“I can promise to say nothing that is untrue”, wrote Giuseppe di Lampedusa, the Sicilian prince, the Italian writer, when introducing a chapter of his brief memoirs. “But I shall not want to say all; and I reserve the right to lie by omission. Unless I change my mind.”
If somebody wants it badly enough, the Russian government can still be induced to ban writers, exile them, or allow them to be beaten up or killed without recourse. So there are things that cannot be written, because the risk and the threat are too great. For that reason, no differently from the Soviet period, there remains much that must be understood by omission, between the lines. This past year wasn’t different in this respect from the previous one, and on the present signs, it isn’t likely the new year will see much change. (more…)
Russians have an uninhibited good humour at this time of year, but Alisher Usmanov aims to be the spoiler, holding his nose over all the treats. According to Usmanov, the transaction “has the smell of the 90s and oligarch conspiracies. It’s not acceptable for us.”
Usmanov is referring to the transaction, confirmed on December 11, by which Roman Abramovich’s Millhouse holding acquired control of 25.87% of Norilsk Nickel’s shares for the price of 5.87%; Vladimir Strzhalkovsky received $100 million in cash; and Oleg Deripaska as the trustee with the control stake in United Company Rusal will receive a 48.13% share of Rusal’s 27.8% share of $10.9 billion in dividends to be paid out of the Norilsk Nickel treasury over the next three years – that’s $1.46 billion. (more…)
Sergei Stepashin (right) was the prime minister of Russia for three months before Vladimir Putin (left) was appointed to the job in August 1999. Before that, Stepashin was the head of the Federal Security Service, Minister of Justice, and Minister of Interior. He also has a doctorate; a professor’s rank in civvies; and in the military the rank of Colonel-General. For a while in 2005 he was Boris Yeltsin’s preferred candidate to succeed him as president. He is now in his third term as the head of the Accounting Chamber, having been nominated by the Kremlin and accepted by the State Duma in 2000, 2005, and 2010.
The chamber’s job is to scrutinize the spending of public funds and where possible uncover and expose abuses and corruption. It’s the Russian equivalent, in constitutional duty at least, of the Government Accountability Office in Washington, or the National Audit Office in London. Unless he jumps or is pushed, Stepashin is in office until the end of 2017. By the standard of officials of the post-communist period, Stepashin has the right stuff. (more…)
Along the eastern Mediterranean shore, between Tyre, Lebanon, and Tartous, Syria, it’s 191 kilometres as the crow flies – make that as the drone flies. Tyre was the site of one of the great tests of military technology, tactics, and nerve when the Greek, Alexander the Great, besieged the then Phoenician city in 332 BC, breaching the defences after seven months, killing about a fifth of the population, and despatching the rest into slavery.
The Americans, Turks, French, and British claim they have a better idea for the Syrians. Alexandrine crucifixions no – looting and slavery maybe. (more…)
When precious metal geologists kiss their wives good night, and go to sleep, they dream of pushing upstream from river-borne, alluvial or placer deposits of platinum, to strike the mother lode. In geological theory, this is the El Dorado of the platinum business – a bedrock of high-grade platinum ore, not too far underground, easy and cheap to excavate, in much larger volumes than can be extracted from panning or dredging downstream, where millions of years of erosion have washed the metal in grains or tiny nuggets. Unlike their wives or gold, geologists prefer platinum because its value is relatively stable.
This year, for example, look at the moving line and compare the volatility of the gold price (left chart) compared with platinum’s (right): (more…)
It has taken Alexei Mordashov (image lower right) three and a half years to persuade shareholders of Toronto-listed High River Gold (HRG) to accept his takeover of the company. That’s the longest foreign defence against a Russian takeover in the oligarch record-book. But when the count was completed on December 11, Mordashov’s victory was still a close-run thing. What has happened is that most of the holdout shareholders opted to take cash for their shares, and abandon the business, rather than accept a swap of their HRG shares for shares of Mordashov’s larger goldmine holding, London-listed Nord Gold.
Mordashov has the company he wanted, but not with a vote of confidence in his or his goldmining future. In the process, not a single Canadian court, Canadian stock market regulator, nor even a Canadian newspaper reporter took the side of the minority shareholders. They have included Sprott Asset Management, one of Canada’s leading independent fund managers; according to its latest performance sheet, its investments in gold and precious metals stocks have been bleeding red for the year to date, the full year, and indeed for the past three years. (more…)
The UK High Court ruled today that Yury Nikitin, a London-based Russian shipping entrepreneur, had engaged in corruption and “dishonest assistance” in order to secure profitable charters from Novoship UK (NOUK). At the time, Novoship was an independent Russian shipping company; since 2007 it has been a subsidiary of the state-owned Sovcomflot.
The 157-page judgement by Justice Christopher Clarke found that bribes had been paid to Nikitin by Vladimir Mikhaylyuk, when the latter was general manager for Novoship in London between 2002 and 2005. Nikitin’s defence that this was not corruption on his part was dismissed by the judge as unconvincing and implausible on the facts. Justice Clarke also condemned Nikitin to repay all charter profits he had made where there were findings of corruption. (more…)
Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon allows four witnesses to an affair of lust, robbery and murder to tell their own versions of what had happened. There is one corpse, and several versions of how it got that way – at the hand of the wife, the bandit, or by suicide. The film originated in two earlier short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Japanese audiences haven’t been as moved as western ones by either. From the Japanese point of view, dressing up dead samurais, violated ladies, grumpy bandits, and humble woodcutters doesn’t make the lesson of the story fresher than it can be. Who doesn’t know that people do what they do, see what they see, remember what they remember out of their own self-interest?
A debt of $650 million, and accumulating losses of more than $100 million are the interest of this little Russian tale. The characters are Stephen Jennings (image, upper right), founder of the Renaissance Capital (RenCap) group; Suleiman Kerimov (lower right), an investor for himself and others who prefer to hide in the forest; and Mikhail Prokhorov, part-owner of RenCap since 2008 and thus Jennings’s Russian partner. There is no lady, no sex act, and death is avoided, at least so far. (more…)
Oleg Deripaska (image centre) is not having a good week. It started more or less out of harm’s way with a report in a London magazine, Private Eye. This claims that at least two Caribbean companies and one UK entity, which Deripaska uses to channel sales revenues from United Company Rusal to beneficiaries and places other than the shareholder income line on the company’s audited balance-sheet, “have been identified by economic crime specialists as fronts for extensive laundering – of proceeds for illicit arms exports, drugs, counterfeiting, corrupt public contracts, and much else.”
Then there was the collapse of the first Deripaska company to fall into official bankruptcy – Kuban Airlines – largely, aviation industry sources say, on account of lack of capital on the part of the owner to raise the operating margin of aircraft, and the risk of continuing to fly unsafe aircraft on domestic routes when they are banned internationally. (more…)
There is rule on corruption which everyone in public office in every corner of the world knows – you mustn’t use your office to advance your private profit. When he was Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov was not supposed to put lucrative city business in the way of himself or his wife, Yelena Baturina. So in 2009, when she was accused in a London newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch – then in a billion-dollar conflict himself with the Moscow city administration — of using up to £100 million to buy a London palace in which to live with the Mayor and their children; and when Luzhkov was accused by innuendo of failing to disclose the deal, Baturina sued in the UK High Court for libel. Six months after this story ran, the newspaper and its proprietor News International, settled out of court, apologizing to Baturina, retracting the claims, and paying her costs and damages. (more…)
There are 7,018 pages in the four-volume paper print of Lord Leveson’s report on the ethics and practices of the British press. But just three references to Russia. One of them is a reflection on press freedom in primitive Russia and Ethiopia, compared with civilized UK by Alexander Lebedev, owner of the London dailies, The Evening Standard and The Independent (both currently for sale).
The report is modestly titled with an indefinite article: “An Enquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press, Report.” The byline belongs to Sir Brian Leveson (image left), a specialist criminal lawyer, then an appellate court judge. According to one of Lebedev’s papers, Leveson is in the running for promotion to the job of Lord Chief Justice, as the principal position in the British judiciary is called. That’s to say, he was in the running before his report was composed and despatched to Prime Minister David Cameron. (more…)
Negotiations are under way between Pacific Andes of Hong Kong, and its Singapore subsidiary China Fishery Group, with Russian Sea, the leading Russian fishing fleet operator, to resolve longstanding conflict between Chinese and Russians over access to waters in Russia’s exclusive economic zone, and to fish catch quotas. Under Russian law, the fisheries are strategic sectors and foreign investment in the industry is allowed only with the approval of the government’s Control Commission for Foreign Investment. (more…)
If you believe that in July 1941, a few days after the start of the German invasion, Lavrenty Beria was telling Josef Stalin that one of their NKVD agents had gotten her information “from the horse’s mouth, as the peasants say”, this book is for you. Actually, the expression is American slang from early 20th century horse-racing tracks in New York and New Jersey. In Beria’s mouth, in Stalin’s presence, it is one of dozens of improbabilities about Russians by an American, whose latest novel claims to be a surprise version of the early years and later loyalties of H.A.R. Kim Philby (image left).
Robert Littell, the author, claims in an end-note to have gotten his idea from a well-known Israeli at a meeting in Jerusalem in the year 2000, before the Israeli went to his Maker. The source reportedly claimed that during the Mossad phase of his career, he had warned the CIA that Philby was a double agent, a British spy who was in fact a Soviet plant. However, because Philby repeatedly escaped the official consequences of his superiors realizing this, and managed to live out his days in Moscow scot free, with local honour and in comfort, Littell deduces that Philby must have been a triple agent. That is, a plant on the Soviets from the very beginning by His Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service, in a ruse which one or two CIA officials were let in on (although not the FBI). (more…)
Blimps long ago lost their value as a means of cargo transportation, military reconnaissance, or anti-aircraft defence; whilst the helium that fills them – more safely than the combustible hydrogen gas which brought down the Hindenburg in 1937 – is sharply increasing its value in other applications. But the US, which is currently producing most of the world’s helium, is short of fresh supplies and low on stocks. This is because the government-set price is rising too slowly to cover the combination of rising demand, delivery and distribution costs, and spot-price speculation. To fix this in the short term, the US Congress is considering a new bill, the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012, but no vote is likely on that until next year. Much of the recent reporting of a helium shortage, and threat to helium-supplied operation of medical scanning machines, has been stimulated by lobbying for the enactment of this bill by the commercial interests; naturally, they want to see the US government lid on helium prices lifted. (more…)
The state-owned tanker company Sovcomflot is to avoid the London Stock Exchange (LSE) for its initial public offering (IPO). Instead, it is reviving a decade-old plan of former chief executive Dmitry Skarga and will attempt to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). A source in a position to know said the NYSE choice had been made a couple of months ago. The move to New York by Sovcomflot follows High Court rulings in London which have judged Sovocomflot’s management to have acted dishonestly in its pursuit of fraud and bribery litigation against Skarga, another former chief executive, and a former chartering partner.
The proposed move also comes after the Fitch ratings agency has issued a downgrade for Sovcomflot, claiming the failure of the company to sell shares — deferred until next year after several earlier postponements — is weakening its ability to cover its debts, as revenues remain under pressure from poor freight rates. Last week Sovcomflot reported it was loss-making in the September quarter – the first loss the company has reported since it began issuing audited reports according to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). (more…)
The Ukraine war is splitting the communist parties of Europe between those taking the US side, and those on the Russian side.
In an unusual public criticism of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and of smaller communist parties in Europe which have endorsed the Greek criticism of Russia for waging an “imperialist” war against the Ukraine, the Russian Communist Party (KPRF) has responded this week with a 3,300-word declaration: “The military conflict in Ukraine,” the party said, “cannot be described as an imperialist war, as our comrades would argue. It is essentially a national liberation war of the people of Donbass. From Russia’s point of view it is a struggle against an external threat to national security and against Fascism.”
By contrast, the Russian communists have not bothered to send advice, or air public criticism of the Cypriot communists and their party, the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL). On March 2, AKEL issued a communiqué “condemn[ing] Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calls for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Ukrainian territories….[and] stresses that the Russian Federation’s action in recognising the Donetsk and Luhansk regions constitutes a violation of the principle of the territorial integrity of states.”
To the KPRF in Moscow the Cypriots are below contempt; the Greeks are a fraction above it.
A Greek-Cypriot veteran of Cypriot politics and unaffiliated academic explains: “The Cypriot communists do not allow themselves to suffer for what they profess to believe. Actually, they are a misnomer. They are the American party of the left in Cyprus, just as [President Nikos] Anastasiades is the American party of the right.” As for the Greek left, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza – with 85 seats of the Greek parliament’s 300, the leading party of the opposition – the KKE (with 15 seats), and Yanis Varoufakis of MeRA25 (9 seats), the source adds: “The communists are irrelevant in Europe and in the US, except in the very narrow context of Greek party politics.”
The war plan of the US and the European allies is destroying the Russian market for traditional French perfumes, the profits of the French and American conglomerates which own the best-known brands, the bonuses of their managers, and the dividends of their shareholders. The odour of these losses is too strong for artificial fresheners.
Givaudan, the Swiss-based world leader in production and supply of fragrances, oils and other beauty product ingredients, has long regarded the Russian market as potentially its largest in Europe; it is one of the fastest growing contributors to Givaudan’s profit worldwide. In the recovery from the pandemic of Givaudan’s Fragrance and Beauty division – it accounts for almost half the company’s total sales — the group reported “excellent double-digit growth in 2021, demonstrating strong consumer demand for these product categories.” Until this year, Givaudan reveals in its latest financial report, the growth rate for Russian demand was double-digit – much faster than the 6.3% sales growth in Europe overall; faster growth than in Germany, Belgium and Spain.
Between February 2014, when the coup in Kiev started the US war against Russia, and last December, when the Russian non-aggression treaties with the US and NATO were rejected, Givaudan’s share price jumped three and a half times – from 1,380 Swiss francs to 4,792 francs; from a company with a market capitalisation of 12.7 billion francs ($12.7 billion) to a value of 44.2 billion francs ($44.2 billion). Since the fighting began in eastern Ukraine this year until now, Givaudan has lost 24% of that value – that’s $10 billion.
The largest of Givaudan’s shareholders is Bill Gates. With his 14%, plus the 10% controlled by Black Rock of New York and MFS of Boston, the US has effective control over the company.
Now, according to the US war sanctions, trade with Russia and the required payment systems have been closed down, alongside the bans on the importation of the leading European perfumes. So in place of the French perfumers, instead of Givaudan, the Russian industry is reorganizing for its future growth with its own perfume brands manufactured from raw materials produced in Crimea and other regions, or supplied by India and China. Givaudan, L’Oréal (Lancome, Yves Saint Laurent), Kering (Balenciaga, Gucci), LVMH (Dior, Guerlain, Givenchy), Chanel, Estée Lauder, Clarins – they have all cut off their noses to spite the Russian face.
By Nikolai Storozhenko, introduced and translated by John Helmer, Moscow @bears_with
This week President Joseph Biden stopped at an Illinois farm to say he’s going to help the Ukraine ship 20 million tonnes of wheat and corn out of storage into export, thereby relieving grain shortages in the international markets and lowering bread prices around the world. Biden was trying to play a hand in which his cards have already been clipped. By Biden.
The first Washington-Kiev war plan for eastern Ukraine has already lost about 40% of the Ukrainian wheat fields, 50% of the barley, and all of the grain export ports. Their second war plan to hold the western region defence lines with mobile armour, tanks, and artillery now risks the loss of the corn and rapeseed crop as well as the export route for trucks to Romania and Moldova. What will be saved in western Ukraine will be unable to grow enough to feed its own people. They will be forced to import US wheat, as well as US guns and the money to pay for both.
Biden told his audience that on the Delaware farms he used to represent in the US Senate “there are more chickens than there are Americans.” Blaming the Russians is the other card Biden has left.
The problem with living in exile is the meaning of the word. If you’re in exile, you mean you are forever looking backwards, in geography as well as in time. You’re not only out of place; you’re out of time — yesterday’s man.
Ovid, the Roman poet who was sent into exile from Rome by Caesar Augustus, for offences neither Augustus nor Ovid revealed, never stopped looking back to Rome. His exile, as Ovid described it, was “a barbarous coast, inured to rapine/stalked ever by bloodshed, murder, war.” In such a place or state, he said, “writing a poem you can read to no one is like dancing in the dark.”
The word itself, exsilium in Roman law, was the sentence of loss of citizenship as an alternative to loss of life, capital punishment. It meant being compelled to live outside Rome at a location decided by the emperor. The penalty took several degrees of isolation and severity. In Ovid’s case, he was ordered by Augustus to be shipped to the northeastern limit of the Roman empire, the Black Sea town called Tomis; it is now Constanta, Romania. Ovid’s last books, Tristia (“Sorrows”) and Epistulae ex Ponto (“Black Sea Letters”), were written from this exile, which began when he was 50 years old, in 8 AD, and ended when he died in Tomis nine years year later, in 17 AD.
In my case I’ve been driven into exile more than once. The current one is lasting the longest. This is the one from Moscow, which began with my expulsion by the Foreign Ministry on September 28, 2010. The official sentence is Article 27(1) of the law No. 114-FZ — “necessary for the purposes of defence capability or security of the state, or public order, or protection of health of the population.” The reason, a foreign ministry official told an immigration service official when they didn’t know they were being overheard, was: “Helmer writes bad things about Russia.”
Antonio Guterres is the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), who attempted last month to arrange the escape from Russian capture of Ukrainian soldiers and NATO commanders, knowing they had committed war crimes. He was asked to explain; he refuses.
Trevor Cadieu is a Canadian lieutenant-general who was appointed the chief of staff and head of the Canadian Armed Forces last August; was stopped in September; retired from the Army this past April, and went to the Ukraine, where he is in hiding. From whom he is hiding – Canadians or Russians – where he is hiding, and what he will say to explain are questions Cadieu isn’t answering, yet.
Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, is refusing this week to answer questions on the role he played in the recent attempt by US, British, Canadian and other foreign combatants to escape the bunkers under the Azovstal plant, using the human shield of civilians trying to evacuate.
In Guterres’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on April 26 (lead image), Putin warned Guterres he had been “misled” in his efforts. “The simplest thing”, Putin told Guterres in the recorded part of their meeting, “for military personnel or members of the nationalist battalions is to release the civilians. It is a crime to keep civilians, if there are any there, as human shields.”
This war crime has been recognized since 1977 by the UN in Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention. In US law for US soldiers and state officials, planning to employ or actually using human shields is a war crime to be prosecuted under 10 US Code Section 950t.
Instead, Guterres ignored the Kremlin warning and the war crime law, and authorized UN officials, together with Red Cross officials, to conceal what Guterres himself knew of the foreign military group trying to escape. Overnight from New York, Guterres has refused to say what he knew of the military escape operation, and what he had done to distinguish, or conceal the differences between the civilians and combatants in the evacuation plan over the weekend of April 30-May 1.May.
By Vlad Shlepchenko, introduced & translated by John Helmer, Moscow @bears_with
The more western politicians announce pledges of fresh weapons for the Ukraine, the more Russian military analysts explain what options their official sources are considering to destroy the arms before they reach the eastern front, and to neutralize Poland’s role as the NATO hub for resupply and reinforcement of the last-ditch holdout of western Ukraine.
“I would like to note,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, repeated yesterday, “that any transport of the North Atlantic Alliance that arrived on the territory of the country with weapons or material means for the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces is considered by us as a legitimate target for destruction”. He means the Ukraine border is the red line.
Here’s a story the New York Times has just missed.
US politicians and media pundits are promoting the targeting of “enablers” of Russian oligarchs who stash their money in offshore accounts. A Times article of March 11 highlighted Michael Matlin, CEO of Concord Management as such an “enabler.” But the newspaper missed serious corruption Matlin was involved in. Maybe that’s because Matlin cheated Russia, and also because the Matlin story exposes the William Browder/Sergei Magnitsky hoax aimed at Russia.
In 1939 a little known writer in Moscow named Sigizmund Khrzhizhanovsky published his idea that the Americans, then the Germans would convert human hatred into a new source of energy powering everything which had been dependent until then on coal, gas, and oil.
Called yellow coal, this invention originated with Professor Leker at Harvard University. It was applied, first to running municipal trams, then to army weapons, and finally to cheap electrification of everything from domestic homes and office buildings to factory production lines. In Russian leker means a quack doctor.
The Harvard professor’s idea was to concentrate the neuro-muscular energy people produce when they hate each other. Generated as bile (yellow), accumulated and concentrated into kinetic spite in machines called myeloabsorberators, Krzhizhanovsky called this globalization process the bilificationof society.
In imperial history there is nothing new in cases of dementia in rulers attracting homicidal psychopaths to replace them. It’s as natural as honey attracts bees.
When US President Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke on October 19, 1919, he was partially paralysed and blinded, and was no longer able to feed himself, sign his name, or speak normally; he was not demented.
While his wife and the Navy officer who was his personal physician concealed his condition, there is no evidence that either Edith Wilson or Admiral Cary Grayson were themselves clinical cases of disability, delusion, or derangement. They were simply liars driven by the ambition to hold on to the power of the president’s office and deceive everyone who got in their way.
The White House is always full of people like that. The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution is meant to put a damper on their homicidal tendencies.
What is unusual, probably exceptional in the current case of President Joseph Biden, not to mention the history of the United States, is the extent of the president’s personal incapacitation; combined with the clinical evidence of psychopathology in his Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and the delusional condition of the rivals to replace Biden, including Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Like Rome during the first century AD, Washington is now in the ailing emperor-homicidal legionary phase. But give it another century or two, and the madness, bloodshed, and lies of the characters of the moment won’t matter quite as much as their images on display in the museums of their successors craving legitimacy, or of successor powers celebrating their superiority.
Exactly this has happened to the original Caesars, as a new book by Mary Beard, a Cambridge University professor of classics, explains. The biggest point of her book, she says, is “dynastic succession” – not only of the original Romans but of those modern rulers who acquired the Roman portraits in marble and later copies in paint, and the copies of those copies, with the idea of communicating “the idea of the direct transfer of power from ancient Romans to Franks and on to later German rulers.”
In the case she narrates of the most famous English owner of a series of the “Twelve Caesars”, King Charles I — instigator of the civil war of 1642-51 and the loser of both the war and his head – the display of his Caesars was intended to demonstrate the king’s self-serving “missing link” between his one-man rule and the ancient Romans who murdered their way to rule, and then apotheosized into immortal gods in what they hoped would be a natural death on a comfortable bed.
With the American and Russian successions due to take place in Washington and Moscow in two years’ time, Beard’s “Twelve Caesars, Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern”, is just the ticket from now to then.