RUSAL DEAL WITH GUINEA GOVERNMENT REVEALED – OLEG DERIPASKA TRIES ALCOA SUBTERFUGE

By John Helmer, Moscow

The text of the Guinean Government’s agreement with United Company Rusal for the prolongation of its Dian-Dian concession – one of the largest unmined bauxite deposits in the world – reveals an escape clause to enable Rusal to avoid the obligations the Guineans have been trying to enforce since the concession was first signed twelve years ago.

The new document, titled Annex No. 11 to the original July 21, 2001, Dian-Dian convention was signed on December 28, 2012. Signing for the government was the Guinean Minister of Mines and Geology, Mohammed Lamine Fofana; for Rusal, Vladislav Soloviev, first deputy chief executive. Three days later Rusal issued its summary of what had been agreed, revealing that it has extended the time required to meet its original obligations until 2019, and longer. The terms of the deal apparently ended threats by the government of President Alpha Conde, and predecessor governments over several years, to cancel the Dian-Dian concession because of Rusal’s failure to honour the original terms, invest and build a new bauxite mine, along with a refinery to convert the bauxite ore into alumina for smelting into aluminium.
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SERGEI KIRIENKO DEFEATED BEFORE HE COULD INFLICT MORE DAMAGE ON RUSSIA BY SERGEI SHOIGU – KAMCHATKA REFUSES FLOATING ATOMIC POWER STATION

By John Helmer, Moscow

Sergei Kirienko has a reputation which survives no matter how selfish his aims, destructive his methods, ruinous his results. He was small enough to be looked down upon by President Boris Yeltsin; he hasn’t grown under President Vladimir Putin. As prime minister in 1998 – the smallest, shortest PM in Russian history — he presided over the government’s bond default and collapse of domestic savings, only to disappear abroad, some allege (falsely) with a fortune. Since Kirienko doesn’t answer unscripted questions from the press, he never admits making mistakes. Not even the most costly one in Russia’s recent history.

Russia managed to survive that one. It is less certain that Kamchatka would survive the one Kirienko as head of the State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) has been planning. That is the installation of the floating nuclear reactor vessel, Academician Lomonosov (right image), a 21,500-tonne barge being completed in St. Petersburg, and scheduled to be swtiched on at the Vilyuchinsk Naval Base in Avacha Bay, less than 20 kilometers from the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
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IT’S EARLY EASTER HOLS FOR CAPTAIN OLLY AND COLONEL VIC (THIS ISN’T CYPRUS)

By John Helmer, Moscow

Oleg Deripaska, the chief executive of the state aluminium monopoly Rusal, believes in an ethical code in which there’s little room for recreation, let alone holidays. He says: “I simply enjoy working. Work just happens to be something I have always enjoyed doing ever since I was a child. With the sort of opportunities I now have I can influence the work of a lot of companies. That is a lot of responsibility. As long as I can do what I am good at, managing businesses, I am going to continue doing it.”

His work ethic goes back a long way. “I was eleven when I received my first pay check working at a reduction plant. I was an electrician’s apprentice, in other words, I was a real worker and even had my own locker.”
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WHITE TIGER GOLD – MINIMUM FOR MAXIM, FIN DE FINSKY

By John Helmer, Moscow

Oligarch ownership hasn’t given Russian goldmines a good name, or at least not a stable one. So if you take the 5-year view and judge that the gold price has peaked, while the cost of developing new mines is going up, the grades going down, you don’t need to be an oligarch with a short attention span like Mikhail Prokhorov, to figure out that the prudent investment direction is the exit.

When Prokhorov sold his 37.78% stake in Polyus Gold last month for $3.6 billion, his Onexim holding announced: “in light of …our view of the balance between the company’s achievements and its potential, we made the decision that the time had come for Onexim Group to sell and realize its profit.” On the 5-year view there have value peaks on paper, but ultimately no profit. Prokhorov has also failed to find an international goldminer willing to buy the assets. As Russian dealmaking goes, selling to Suleiman Kerimov, or to his stand-ins, as Prokhorov has announced, is a nothing more than a state bank bailout.
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KREMLIN SEEKS LONDON SANCTIONS FOR NIGERIAN NAVY IN MYRE SEADIVER CASE

By John Helmer, Moscow

President Vladimir Putin will raise with African leaders this week the case of the Myre Seadiver and its 15-man Russian crew, who were arrested and imprisoned in Nigeria last October. The story so far. Putin will be in Durban, South Africa, on March 26 and 27.

The Myre Seadiver crew have been accused by the Nigerian Navy of arms smuggling, charges the Russians say were fabricated by the Navy after a month of authorized portcall anchored in the harbour of Port Lagos. The Navy has de facto control of Nigerian coastal and maritime border enforcement, after blocking the establishment of an organizationally separate coast guard. A government attempt announced earlier this month to give the Nigerian police superior authority through a new maritime command covering ports, territorial waters and inland waterways, is expected to suffer the same fate.
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NET PRESENT VALUE OF THE BOTTOM HALF — BETWEEN THE BALLERINA’S LEGS WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TSAR, THE OLIGARCH, AND THE NEW YORKER?

By John Helmer, Moscow

If seated in the dark at the Bolshoi Theatre, even a man of consuming narcissism as Boris Yeltsin was could tell the tights from the tutus. But Yeltsin saw himself as the prima donna, battementing and glissading into the old tsar’s box, Dress Circle centre front. At the Bolshoi, Stalin preferred the stage-side box, screened from the audience by drapery, with the secret door set into the wall of the buffet; that way he got a close-up of the good bits, and could come and go as he chose. Stalin’s taste in music was also superior to Yeltsin’s: he could tell the difference between harmony and noise, and – drunk or sober – Stalin could dance.

There is nothing particularly Russian about the habit tsars, dukes, and their hangers-on had of patronising companies of nubile young men and women; trying them out in skimpy or bulgy costumes on stage; and then trying them on in bed. The imperial ballet theatres of Russia – the Bolshoi in Moscow, the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg – were sex farms, harems without the cost of squabbles over inheritance. To the Russian court then they were what seminaries and convents are to the Catholic priesthood today, or Her Britannic Majesty’s stables to her Guardsmen. The imperial Japanese had special terms for it, acknowledging the use-by period for bedmates, er artists, lasted for no more than ten years before replacements were auditioned; if homosexuality and paedophilia aren’t likely to offend, look up 男色 (nanshoku) and 若衆 (wakashu).
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NATHANIEL ROTHSCHILD TAKES HIMSELF, PETER MANDELSON AND OLEG DERIPASKA TO THE UK COURT OF APPEAL, AND IS DISMISSED WITH £50,000 TO PAY — “NO MORE REPUTATION TO LOSE”

By John Helmer, Moscow

When Nathaniel Rothschild sued for libel in the UK High Court in 2011, he was claiming that a report in the Daily Mail, published by Associated Newspapers on May 22, 2010, had libelled him for reporting that he had taken Peter Mandelson on a private jet-plane trip to Moscow to eat with Oleg Deripaska, then a banya with same, plus more eating, talking, and sight-seeing in the Siberian smelter town of Abakan. The reported events had occurred in January of 2005. The circumstances suggested a conflict of interest on Mandelson’s part, the newspaper angled. Rothschild went to court to prove that he would never do such a thing to a friend (Mandelson), and that it was defamation of his character to suggest he might. That was the first sting.
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Ορλωφικά — WITHIN GRASP, AND WITHOUT A SHOT FIRED, PUTIN CAN REVERSE 300 YEARS OF RUSSIAN MISTAKES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

By John Helmer, Moscow

The US, Germany, Turkey and the NATO allies think they have almost all the ordnance required to produce regime change in Syria, as they had in Libya. But they don’t appear to have the €5 billion required to do the trick in Cyprus, after the regime change the Cypriots themselves had voted into power a month ago. Saturday’s gambit, to seize this money from Russian and other depositors in Cyprus banks, appeared a safe bet in Brussels because apparently influential Russians – First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov – had signalled their willingness to go along.

But Shuvalov and Siluanov are clerks, no-counts politically. The one Russian who counts has now been presented by the western alliance with an opportunity to effect a strategic power shift in the Mediterranean at minimal cost upfront and little forward risk. It’s an object lesson in the greater value of money over arms in grand strategy.
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THE FACE THAT LAUNCHED A THOUSAND SLIPS – OLEG DERIPASKA DEFENDS AGAINST A THREE-DOLLAR SHARE PRICE

By John Helmer, Moscow

The share price of United Company Rusal, the Russian aluminium monopoly, has dropped into the three Hong Kong-dollar range for the first time. In three years of its stock market history, the company’s chief executive, Oleg Deripaska, has let slip about $13 billion in value, two-thirds of Rusal’s original worth. At a current market capitalization of $7.9 billion, Rusal’s equity is now a fraction of its $10.8 billion net debt. Its debt to equity ratio is almost 10x; that is the worst ratio of any Russian oligarch, far ahead of second-placed Igor Zyuzin of Mechel at 7.6x.

How can such a record be made to appear other than it is?

You don’t have to know much about dynastic history – the process by which one greedy thug kills another, and then orders his public relations agents to depict the outcome as God’s will, and his lawyers to sue anyone who says otherwise. Look at the top two faces – it’s obvious, isn’t it, which of them won the English kingship in battle in 1485, killing the other, and sticking a dagger in his buttocks on the corpse’s way to an unmarked grave?
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VLADIMIR PUTIN DEFIES THE HUNS – THE GREAT LIBERATOR TO THE RESCUE OF EUROPEAN CAPITAL, GROWTH, FAIRNESS, SECURITY OF SAVINGS

By John Helmer, Moscow

Starting sometime this morning and ending by lunch hour, President Vladimir Putin called an urgent meeting of government ministers and advisors responsible for the economy. Reporters were not allowed at the scene; no list of those attending has been released by the Kremlin; no official photographs have been published. The Kremlin website discloses no other meetings on the President’s morning agenda. The announcement of what happened at the meeting is tagged 12:30. “Vladimir Putin,” the official announcement says, “met with the officials of the Presidential Executive Office and the presidential aides and advisers responsible for economic matters to discuss the economic situation in the Eurozone, in particular in Cyprus. The President said that the decision to impose an additional tax on bank deposits in Cyprus, if it goes ahead, would be an unfair, unprofessional and dangerous step.”
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THE KREMLIN IMPOSES A 10% TAX ON RUSSIANS, AND GETS CYPRUS TO TAKE THE BLAME — DID OLEG DERIPASKA AND ALEXANDER ABRAMOV ESCAPE THE CUT?

By John Helmer, Moscow

Oleg Deripaska’s airplane touched down in Cyprus on February 28. He wasn’t on holiday; that came a fortnight later, when he, his plane and his boat had a reunion at Male, in the Maldives. Deripaska left Cyprus on March 2. It isn’t known what was in the luggage offloaded on arrival, or taken on board when the plane departed. Maybe cash, if during the time in Cyprus an informant warned that the newly elected government of Nicos Anastasiades was about to accept a European Union bailout requirement hitting all Cyprus bank accounts with a 9.9% tax on amounts above €100,000; 6.79% on accounts below that amount.

Timing is everything. Eighteen months ago, in September 2010, Alexander Abramov became a citizen of Cyprus. Abramov, who is the second shareholder of the Evraz steel and mining group after Roman Abramovich and his Millhouse holding, was granted naturalization after then-Cyprus Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis announced to the Cyprus cabinet that Abramov was being rewarded because he had “offered [note carefully that word] the highest level of service to the Republic of Cyprus, and considering his business activities, naturalisation is in the public interest.”
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HOW TO INVEST IN RUSSIA’S BABY BOOM – BUY SHARES IN BABY FACTORIES

By John Helmer, Moscow

Who is Mark Kurtser, and what does he do for an honest living?

According to the Kremlin, when he was introduced to President Vladimir Putin last August, Kurtser was Chief Physician of the Centre for Family Planning and Reproduction. Two months later, on the London Stock Exchange (LSE), Kurtser sold a bloc of his shares in a company he established called MD Medical Group (LSE ticker MDMG:LI). This is the first medical services company from Russia to be listed on the LSE. Kurtser, who started with 100% of the shares, sold 35% to the market; took about $100 million in cash for himself; and kept 65% of the shareholding. The umbilical cord for that flotation was the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), a state funded cash-box which refuses to disclose details of its portfolio or operations. It paid about $50 million, and bought roughly one share of the six on offer.

In the five months since listing, MDMG’s share price has jumped 40%, easily beating most listed Russian stocks — with the possible exception of Abrau-Durso, the champagne maker. Kurtser’s company now has a market capitalization of $1.3 billion, so he is worth, on paper, $830 million. In point of fact, Kurtser is Russia’s leading manufacturer of… babies.
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GULNARA KARIMOVA IN TALK-BACK – ACCUSES VLADIMIR YEVTUSHENKOV OF “COMMERCIAL WAR”, ATTACKS RUSSIA FOR SHIELDING BEKHZOD AKHMETOV, ANNOUNCES HER RUN FOR PRESIDENT OF UZBEKISTAN

By John Helmer, Moscow

From small seeds, big truths can be cultivated, pressed, packaged, and retailed profitably. Lies, too.

The elder daughter of Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova, was so named because in the Uzbek language Gulnara signifies the flower of the pomegranate. The Persians say the same thing.

Last week, after months of negotiation with newspapers worldwide, Karimova issued two press interviews in Switzerland, where she is Uzbekistan’s representative to the Geneva branch of the United Nations. Her effort has been arranged before prosecutors in Switzerland and Sweden file public indictments against Uzbek, Swiss and Swedish company officials for corruption offences, including bribery and money-laundering. They acknowledge they are cooperating with each other; they may be cooperating secretly with the Prosecutor-General of Russia. The deadline for the opening of the Swedish criminal dossier in the Stockholm District Court is July 25.
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SERGEI FRANK SETS THE PYRRHIC RECORD – ANOTHER COURT APPEAL TO TURN DEFEAT INTO VICTORY

By John Helmer, Moscow

The UK High Court and the Court of Appeal have now ruled three times to dismiss almost eight years of legal claims by state shipping company Sovcomflot, adding up (with interest and costs) to about one billion dollars. On top, Sovcomflot’s chief executive Sergei Frank (image left, left, tree) has been judged by the British justices to have been personally dishonest; to have procured dishonest or perjured testimony; and last week in the Court of Appeal, to have pursued vindictive claims.

There are two ways for Sovcomflot to avoid the ignominy. The first is to keep appealing, and yesterday (March 11), the Sovcomflot subsidiary Novorossiysk Shipping Company (Novoship) did just that. The second is to persuade the maritime media internationally, and the Russian business media in Moscow, that nothing has happened. For the time being, the media being more susceptible than the judges, the news blackout is proving to be more successful.
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CYPRUS COURT JUDGEMENT RULES RUSAL ACTED ILLEGALLY IN INFORMATION RAID – WHAT PRICE TO COVER THESE TRACKS?

By John Helmer, Moscow

For the second time in its short history, United Company Rusal, the loss-making aluminium monopoly run by Oleg Deripaska, has been ordered out of an international court with the ruling that it has acted unlawfully to seize confidential data of its critics. On March 1, by order of the District Court of Nicosia, Cyprus, Rusal has been ordered to destroy all of the information it had illegally taken. By a second order, Rusal has been required to pay all of the costs of the proceeding to date.

The award of costs against Rusal this time is especially significant. Those who have been the targets of Rusal litigation in the past — they include Russian and Tajik smelter operators, international aluminium traders, and Deripaska’s patron, Michael Cherney (Chernoy) — charge that Deripaska pursues personal feuds employing the company’s lawyers and shareholder resources. By multiplying cases in several international jurisdictions simultaneously, former Rusal lawyers say, he is attempting to crush his targets with legal fees, while exposing the company, not himself, to the costs, losses, and damages.
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SOVCOMFLOT DEFEATED IN UK COURT OF APPEAL – JUDGEMENT EXONERATING SKARGA, NIKITIN STANDS

By John Helmer, Moscow

The UK Court of Appeal yesterday cut short Russian tanker company Sovcomflot’s 7-year lawsuit, ruling that two earlier High Court judgements exonerating the conduct of former chief executive of Sovcomflot, Dmitry Skarga, must stand. The dismissal by the High Court of most of Sovcomflot’s claims against former chartering partner, Yury Nikitin, has also been endorsed in the judgement issued by a 3-judge panel on March 6. At least $8 million in an award to Skarga by the High Court must now be paid by Sovcomflot. In addition, Skarga will seek further compensation from Sovcomflot of at least $1 million for the costs of the failed appeal.

Sovcomflot has yet to issue a statement on the outcome of one of the bitterest cases of maritime litigation ever waged by a Russian state company in an international court, directed by the current chief executive Sergei Frank (title image) against his predecessor. According to Sovcomflot’s last financial report, “On 2 November 2011 the London’s Court of Appeal (Civil Division) granted the Group leave to appeal against certain important elements of the previous Judgement handed down on 10 December 2010. The Claimants’ appeal will be heard by the Court of Appeal in London starting on 4 March 2013.” Sovcomflot is reporting that from its pending appeal litigation in the UK, it stands to gain “in the region of $172.0 million plus interest.”
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SEVERSTAL CRASHES TO 4TH QUARTER LOSS – ALEXEI MORDASHOV CONGRATULATES HIS BUSINESS MODEL AND VOTES FOR A BONUS, BLAMING THE WINTER FOR FAILURE

By John Helmer, Moscow

Severstal, the Russian steelmaker owned by Alexei Mordashov (image, far left, far right) reported today that in the final quarter of 2012 the company suffered a loss of $150 million after revenues fell to $3.12 billion, down 13.2% from the third quarter; earnings (Ebitda) contracted 36.4% to $347 million; and operating profit plunged 63.1% to $136 million. These results were significantly worse than Moscow steel industry analysts had been forecasting.

This is not the biggest quarterly loss at Severstal which Mordashov has run up in recent years. In 2009, for example, the first-quarter loss came to $303.3 million; that was topped in the second quarter by a loss of $685.5 million. The third-quarter bottom-line was barely above break-even, but in the fourth quarter of that year, the loss came to $97.3 million. Then Mordashov achieved his worst-ever quarterly loss — $777.9 million in the first quarter of 2010.
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THE CASE OF ANDREI BORODIN – ASYLUM FROM WHAT?

By John Helmer, Moscow

Andrei Borodin claims that the case against him for fraud and grand larceny from the Bank of Moscow is politically motivated, and that he is the target of persecution by the Russian law enforcement authorities, acting on the orders of senior officials. He alleges that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is the official giving the orders.

The British Government has considered Borodin’s claims in secret proceedings in which Borodin’s lawyers appeared; the Russian Prosecutor-General and the Bank of Moscow did not. There is no public record of the evidence which was presented; no public record of the judge; no public record of the judgement. Borodin was represented by a law firm which includes the former chief counsel of GCHQ, the espionage agency. He isn’t saying what he did for his client. The Home Office, the cabinet-level ministry in London equivalent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow, refuses to say if Borodin has been authorized to remain in the country. It refuses to say if its minister, the Home Secretary, issued Borodin with a residency permit on the basis of a court order, or on the basis of the regulation allowing the minister to grant “discretionary leave”. If Theresa May, the Home Secretary, took such a decision, the one certainty is that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, authorized it.
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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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