YOU CAN’T TRICK A TRICKSTER IF YOU ARE RUSSIAN — RUSSIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL THANKS US ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR FBI INVESTIGATION OF GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, PAUL MANAFORT

By John Helmer, Moscow

Russia’s criminal prosecution authorities have expressed their appreciation for the indictments published in Washington on Monday of the alleged US criminals Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, and the admitted criminal, George Papadopoulos.

The Russians have also requested cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and special prosecutor Robert Mueller III to identify three Russian criminals who are suspected, according to the US court papers,  of the crimes of pretending to be a niece of President Vladimir Putin; of inventing their acquaintance with the Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko;  and of fabricating a Foreign Ministry invitation to Donald Trump to make an official visit to Russia during run-up to the presidential election of 2016.

Sources familiar with the thinking of Yury Chaika, Russia’s Prosecutor-General, acknowledge that under Russian law, pretending without obtaining money or other material gain, is more difficult to prosecute in a Russian court than in a US court. “Hustling, as you call it in America,” said one of the sources, “is an immoral practice. In Russian it’s called lying, but we don’t have enough jails for Russians who do it, nor clinics for those who allow themselves to be deceived. But America is a rich country with more jails.  If Mr Papadopoulos is to be imprisoned for inventing stories, we aren’t sure if his Russian accomplices will suffer the same fate under our constitution and criminal code. We request the names from the FBI which collected them, so that our police can follow up.” (more…)

DRINK RUSSIAN MEAD — SEND A VIKING TO THE FINANCE MINISTRY IN MOSCOW BEFORE IT DESTROYS THE BUSINESS

By John Helmer, Moscow

Medovukha, Russia’s fermented honey drink known in English as mead, is at least one thousand years old. If it’s what the Greeks meant by ambrosia, the nectar of the gods, then it is as ancient as wine, Dionysos’s tipple. Whether Rurik the Viking* brought mead with him to ancient Rus, or whether it was there already, is uncertain. What is sure is that after a revival of the Russian taste for medovukha multiplied consumption between 2011 and 2015 by sixteen times, the Finance Ministry in Moscow decided this year to tax it into extinction, destroying its own excise revenue from the drink at the same time.

In April President Vladimir Putin publicly called this “not very fair”, and promised to do something to relieve the mead brewers. He hasn’t.

There’s no Viking, no oligarch to defend mead. Gennady Timchenko, the president’s crony according to the US Treasury sanctions list, is an investor in wine.  So is LUKoil owner, Vagit Alekperov.  Oleg Deripaska’s agricultural business produces tea and cider. Vladimir Yevtushenkov is also a cider man.  Vasily Anisimov sells Putinka; he’s the oligarch for vodka.

The wife of Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev owns a vineyard. Boris Titov, the ombudsman for Russian small business, owns Abrau-Durso, the only Russian winemaker listed on the stock exchange. This year, Titov’s company has been setting a share price record so Titov has been growing richer than he’s ever been.  Mead is too small a business for Titov to care for a slice of it. (more…)

DESSIE, THE MONSTER OF LOCH BAIKAL

By John Helmer, Moscow

The threat of costly environmental damage to Lake Baikal by power plants of the EN+ group, owned by Oleg Deripaska (lead images),  has been raised this week  by Russian and Chinese activists with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The UK regulator is considering whether to allow an initial public offering (IPO) of EN+ shares to proceed on the London Stock Exchange next month.

The environmental risk to Lake Baikal has been under investigation for several years by the UNESCO agency, the World Heritage Committee (WHC).   Listed by WHC as a world heritage site since 1996, “the 3.15-million-ha. Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world. It contains 20% of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserve… its age and isolation have produced one of the world’s richest and most unusual freshwater faunas, which is of exceptional value to evolutionary science.” 

At its meeting in Cracow, Poland,  in July, the WHC warned the Russian government that EN+’s operation of reservoirs and hydroelectric cascades is threatening the lake, the survival of its flora and fauna, and the communities living around the lakeshore, including the city of Irkutsk, which depends on the lake for drinking water.  The WHC issued a new decision, repeating earlier ones, urging the Russian Government to conduct a full environmental assessment of EN+’s impact on the lake.

This was followed last week by formal requests from Rivers Without Boundaries,  an international, Chinese and Russian organization dedicated to conservation of the riverine environment, for the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to make EN+’s proposed share listing conditional on disclosure of the WHC’s risk reports for the lake;  and  “on thorough assessment and fair disclosure (both to potential buyers and the public) of risks and mitigation plans associated with [the] management of Lake Baikal World Heritage Site.”

The risk of runaway legal liabilities for EN+’s power division comes after Rusal, the Russian  aluminium monopoly and the most valuable of EN+’s assets, suffered a wave of insider share sales early this month; these have caused a sharp decline in Rusal’s share price on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.  A statement issued in London yesterday reveals this has now led to a collapse of the target share pricing for EN+.

According to EN+’s announcement  to the LSE, “the indicative price range for the Offering has been set at between USD 14 and USD 17 per GDR. This implies a pre-money equity value of between USD 7.0 billion and USD 8.5 billion.” These figures slash the valuations issued by the Russian state banks which have been behind Deripaska’s London attempt, at least until now. Sberbank had announced it has been valuing EN+ at $10 billion; VTB claims the value may be $16 billion. The new pricing cuts these targets in half.

This is also an acknowledgement of lack of confidence in the London market in Deripaska’s Rusal. Analysts calculate that if EN+ shares open with market capitalization of the group at $7 billion, the corresponding value of Rusal would be $9.6 billion. Today, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange is reporting Rusal’s market capitalization is HK$79.3 billion (US$10.2 billion). “Why,” asks a London source, “would Deripaska ask London sharebuyers to undercut the Hong Kong value by another 6%?”

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NIKOLAI THE NINCOMPOOP – OLD STORY, NEW HISTORY

By John Helmer, Moscow

Niccolo Machiavelli once called moral philosophy the child of civil war. That also makes moral philosophy after the fact, after the crimes. War winners write histories; losers and martyrs write philosophies.  

Tsar Nicholas II (lead images) was killed, along with his family, because the Romanovs were a dynasty threatening the revolutions which had transformed Russia from the start of the year 1917. They did not just represent their own interest to retake power and fortune. They represented the anti-democratic side among Russians. They also represented the aims of the outside powers, including ally Britain and enemy Germany, whose forces invaded Russia during the sixteen months between Nicholas’s abdication on March 15, 1917, and his death on July 17, 1918.

Dynasts who have relied on the divine right to rule can’t voluntarily resign God’s commission; retire to the Crimean beachside; take a ticket of leave for Paris, London or Berlin. Nicholas believed God had given him power to rule; and that he was above Russian law, too. Because he felt free to overpower the human rights of his mortal subjects, he could hardly claim their human rights.  Not to be executed for crimes one was not tried for nor convicted of was a human right in Russia in 1917 — but Nicholas didn’t qualify for it. If Nicholas had human rights like other Russians, after his death he would no more qualify for sainthood than millions of other Russians, who suffered his fate no less nobly.

As it happened, the records show Nicholas accepted the Russian General Staff’s advice that if he did not give up autocratic power, the war with Germany would be lost, and there would be civil war.  It was the Russian Army, not the government nor the revolutionaries, which toppled Nicholas. But Nicholas tried to break the Romanov law on succession by refusing to allow the General Staff’s candidate, the ailing 12-year old tsarevich Alexei, to succeed him; he tried naming his brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail,  instead.  Mikhail signed his renunciation less than twenty-fours later. “This is the end!” the Grand Duke Sergei was heard to say at Army HQ. And it was. Russia became a democratic republic; it still is. 

Had there been a Russian revolution without civil war and without foreign military invasion,  it’s likely Nicholas would have been indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced to prison, or shot. The rest of the Romanovs might have been spared their lives, but hardly their freedom to attempt a restoration.

Their execution was ordered in Yekaterinburg, and authorized in Moscow, because the Czech Legion, was within miles and hours of capturing the city, with the intention of restoring the Romanov monarchy in a Russia they and their international allies were bent on breaking up. Their plan was to turn the prisoner tsar into a puppet tsar. Through the day and night before the pistol shots which ended Nicholas’s life, the firing of the Czech heavy artillery could be heard in the city. Its citizens were already fleeing, taking as much of their valuables as they could.  Nicholas  understood that the value of himself had dwindled by then to the foreign armies, to domestic counter-revolutionaries, and to God. He ended up with the third variant.

A new history by Robert Service, published a few weeks ago in London, explains what happened, and why.  Service reports from evidence not accessible in Russia for almost a century, and also missed by western researchers. “Copious fresh material” Service reports in his introduction. And yet apart from a couple of interviews in Russian with Service himself, no Russian historian and no Russian book reviewer have mentioned the book, reviewed its evidence, or analysed its lessons. Therein lies a lesson of its own.

Service’s history is being studiously avoided in Russia because to do otherwise can only reignite the  civil war,  at least in debate, and especially between the Kremlin and the Church. President Vladimir Putin has pushed the Kremlin closer to the Church than at any time since the 1917 revolutions. With the presidential election campaign already under way, and the vote due in five months, Putin has dissuaded public debate of the issue of legitimacy to rule and the fate of the last tsar. The Church has encouraged icon worship of Nicholas as a martyr, though that’s explicitly not the status the Church adopted when it decided on sainting him.  (more…)

OLEG DERIPASKA SLAPPED DOWN BY WASHINGTON COURT

By John Helmer, Moscow

Oleg Deripaska, Russia’s aluminium oligarch, has lost his campaign to stop negative press reporting of his business conduct. In a judgement issued on October 17, a federal Washington, D.C., judge dismissed in a summary judgement, without trial, Deripaska’s claim to have been defamed by the Associated Press. (more…)

RUSSIAN STATE OPERATION SUBMARINES CASH FOR SOUTH AFRICA TO CONTEST ANGLO-AMERICAN BID FOR THE SUCCESSION TO PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA

By John Helmer, Moscow

Desperate measures by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma this week sharpened the focus on what the Russian state company Rosgeologia (Rosgeo) and state banks, VTB and Gazprombank, are doing to arrange a $400 million contract for a new gasfield off the South African coast – and pipe promises of billion-dollar royalty payments to a group of the president’s associates, as they prepare for December’s balloting on the presidential succession to Zuma. Keeping themselves in cash from the Kremlin is an interpretation of yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle —  the second this year — which has followed in the South African press from Zuma critics inside the ruling African National Congress (ANC), as well as from opposition parties.

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ROMAN ABRAMOVICH DOESN’T DRINK NOVOKUZNETSK RIVER WATER, PREFERS THE MEDITERRANEAN FOR HIS AQUATHERAPY

By John Helmer, Moscow

Roman Abramovich (lead image) is the leading shareholder of the Russian steel, iron-ore and coal mining group called Evraz. Among Russia’s leading steel groups, it ranks second in output of crude steel; fourth in market value. It is the leader in indebtedness.

By international measures, Evraz also leads its Russian peers in its record of controlling noxious air and water emissions from mill and mine operations. CDP, an international agency for monitoring industrial pollution, reported a year ago its global answer to the question, “who’s ready to get tough on emissions?” Evraz came 12th in CDP’s table of the world steel emission control leaders; no other Russian steelmaker was ranked.  That was  not exactly a commendation in international terms. According to CDP, “Evraz ranks third last. It performs among the bottom companies on our emissions and energy benchmarking, and does not disclose forward-looking reduction targets, or any participation in research toward breakthrough emissions reduction technologies.

If you live in Novokuznetsk city, where Evraz operates two steel plants, the company’s international status is too good to be true. For the past decade, Evraz has been under local court and federal orders to put a stop to its waste water pollution by building a new water treatment plant. The company refuses.  It won’t explain, hoping that its influence with city, regional and federal government officials, will ensure that there will no enforcement, and no news of this either. (more…)

LUNATIC RUSSIA-HATING IN WASHINGTON IS 70 YEARS OLD. IT STARTED WITH JOSEPH ALSOP, GEORGE KENNAN AND THE WASHINGTON POST

By John Helmer, Moscow

Joseph Alsop (lead image, centre) and George Kennan (right) started the kind of Russia-hating in Washington which,  today, President Vladimir Putin, like the businessmen around him,  think of as a novelty that cannot last for long.

Alsop was a fake news fabricator, and such a narcissist as to give the bow-ties he wore a bad name. Kennan was a psychopath who alternated bouts of aggression to prove himself with bouts of depression over his cowardice. For them, Russia was a suitable target. The Washington Post was the newspaper which gave their lunacy public asylum. This, according to a fresh history by a university professor from California, started in 1947, long before the arrival in Washington of the anti-communist phobia known after the name of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Russia-hating was an American upper-class phenomenon, cultivated in the offices, cocktail parties, clubs, and mansions of the deep state, as it emerged out of World War II. It needed a new enemy to thrive; it fastened on Russia (aka the Soviet Union) as the enemy.

McCarthyism was an American lower-class phenomenon. It focused on the loyalty or disloyalty of the upper-class deep-staters. That wasn’t the same thing as Russia-hating; Wall Street bankers, Boston lawyers, homosexuals, Jews, communists, were all the enemy. As the Senator from Wisconsin characterized it himself in 1952, “McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.” He implied – without a middle-class tie; certainly not an upper-class bow-tie.

Russia was not an enemy which united the two American lunacies, for they hated each other much more than they hated the Russians. The Soviet Politburo understood this better then than the Kremlin does now. (more…)

ANCHORS AWAY FOR RUSAL, OLEG DERIPASKA IN SHARK FIN SOUP

By John Helmer, Moscow

When you are a Russian oligarch with a 20-year record of settling out of court with friends, partners and investors accusing you of deceit; when you have a 7-year record of failing to sustain your share value in a genuine stock market, what do you do next? You announce to a neophyte Financial Times reporter that you are selling your shares on the London Stock Exchange with the price underwritten by an anchor investor from China. The newspaper provides free advertising. Noone asks the Chinese anchormen why they are spending money on a business combining Russian electricity and Russian aluminium whose separate parts other Chinese investors have nixed many times before.

Answer: the deal is guaranteed by the Chinese and Russian states, with an assured premium in a secret buy-back option.  The Russian state aluminium monopoly Rusal, is now the Chinese-Russian state aluminium monopoly, plus the Siberian electricity utilities, Eurosibenergo and Irkutskenergo.   So long Oleg Deripaska (lead image)! Howdy-doo Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping!  

Hold on, says an insider familiar with the Rusal board deliberations:  “the London IPO which Oleg Vladimirovich is now promoting looks like a test of foreign investor resistance to sanctions, combined with a bet on the rising price of aluminium. Who in his sober mind would now invest into a fully state-controlled company such as Rusal or En+?  Only investors fully backed up or financed by the state. But is Deripaska sharing Kremlin control with Beijng control?  Unlikely — so this is a fake privatization, just like the Rosneft share sale.” (more…)

THE 2,000TH DANCE WITH BEARS

By John Helmer, Moscow

The first Dance with Bears appeared fifteen years ago.  It began as a short commentary appearing once or twice a week. The title came from Astolphe de Custine, the greatest observer of Russia ever to be obliged to conceal what he was writing inside his hat, as the Russians he was writing about chased him across the frontier. That circumstance made for pithy style, sharp focus.

In 1839 de Custine had written: “Such ill-bred and yet well-informed, well-dressed, clever, and self-confident Russians are trained bears, the sight of which inclines me to regret the wild ones: they have not yet become polished men, and they are already spoiled savages.” His book drew denunciations in the Russian press at the time, and was banned in Russia until 1996.

One of the subtlest – make that most duplicitous and cowardly of Russia-fighters among Americans, the State Department official George Kennan wrote that de Custine had produced “the best guide to Russia ever written”, and then proceeded to argue that when de Custine referred to Tsar Nicholas I, Kennan meant the same judgements to apply to Joseph Stalin and his heirs. Like most of what Kennan wrote for his own circle of spoiled savages, he was half-right, half-wrong – make that, mostly wrong. In 1991, twenty years after Kennan had pontificated about de Custine, the collapse of the communist regime in Moscow released forces which had been under control, more or less, for seventy years. This allowed the savages to revert to the type de Custine had observed. Kennan and his successors called that democracy and did more than applaud.  Look where that has got them now. (more…)

SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA SPUDS NEW DRILL INTO THE RUSSIAN STATE TREASURY, ANOTHER DRY HOLE PREDICTED

By John Helmer, Moscow

Rosgeologia is a small Russian state company which once held the record for drilling the deepest hole in the Earth’s crust. Its biggest discoveries of oil, gas and hard-rock minerals lie in its Soviet past. Even with current contracts from the state oil and gas companies Rosneft and Gazprom, it holds only a small share of the Russian market for seismic and geophysical services; its margin for profit, according to the state auditor, is just above break-even.

Last month, Rosgeologia (“Russian Geology”, Rosgeo for short) announced what should be a new record for Russian state investment in South Africa, drilling six super-deep wells into the seabed off the South African coast at a cost of almost $400 million, earning the right to sell billions of dollars’ worth of gas. Hours later when they met, President Vladimir Putin and President Jacob Zuma ignored the deal entirely.   Russian experts in Moscow say they haven’t heard of it. The three top officials of Rosgeologia refuse to explain what they have contracted to do.  When one of them, Roman Panov, Rosgeo’s chief executive, advertised his company’s future prospects in a lengthy interview with a Moscow newspaper, the South African offshore oil and gas project wasn’t mentioned at all.

The reason, Moscow sources say, is that they are sceptical Rosgeo has the resources to implement the deal, or that the Russian state banks will accept the risk of South African default.  The reason for that, Russian sources add, is that they believe the Zuma administration is too weak politically, too unstable, and with too little time left in Zuma’s mandate to implement the project. A Russian source is worried that President Zuma aims to  take as much cash from Rosgeo as he can, and run.

South African allegations of involvement in the Rosgeo deal of a Zuma family member, as well as political allies of the president who were at Rosgeo in Moscow recently, threaten to expose the terms of the still secret contract with PetroSA, South Africa’s state oil company, to a High Court challenge for violations of the South African Constitution. That and associated statutes on the management of public money require the Rosgeo-PetroSA deal to be “in accordance with a system which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective.”   Skepticism about this has already been hinted in a ruling by a South African judge in the High Court in Cape Town on September 22.

The blanket refusal of Rosgeo, the Russian state banks, and PetroSA to answer questions about what they have agreed is a sign of their fear the deal will not survive the transparency test. (more…)

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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