In our last episode, Denis Diderot, the French philosopher in Paris, had sold his library to the Empress Catherine in St. Petersburg. For his bonus, he had received a ticket to meet and talk to Catherine directly. At their first meeting at a masked ball in the Winter Palace, Diderot was wearing his old black suit and a borrowed wig. “Monsieur Diderot, do you see that door?” the Empress told him. “It will be open to you every day from three to five.”
President Vladimir Putin (lead image, right) has known Arkady Rotenberg (left) for much longer, and the connecting door between them has been open for much, much longer. Recently, on the account of the esteem in which the former holds the latter, it was arranged that the state monopoly on the enlightenment of Russia’s schoolchildren should be given to Rotenberg. That’s to say, the monopoly concession paid out of the state budget for the publication and distribution of school textbooks produced by a group of companies Rotenberg controls.
In our first episode, Diderot was shy towards the ruler of Russia. In our second episode, Rotenberg is also shy. He says the Caribbean company which controls the enlightenment concession has nothing to do with him. Read on, as the philosopher turns sophist. (more…)
It doesn’t suit any of the sides in the US presidential campaign to acknowledge that the terms President Vladimir Putin agreed this week for the Turkish invasion and occupation of northern Syria to become permanent are not those which Russia’s Defence Ministry, General Staff, Foreign Ministry and Foreign Intelligence Service proposed instead.
That’s too complex a point in the American political contest between President Donald Trump, his supporters and opponents. So complex, in fact, that Trump is gaining nothing in domestic job approval rating in the polls, as he intended his Syrian “troop withdrawal” and “save the oil” moves to achieve.
This is also too fine a point for the alternative media to concede in their competition for audience (and money) with the mainstream media. Both of them share the idea that Putin is the dominant decision-maker in Moscow. To alt-media writers and publishers, that’s a good thing; to the mainstream media that’s a bad thing, a very bad thing. The truth of the matter – the Russian political fact of the matter – is beside the point to both. American exceptionalists being what they are, rightwing imperialists and leftwing imperialists, Holocaust and climate warming deniers included, there is no room in the present American discourse for the facts on the ground. On the ground in Syria, or on the ground in Moscow.
The big fact on the ground that’s being missed in North America is that Putin has agreed to another Turkish invasion of a neighbouring country. This was not Kremlin policy at the time of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. It wasn’t Kremlin policy last September when Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed on terms for the temporary protectorate of Idlib. In the run-up to the negotiations in Sochi on Tuesday (October 22), this was not the Russian policy consensus toward the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, nor toward the options for driving the Turks back where they belong.
Half-measures are what turned out. In Russian strategy and politics, the outcome could have been worse, so half-measures seem to be better than pushing Erdogan back towards the US and NATO, as Russians believe to be his genuine preference.
In American presidential politics, the outcome in Sochi could hardly, ironically, have been better. To Trump’s critics and the war party in Washington, Trump has been shown up to be out-smarted and weak in the face of Putin’s initiative. To Trump’s supporters and the anti-war party, Putin and Erdogan have made a better agreement towards ending the war in Syria than the one Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed the week before.
President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were both born under the sign of Libra. The zodiac directs them, on the positive side, to be cooperative and diplomatic; on the negative side, to be indecisive and vacillating. For likes, Librans click most on harmony and balance.
October 21 was Netanyahu’s birthday, and for the fourth time in five years Putin (born October 7) telephoned to wish him well. More than that, as Netanyahu was struggling – failing, in fact – to assemble a parliamentary coalition with enough votes to keep him in office, Putin declared: “You are by rights highly respected by your compatriots and by people outside Israel. We in Russia know you as a firm proponent of strengthening friendly ties between our countries and respect you for making a huge personal contribution to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation in a variety of fields. I highly value our constructive and business-like relations. I hope to be able to continue our substantive dialogue and fruitful joint efforts in the interests of Russian and Israeli people, as well as regional security and stability.”
This is a very odd choice of exaggerations and misrepresentations for the Russian head of government to pass to another head of government – especially one who has just lost a national election; faces indictment for corruption; and directs a policy of warmaking against two of Russia’s battlefield allies, Syria and Iran, not to mention allowing his air force to shoot Russian airmen out of the sky to their deaths.
When Putin told the Arab media last week that his principle is “Russia will never be friends with one country against another”, he was making an exception for Israel. But why of all the Israelis who celebrate birthdays does Putin pick on Netanyahu? (more…)
After one of the longest, bitterest negotiations ever held between President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov forced the Turks into an agreement for a Turkish military enclave inside Syrian territory between Tal Abiad and Ras Al-Ain (Sari Kani). That is less than one-quarter of the Syrian territory Erdogan was demanding at the start of the Sochi talks.
The western towns of Manbij and Kobani will remain Syrian, guaranteed by Russian arms and denied to Operation Peace Spring, as the Turks are calling their invasion since October 9.
The Turkish advance eastwards along the Syrian Highway M4 to the Iraqi border has been stopped. The Syrian Army will reoccupy the eastern zone to the Yarubiya crossing, with Russian military police on the ground; that also means the Russian Air Force in the air.
The practical result is that Russia accepts that the Turkish capture of Tal Abiad and Ras-Al-Ain since October 9 will not be reversed. This territory will thus be added to the Turkish hold on Afrin and Idlib in Syria’s northwest. Shoigu told reporters there was no discussion of how long the Turkish forces will occupy these areas. This is a major Russian concession to the Turkish demand for permanent military occupation and partition of Syria.
The Russians believe this concession is worth making to the Turks so long as the Americans are forced out; this is the message Putin has relayed to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to a statement by Lavrov, the paper which Erdogan agreed last Thursday (October 17) in Ankara with US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been dismissed. “We do not particularly look at the United States and its stance. That stance is quite variable and contradictory, and of course, the coalition led by the United States is in Syria illegally, this is well known,” Lavrov said after the talks ended in Sochi.
Putin hinted at the same point, announcing during his press conference with Erdogan: “Syria must be liberated from illegal foreign military presence. We believe that the only way to achieve strong and long-lasting stability in Syria is to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. This is our principled position, and we have discussed it with the President of Turkey. It is important that our Turkish partners share this approach. The Turks and the Syrians will have to protect peace on the border together, which would be impossible without mutually respectful cooperation between the two countries. (more…)
The roots of the Syrian Civil War start with conflicts over who controls Syria’s energy supplies. The war continues, especially in the Kurdish areas of the north, in a fight over water which has been growing desperately scarcer for everybody – Syrians, Kurds, Turks, Iraqis.
Achieving a final conclusion to the war will depend on those fighting it to negotiate arrangements for the distribution of Syrian energy supplies, onshore and offshore, and ensuring adequate supplies of water in a continuously dehydrating climate. Until now, taking oil and water by force has been much the preferred option. (more…)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping that his meeting with President Vladimir Putin, scheduled for next Tuesday in Sochi, will give him the same battlefield advantages on Syrian territory which Putin conceded in their Idlib Agreement of last September. By fixing the Putin negotiation at the limit of the 5-day agreement Erdogan negotiated yesterday with US officials in Ankara, the Turkish aim is to extend the Turkish military occupation of northeastern Syria from the frontier to Highway M4, and present Putin with a fait accompli – a Turkish invasion of Syria, followed by the surrender of the Kurdish forces and of the Syrian Army, without a serious fight.
To achieve this between now and then, the US and the Turks are hoping for a Russian military retreat from the battlefield, and the abandonment of Russian protection, in the air and on the ground, of the Syrian Army’s advance to recover sovereignty for the government in Damascus. The Turkish invasion, the US has now agreed, is a NATO operation under the treaty’s collective defence Article 5; this implies the threat of US reprisals if the Turkish advance is fought by Kurdish, Syrian and Russian forces.
“This is an incredible outcome,” President Donald Trump has declared. “We got everything we ever could have dreamed of.” Trump thinks he has Putin’s capitulation.
On paper he has already. On the battlefield he hasn’t, yet. If Putin concedes next Tuesday, then it is clear this is exactly what Putin meant when he told an Arabic-language media interview last Monday, “we – Turkey, Iran, and Russia – work hard, shoulder to shoulder, to achieve positive results. However, it would have been impossible without support from Saudi Arabia, and we all understand that.” In point of fact, no one in the Arab world, nor in the Russian Foreign Ministry and General Staff, understands that all. (more…)
Authoritarianism in the former Soviet Union is John Heathershaw’s métier.
Heathershaw is a professor at the University of Exeter where he specializes in studying and teaching “conflict, security and development in authoritarian political environments, especially in post-Soviet Central Asia.” Recently, he took exception to my critical reviews of books on Russia by fellow British academics – one by Mark Galeotti, and others by Oliver Bullough, Elisabeth Schimpfossl, and Robert Service. He wrote to me to say so, recognizing my “journalistic work” and adding: “I’m not interested in hatchet jobs or conspiracy theories regarding people doing perfectly good research.” This is the record of what happened when the journalist asked the professor for his evidence. (more…)
Boris Dubrovsky (lead images), President Vladimir Putin’s governor of Chelyabinsk between 2014 and March 19, 2019, has long been at risk of lung disease, and he is now reported to be in a Swiss clinic for treatment. His prognosis is uncertain.
More certain it is that Dubrovsky will not be returning to Chelyabinsk. That’s not because the city air is injurious to his health, as federal regulators and citizens’ groups have measured throughout Dubrovsky’s gubernatorial term; but rather because Dubrovsky has been charged by the Investigative Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the criminal scheme of monopolizing road construction contracts in the Chelyabinsk region. The sum of the criminal damage for which Dubrovsky is accused currently stands at Rb20 billion ($308 million). That’s damage to the regional and federal budgets. How much money Dubrovsky has trousered for himself is not charged or reported.
No Russian prosecution claims have been filed against Dubrovsky to the Swiss authorities. The Swiss press are now investigating the accommodations in local banks and real estate where Dubrovsky’s money may be located under his own or his son’s name. (more…)
Dominic Cummings, presently a powerful and wealthy 47-year old special advisor to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was hard at work in Moscow and Samara for three years, between 1994 and 1997. He has acknowledged himself that “I worked in Russia 1994-7 on various projects.” This was no news to the Russian authorities then or since; it is also an advertisement to British critics and media investigators in London that however much Cummings’ role in plotting the Brexit referendum and Johnson’s no-deal ultimatums have antagonized many, Cummings once, and still now, enjoys the protection and confidence of the British secret services.
The three Cummings years in Russia were a period of fierce undercover combat between MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency, and Russia’s reviving foreign and counter-intelligence services, successors to the Soviet KGB — the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service), led by Yevgeny Primakov, and the FSB (Federal Security Service) under Sergei Stepashin and Mikhail Barsukov.
That was also the time a junior MI6 spy named Christopher Steele was running operations in the Volga region south of Moscow, starting in Samara. When his cover was blown in the spring of 1993, Steele was evacuated to home office to train replacements. Just over a year later, after graduating slowly from Oxford, Cummings’ time started in Samara. That too came to an abrupt and unsuccessful end. Cummings himself is behind the hint published in his Wikipedia profile that he “fell foul of the KGB”. Since then Steele has become more successful at running operations and agents in Washington; Cummings more successful on Downing Street.
But in the mid-1990s what exactly was Cummings doing in Samara and other places in Russia, for whom was he working, what contact did he have with Steele, and why was he ordered out of Russia – these are questions Cummings was asked to explain on Monday. He refuses to answer. (more…)
The British Government’s narrative that a Kremlin-ordered assassination plot against a former GRU agent, Sergei Skripal, in March of 2018 also caused the death of a woman, Dawn Sturgess, three months later, has collapsed for lack of evidence admissible in court.
After nineteen months of investigations by hundreds of police, military personnel, forensic scientists, and secret service agents, including Skripal himself and his daughter Yulia, the Metropolitan Police have been unable to present their case for the cause of death of Dawn Sturgess to the Wiltshire and Swindon County senior coroner, David Ridley (lead image). Ridley’s court is located at 26 Endless Street, Salisbury, the town in which Skripal was allegedly attacked on March 4, 2018. Sturgess fell ill on June 30 at her companion’s home in Amesbury, nine miles from Salisbury. She died on July 8.
Because Ridley cannot rule on the cause of death according to the requirements of British law, the Government has decided to prevent an inquest from being held. Although Ridley has ordered postponements of the inquest every six months since he convened the first pre-inquest review (PIR) on July 19, 2018, he and his superiors in London decided last week that the hearing scheduled for this week should not be held at all, and that the Sturgess inquest should be delayed sine die, without a date being set.
This is tantamount to ending the legal process – without a ruling that Sturgess had been the victim of murder. That in turn casts grave legal doubt on the British police, government and press allegations of what caused Skripal’s collapse, and who was responsible.
On Friday Ridley attempted to cover up the blocking of the court process by claiming he had issued a press release announcing the inquest postponement through the Counter Terrorism unit of the Metropolitan Police in London. “I would advise you,” said Ridley’s spokesman Debra Twort, “that the Senior Coroner issued a press release advising of the postponement through Counter Terrorism. A further date has not been set.”
No such press release has been issued by the police; Ridley and Twort have refused repeated requests to produce it. Twort has been ordered to lie to the press in order to cover up the collapse of the case of the so-called Novichok murder.
“Why won’t, or why can’t the British Government,” commented a surprised London investigative source, “support their own narrative of the Skripal case in court after so much time has elapsed for the investigation? This isn’t a matter of catching those culpable, but of proving, at least to the satisfaction of the Coroner, that a Russian plot and a Russian-sourced nerve agent Novichok were the cause of Sturgess’s death. No inquest means no murder — no murder means no Russian plot. You’d think the British press would be all over this news.” (more…)
The Netherlands Government is resisting an effort by the families of the Dutch victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 to find out why, on July 17, 2014 – the day Flight MH17 was shot down when over the eastern Ukrainian civil war zone — this passenger aircraft had been guided by Ukraine’s air-traffic control to fly through, instead of around the war zone (as it instructed other airliners).
On October 1, 2019, now more than five years after 196 Dutch nationals were killed in that incident, the Dutch RTL News headlined (as auto-translated into English) “Cabinet considers research into Ukraine’s role in disaster MH17”. RTL reports that “the cabinet will examine whether further research is possible on the role of Ukraine in the disaster with Flight MH17.” The cabinet was being pushed, RTL said, by “a proposal … for the investigation [which has] received the support of all Parties present in the second chamber” of the Dutch Parliament. (more…)
Joe Biden’s campaign for president, as well as his defence against charges of corrupt influence peddling and political collusion in the Ukraine, are being promoted in Washington by the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk (lead image, right) through the New York lobbyist, candidate adviser and pollster, Douglas Schoen (left).
This follows several years of attempts by Pinchuk and Schoen to buy influence with Donald Trump, first as a candidate and then as president; with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani; and with John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser in 2018 and 2019. Their attempts failed.
Pinchuk has been paying Schoen more than $40,000 every month for eight years. The amount of money is substantially greater than Biden’s son Hunter Biden was paid by Pinchuk’s Ukrainian rival Igor Kolomoisky through the oil company Burisma and Rosemont Seneca Bohai, Biden’s New York front company.
Pinchuk’s message for the Democratic candidates and US media, according to Schoen’s Fox News broadcast in August, is: “Stop killing your own, stop beating up on your own frontrunner, Joe Biden.”
On September 26, Schoen broadcast a fresh warning to the Democrats against the impeachment of Trump. “They stand to lose the presidency and the House. They could blow it all…There’s no slam-dunk here. If [the Democrats] go forward with the impeachment inquiry…and then vote, this could be curtains for the Democrats. And for Joe Biden this is calamitous news because it precludes him getting any positive message out.” (more…)
Robert Service (lead images) commits the pathetic fallacy over and over.
It isn’t that his fallacies are pathetic, and so deserve to be pitied. It is that Service takes money for writing histories, purporting to be about Russia, its revolutionary leaders, and now its current leader, by projecting his own emotions on to his targets. It’s the kind of personification intended to convince readers of the hostility of his Russian targets, and Service’s wisdom in judging them for what they are; that’s to say, what deserves to be done to them (if they aren’t dead yet) by people like Service.
Service is a propagandist for Russia-hating, Kremlin-changing warfare. His output is a stream of books aimed by Pan Macmillan — now a German-owned publisher with most of its sales in the US — at American readers inveigled into wanting war with Russia.
“I came to this project after serving as a witness in the Berezovski v. Abramovich trial in 2011-2012”, Service says by way of his oath to tell the truth at the start of his new testimony against Vladimir Putin. Service’s book, released this week, is called “Kremlin Winter: Russia and the Second Coming of Vladimir Putin.” From the start line at the title, the assumption is Service’s war-fighting one: Putin is omnipotent in Russia – topple him so the world, as Service is paid to represent it, will be safe from global winter and other Kremlin hostilities.
What Service doesn’t acknowledge is that he was hired by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich to testify as an expert in the High Court case against Boris Berezovsky. Service’s fee is also undisclosed; it would have been more than a vet’s (£90 per hour) but less than a neurosurgeon’s (£171).
Berezovsky also hired a historian as his witness. Testifying in court at the time, Service warned against the other expert: “I’m asked to give evidence here as a historian, I don’t accept anybody’s word, just because they say that something happened, without the kind of evidence to back it that does not come from the person who is saying it. So there has to be a sort of — in a perfect world, there has to be a multiplicity of sources to corroborate anything as having happened or not having happened… I would just add the reservation that the statements by big businessmen in Russia in the 1990s about what they did or did not do are riddled with cases of falsification, obfuscation and the rest of it. One has to be very, very careful about accepting anything from any of them.” The evidence for the history of Russia in the 1990s, he concluded, “is just not in yet.”
Service’s book violates his own warning.
He also starts his book with an acknowledgement of the sources he’s “indebted to”. They include Luke Harding, a London newspaper reporter; Radosław Sikorski, ex-Polish foreign minister; Michael McFaul, ex-US Ambassador to Moscow, Catherine Ashton, ex-European Union foreign affairs commissioner; Toomas Hendrik Ilves, an ex-Estonian president; and Roderic Lyne, vice-chairman of the Chatham House think-tank. A book on Russian politics with Russia-hating, warfighting sources like these cannot be believed. They are all in the same trench, on the other side of No-Man’s-Land. (more…)
The Polish government in Warsaw, facing re-election in less than a year, wants all the credit from Washington for their joint operation to sabotage the Nord Stream gas pipelines on the Baltic seabed.
It also wants to intimidate the German chancellor in Berlin, and deter both American and German officials from plotting a takeover by the Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, next year.
Blaming the Russians for the attack is their cover story. Attacking anyone who doesn’t believe it, including Poles and Germans, Warsaw officials and their supporting media claim they are dupes or agents of Russian disinformation.
Their rivals, Civic Platform (PO) politicians trailing the PiS in the polls by seven percentage points, want Polish voters to think that no credit for the Nord Stream attack should be earned by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. They also want to divert the Russian counter-attack from Warsaw to Washington.
“Thank you USA” was the first Polish political declaration tweeted hours after the blasts by Radoslaw Sikorski (lead image, left), the PO’s former defence and foreign minister, now a European Parliament deputy. In support and justification, his old friend and PO ministerial colleague, Roman Giertych, warned Sikorski’s critics: “Would you nutters prefer that the Russians find us guilty?”
The military operation on Monday night which fired munitions to blow holes in the Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor, near Bornholm Island, was executed by the Polish Navy and special forces.
It was aided by the Danish and Swedish military; planned and coordinated with US intelligence and technical support; and approved by the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
The operation is a repeat of the Bornholm Bash operation of April 2021, which attempted to sabotage Russian vessels laying the gas pipes, but ended in ignominious retreat by the Polish forces. That was a direct attack on Russia. This time the attack is targeting the Germans, especially the business and union lobby and the East German voters, with a scheme to blame Moscow for the troubles they already have — and their troubles to come with winter.
Morawiecki is bluffing. “It is a very strange coincidence,” he has announced, “that on the same day that the Baltic Gas Pipeline opens, someone is most likely committing an act of sabotage. This shows what means the Russians can resort to in order to destabilize Europe. They are to blame for the very high gas prices”. The truth bubbling up from the seabed at Bornholm is the opposite of what Morawiecki says.
But the political value to Morawiecki, already running for the Polish election in eleven months’ time, is his government’s claim to have solved all of Poland’s needs for gas and electricity through the winter — when he knows that won’t come true.
Inaugurating the 21-year old Baltic Pipe project from the Norwegian and Danish gas networks, Morawiecki announced: “This gas pipeline is the end of the era of dependence on Russian gas. It is also a gas pipeline of security, sovereignty and freedom not only for Polish, but in the future, also for others…[Opposition Civic Platform leader Donald] Tusk’s government preferred Russian gas. They wanted to conclude a deal with the Russians even by 2045…thanks to the Baltic Pipe, extraction from Polish deposits, LNG supply from the USA and Qatar, as well as interconnection with its neighbours, Poland is now secured in terms of gas supplies.”
Civic Platform’s former defence and foreign minister Radek Sikorski also celebrated the Bornholm Blow-up. “As we say in Polish, a small thing, but so much joy”. “Thank you USA,” Sikorski added, diverting the credit for the operation, away from domestic rival Morawiecki to President Joseph Biden; he had publicly threatened to sabotage the line in February. Biden’s ambassador in Warsaw is also backing Sikorski’s Civic Platform party to replace Morawiecki next year.
The attack not only escalates the Polish election campaign. It also continues the Morawiecki government’s plan to attack Germany, first by reviving the reparations claim for the invasion and occupation of 1939-45; and second, by targeting alleged German complicity, corruption, and appeasement in the Russian scheme to rule Europe at Poland’s expense. .
“The appeasement policy towards Putin”, announced PISM, the official government think tank in Warsaw in June, “is part of an American attempt to free itself from its obligations of maintaining peace in Europe. The bargain is that Americans will allow Putin to finish building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in exchange for Putin’s commitment not use it to blackmail Eastern Europe. Sounds convincing? Sounds like something you heard before? It’s not without reason that Winston Churchill commented on the American decision-making process: ‘Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.’ However, by pursuing such a policy now, the Biden administration takes even more responsibility for the security of Europe, including Ukraine, which is the stake for subsequent American mistakes.”
“Where does this place Poland? Almost 18 years ago the Federal Republic of Germany, our European ally, decided to prioritize its own business interests with Putin’s Russia over solidarity and cooperation with allies in Central Europe. It was a wrong decision to make and all Polish governments – regardless of political differences – communicated this clearly and forcefully to Berlin. But since Putin succeeded in corrupting the German elite and already decided to pay the price of infamy, ignoring the Polish objections was the only strategy Germany was left with.”
The explosions at Bornholm are the new Polish strike for war in Europe against Chancellor Olaf Scholz. So far the Chancellery in Berlin is silent, tellingly.
The only Russian leader in a thousand years who was a genuine gardener and who allowed himself to be recorded with a shovel in his hand was Joseph Stalin (lead image, mid-1930s). Compared to Stalin, the honouring of the new British king Charles III as a gardener pales into imitativeness and pretension.
Stalin cultivated lemon trees and flowering mimosas at his Gagra dacha by the Black Sea in Abkhazia. Growing mimosas (acacias) is tricky. No plantsman serving the monarchs in London or at Versailles has made a go of it in four hundred years. Even in the most favourable climates, mimosas – there are almost six hundred varieties of them — are short-lived. They can revive after bushfires; they can go into sudden death for no apparent reason. Russians know nothing of this – they love them for their blossom and scent, and give bouquets of them to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Stalin didn’t attempt the near-impossible, to grow lemons and other fruit in the Moscow climate. That was the sort of thing which the Kremlin noblemen did to impress the tsar and compete in conspicuous affluence with each other. At Kuskovo, now in the eastern district of Moscow, Count Pyotr Sheremetyev built a heated orangerie between 1761 and 1762, where he protected his lemons, pomegranates, peaches, olives, and almonds, baskets of which he would present in mid-winter to the Empress Catherine the Great and many others. The spade work was done by serfs. Sheremetyev beat the French king Louis XIV to the punch – his first orangerie at Versailles wasn’t built until 1763.
Stalin also had a dacha at Kuskovo But he cultivated his lemons and mimosas seventeen hundred kilometres to the south where they reminded him of home in Georgia. Doing his own spade work wasn’t Stalin showing off, as Charles III does in his gardens, like Louis XIV before him. Stalin’s spade work was what he had done in his youth. It also illustrated his message – “I’m showing you how to work”, he would tell visitors surprised to see him with the shovel. As to his mimosas, Stalin’s Abkhazian confidante, Akaki Mgeladze, claimed in his memoirs that Stalin intended them as another lesson. “How Muscovites love mimosas, they stand in queues for them” he reportedly told him. “Think how to grow more to make the Muscovites happy!”
In the new war with the US and its allies in Europe, Stalin’s lessons of the shovel and the mimosas are being re-learned in conditions which Stalin never knew – how to fight the war for survival and at the same time keep everyone happy with flowers on the dining table.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 BlueLine (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.
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.
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.