War, devaluation, and recession aren’t usually something to drink champagne to. So it was inevitable that Abrau-Durso, Russia’s only champagne house listed on the stock exchange, would suffer.
When President Vladimir Putin told the leadership of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on Thursday that “the situation cannot remain like this forever. It will change, for the better I hope,” he wasn’t exactly raising a toast in bubbly. The situation, added Putin, “will not change for the better if we succumb and yield at every step. It will only change for the better if we become stronger.”
Abrau-Durso has an anti-crisis strategy. This is to expand its vineyards; substitute home-grown for imports of wine-making materials from South Africa, Chile, and southern Europe; reduce costs and the sale price of each bottle; sell more wine at a lower margin of profit; combat what Abrau-Durso executives regretfully call “contempt for Russian wine.” (more…)
The late Yegor Gaidar, when acting prime minister of Russia, thought up the idea of the Yeltsin Tax. The late Boris Nemtsov didn’t think it was such a bad one when he was first deputy prime minister. The one still surviving officeholder responsible for the idea is Anatoly Chubais, chief executive of the state technology corporation Rusnano; he is unelectable to anything and fortunate to be alive. Their idea was the 100-percent withholding tax which Russians name after President Boris Yeltsin and his reforms.
In practice, it was the outcome of deliberate delay in paying wages by state and public institutions, for lack of budget funds from the federal Finance Ministry; and refusal to pay wages by commercial organizations, shareholding corporations, and private companies. (more…)
A porcelain figurine (lead image, left) produced by the Popov Manufactory of Moscow sold in London on Wednesday for £2,700. The auction by MacDougalls revealed unusually strong demand from Russian collectors. They paid record prices for some figurines, including Tsar Nicholas I (right), from the Sipyagin Manufactory, who fetched £29,700. The pre-sale estimates for the dancing Kolomoisky and the tsar had been in the range of £2,000 to £3,000. Bidding interest in the tsar pushed him to a value almost ten times the estimate. According to Catherine MacDougall, co-director of the leading Russian art auction house, “it is the first mid-season sale outside the biannual Russian art week [in June]. We were very impressed by the result.” (more…)
Igor Kolomoisky, the single largest beneficiary of international lending to Ukraine and until Tuesday night the most powerful figure in the country, has lost his residence permit for Switzerland, according to a reliable source in Geneva. Coming after the news of Kolomoisky’s armed and vocal clash in Kiev with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, the Swiss action adds to Kolomoisky’s isolation. (more…)
Works of art are only reliable investment assets if the trade in them is tested and transparent enough to prove they aren’t stolen goods, forgeries, or what is known in Russian as falshak (фальшак), a term originally applied to counterfeit coins.
Naturally, as the art trade generates higher and higher prices for individual works, the lure of expensive objects becomes irresistible for those with cash on the run. That is, if it can be laundered, er exchanged, through international auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams – institutions less regulated, and apparently more reputable than banks. Just as these house names claim to be setting records for auction prices for their goods, the margin of profit to be gained from fraud and forgery attracts almost as many well-heeled crooks for sellers as for buyers.
The relatively short time in which Russian art has been traded in international markets has meant that the swiftly earned riches of the Russian oligarchs have been bidding up auction house prices for objects with dim histories, uneducated demand, and short or non-existent records of ownership. For a London auction house like Bonhams, the record-setting value of Russian art it has been able to find for sale has turned into an opportunity for exchanging the auction house itself for cash. If the privately-owned Bonhams, whose turnover is a tenth of the two bigger houses, were to trade at the price to earnings ratio (P/E) of Sotheby’s, it might fetch over £530 million. But prices like that don’t fetch if there is slightest suspicion of falshak. (more…)
In Ukrainian villages they still say a dog won’t cry if you beat him with a bone. In the Zaporozhye region of eastern Ukraine, there are exceptions – bones on which even dogs fear to choke. The Zaporozhye Alumina and Alumimium Combine (ZALK) is an example. Owned by the Russian aluminium monopoly, Rusal, it has been closed since 2009 because Rusal judges it is unprofitable to operate. That has been a bone of contention between Rusal and the Ukrainian authorities for almost a decade.
This week, the State Property Fund of Ukraine announced it has begun “enforcement proceedings by the executive service after the decision of the highest court to return the [ZALK] shares to the state. We are following the process.” The Ukrainian Supreme Court ruled on March 11 to renationalize Rusal’s shares in ZALK.
Oleg Deripaska (lead image, left), the chief executive of Rusal, says through a spokesman he will appeal the Supreme Court ruling in the international courts. Rusal is “a bona fide purchaser of the plant”, the company spokesman told a Moscow wire service. (more…)
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has decided to give the Ukrainian banks R&R&R – that’s rest from regulation and refinancing. Inspection of the foreign exchange book, unwinding related-party credits, recovery of non-performing loans, and obligatory recapitalization, which were all conditions of the Fund’s 2014 Ukraine loan, have been relaxed. The new loan terms announced by the IMF last week, postpone reform by the commercial banks until well into 2016. In the meantime, the IMF says it will allow about $4 billion of its loan cash to be diverted to the treasuries of the oligarch-owned banks. That is almost one dollar in four of the IMF loan to Ukraine. (more…)
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed on a scheme of war financing for Ukraine. For the first time, according to Fund sources, the IMF is not only violating its loan repayment conditions, but also the purposes and safeguards of the IMF’s original charter.
IMF lending is barred for a member state in civil war or at war with another member state, or for military purposes, according to Article I of the Fund’s 1944-45 Articles of Agreement. This provides “confidence to members by making the general resources of the Fund temporarily available to them under adequate safeguards, thus providing them with opportunity to correct maladjustments in their balance of payments without resorting to measures destructive of national or international prosperity.”
To deter Russian and other country directors from voting last week against the IMF’s loan, and releasing their reasons in public, the IMF board has offered Russia the possibility of, though not the commitment to repayment for Gazprom’s gas deliveries, and the $3 billion Russian state bond which falls due in December. (more…)
For the first time Moscow analysts have issued precise estimates of the ferrous scrap sold in the domestic Russian market by the major scrap companies, and identified the market shares of the leading companies by name. The disclosures also confirm that the state-owned Russian Railways (RZhD) is one of largest scrap producers and traders in the market, trailing three of the large steel groups – Novolipetsk, Magnitogorsk, and Evraz – but far ahead of the scrap operators which are independently owned.
Reliable is not, however, the term to use for volumes of scrap either in the domestic or export trade. What is missing is not only a measure of the size of the black trade in scrap, but also the reluctance of everyone, including the industry analysts in Moscow, London, and Washington, to acknowledge, let alone count the value of what is going on. (more…)
Next to prostitution, collecting scrap metal is the oldest trade in the world. Like prostitution, it prefers to do its business in the dark.
Because it’s so easy and cheap to turn sex and stolen goods into cash, the expensive capital requirement for both lines of business is in protection from price competitors and asset raiders. This helps to explain why at least half the Russian ferrous scrap trade is controlled by the seven oligarchs who run the largest steel and pipemaking mills. Of the other half, among the so-called independent scrap traders, the state-owned Russian Railways (RZhD) is dominant. That’s a fact which noone dares to report. (more…)
When you have been the target of assassination by a powerful figure in Russia, as I have, and you survive the hit, as I did, you learn one thing or two things before; more in retrospect. One is that the Moscow police act quickly and competently, as they would elsewhere – so swiftly, in fact, that the powerful figure may not have the time to close down the investigation before the evidence can be saved. A second is that even hits ordered by powerful figures generate a trail of planning and positioning they didn’t intend to leave behind, pointing to their identity, and that in turn to their motive. A third is that in Moscow assassinations the place of ambush is always selected to raise the probability of success for the assassins, the hit, and the getaway – never the chances of survival for the victim. The fourth is that if the target is lucky, the assassination plan is interrupted by an unforeseeable mistake in placement or timing; a weapon fault; a passing witness; or a lucky circumstance.
On the physical evidence of what happened in the 30 minutes preceding the February 27 murder of Boris Nemtsov, the probability of his being attacked on Bolshoi Moskovoretsky Bridge was one in thirty-six (less than 3%). Nemtsov wasn’t just unlucky: his assassins were correspondingly fortunate, more than they could have planned. (more…)
The President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades agreed last week with President Vladimir Putin on what is reported in London and Washington to be a military basing agreement with Russia for Russia’s naval and air forces in the Mediterranean. In the aftermath, Putin did all the talking to the press, making it clear, if not explicit, that in current Russian strategy, Cyprus is far more important than Greece.
Returning home to Cyprus on the weekend, Anastasiades has disclosed no papers with his signature, assuring his party supporters – among them, the anti-Russian voter bloc on the island – that so far as military terms are concerned, he has signed nothing new. The Cyprus Mail, an anti-Russian newspaper, called Anastasiades’s trip to the Kremlin a “fizzle”. A source close to the Cyprus presidency comments that the idea of a Russian base agreement in Cyprus “is agitprop. It’s all a lot of bull.” (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.