an independent valuation of High River Gold (HRG) for Nord Gold’s takeover offer appears to be recommending a higher price than Alexei Mordashov, owner of Nord Gold and 75% shareholder of HRG, wants to pay, leaving the takeover in limbo.

Paradigm Capital’s research department, headed by Daniel Kim of Toronto, has been working on the valuation since July, when Nord Gold announced a share swap or cash purchase equivalent to C$1.40 per share of HRG. That valued HRG at C$1.18 billion. To consolidate the minority shareholders, and absorb HRG entirely into Nord Gold – with the aim of lifting the latter’s struggling share price and worsening financial performance– Mordashov with 75% of the HRG shares in hand needs to have his bid accepted by another 15%. If he can reach or cross the 90% stake threshold, under Canadian takeover rules the remaining shareholders can be squeezed out by a mandatory buyout. As told in this sequence, the opposition to Mordashov has been successful so far in denying him the prize.
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NORD GOLD HIDES IN PLAIN SIGHT FROM HIGH RIVER GOLD

By John Helmer, Moscow

It takes a Russian to know how to build a Potemkin village, and hide behind it. It takes Alexei Mordashov to answer questions through a telephone number that rings in Amsterdam only to be relayed to a Moscow office, where the person in charge hangs up the receiver. That’s a false front that doesn’t deserve Count Potemkin’s name tag.

Mordashov is the owner of Nord Gold, the struggling goldminer spun out of the Severstal steel group. Since July 18, Nord Gold has been tabling an offer to buy out the minority shareholders of Toronto-listed High River Gold (HRG), the richest of the assets in the Nord Gold portfolio. Tabling isn’t quite what has happened. That’s because there won’t be an official offer to buy the remaining HRG shares until a purportedly independent valuation of HRG is completed and the share price offer put into a circular. That is a paper which Mordashov is promising to despatch to the hold-out HRG shareholders sometime soon. For the July 18 proposal, and the reaction of the market, read this.
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WHILE RUSAL BURNS, DERIPASKA PUTS GERMAN INSTEAD OF CHINAMAN IN RUSAL CHAIR

By John Helmer, Moscow

United Company Rusal, the Jersey-registered aluminium monopoly of Russia, has announced that “Mr Barry Cheung resigns as Chairman of the Company with effect from 1 October 2012, but will remain as an independent non-executive director of the Company. The Board is pleased to announce that Mr Matthias Warnig, an independent non-executive director of the Company, has been appointed as Chairman of the Company with effect from 1 October 2012.”
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MOSCOW TIMES AWARDS ITSELF THE BO PEEP PRIZE

By John Helmer, Moscow

Journalists arranging tuxedo events to give themselves prizes are even sillier than Hollywood actors at the Oscar ceremony. There are also no comedians to tell jokes to neutralize the gastroenteric reflex that is always brought on in audiences by a surfeit of brown-nosing. For the British children in the audience who don’t know what that term means, the Private Eye term is the more onomatopoetic — arslikhan.

Meg Bortin, the second editor of the Moscow Times and one of the shortest termers, has been rolled out for today’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Times. The true anniversary actually fell in March, eight months ago. But if that was the point from which to hang the anniversary celebration, Bortin couldn’t call herself the “founding editor in chief”.
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ZIYAVUDIN MAGOMEDOV ADVERTISES A PHANTOM FLEET POWERED BY FUEL PRODUCED BY ALEXEI MILLER AT A PARANORMAL GAZPROM REFINERY

By John Helmer, Moscow

Gazprom, Russia’s largest company, has announced a plan to supply liquefied natural gas (LNG) it isn’t producing to terminals piping ship fuel into a fleet of vessels which the Summa Capital group, directed by Ziyavudin Magomedov, would like to operate — only they don’t exist either. The scheme is more environmentally friendly than any in Russian naval history, only it is a fiction. Why?

The official announcement appeared in Moscow on September 20. Gazprom and Summa Group had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the announcement said, “fix[ing] the intentions of the parties to arrange cooperation for LNG utilization as a bunker fuel for marine vessels, including those owned and operated by Summa Group. In the first instance, Gazprom Group and Summa Group will consider the possibility of cooperation in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea regions. Apart from LNG supplies for Summa Group needs, the parties will consider potential development of the bunkering infrastructure in the North and Baltic Seas, particularly LNG storage facilities.”
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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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