VLADIMIR PUTIN MAKES FRESH START IN SOUTH AFRICA

By John Helmer, Moscow

When it comes to support for President Vladimir Putin’s international positions, the South African (SA) Government has been among the most consistent and enthusiastic of any in the world. However, Russian policy in South Africa has been damaged by the behaviour of Russian oligarchs and state businesses implicated in the corrupt schemes of former SA president Jacob Zuma; he is now facing multiple indictments for seeking and taking bribes for himself and his family.  Putin’s landing in Johannesburg on Thursday ought to have been the signal for a fresh start. (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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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…)

IMF DELAYS FUND DECISION ON BOTSWANA BECAUSE OF $277 MILLION RUSSIAN CONTRACT DEFAULT

By John Helmer, Moscow

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is delaying a decision on Botswana by the Fund’s executive board and shareholders as IMF staff are discreetly encouraging the Botswana Government to reject a breach of contract claim by Norilsk Nickel.

The leading Russian mining company, and the world’s largest nickel producer, is suing in London, Botswana and South Africa after the Botswana government put its state mine holding BCL into bankruptcy last October,  halting payment of $277.2 million which Botswana, BCL Investments (BCLI) and the BCL Ltd. holding company  agreed to pay since their first contract of sale and purchase was signed with the Russians in 2014. The Norilsk Nickel default claim is one of the largest liabilities facing the Botswana state budget. The default is also casting a shadow over future foreign investment in the country, and the government’s credit rating for foreign loans.

An IMF team was in Gaborone, the Botswana capital, in May for a fact-finding mission and consultation with government officials, the first the IMF has held in the country since December 2015.  The IMF requested and received briefings on the Norilsk Nickel case from government officials and also from the provisional liquidator, Nigel Dixon-Warren of the KPMG accounting firm. He was appointed last October by the Gaborone High Court to supervise liquidation, sale of assets, and debt recovery from the bankrupt BCL group of companies. 

On June 15, the court ordered a six-month extension of time for negotiations — BCL went into final windup, while BCLI and Tati Nickel were kept in provisional liquidation for the dealmakers.  According to a courtroom source, the extra time is for the government “to determine whether we can deal with those companies at the shareholding and creditor compromise level”. In short, for Dixon-Warren to strike a price for the nickel and copper reserves and mining assets which BCL owns in order to satisfy BCL’s creditors and cover BCL’s liabilities.

Anne-Marie Gulde-Wolf, who supervises Botswana at IMF headquarters in Washington,   said after the IMF staff returned from Gaborone on May 16, that she was planning to finalize the Botswana report and submit it to the board for decisions planned for June. Gulde-Wolf was asked what the IMF was doing in the dispute between Botswana and Russia. “I have asked the mission chief for Botswana, Mr. Enrique Gelbard to look into the matter,” she replied. “He will be in touch should there be anything we can share. “

Asked to clarify why no report was submitted to the IMF board during last month and no decisions voted on IMF policy towards Botswana, Gulde-Wolf, Gelbard, and the IMF spokesman for Africa,  Lucie Mboto Fouda, now refuse to say.

In Moscow, a source close to Norilsk Nickel said the company “has welcomed a statement by the Botswana government that it plans to resolve the issue with Norilsk Nickel. We look forward to the arrangements the government intends to make.” To date, the IMF had made no contact with the company either in Gaborone in May, or since then. (more…)

VLADIMIR YEVTUSHENKOV PLAYS MONOPOLY – MAKES FRIENDS WITH PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA OF SOUTH AFRICA FOR A $50 BILLION CHANCE, AND GETS OUT OF JAIL

By John Helmer, Moscow

Vladimir Yevtushenkov’s asset-holding company Sistema has not inspired investor confidence since September of 2014. That was when Yevtushenkov was arrested in Moscow and charged with fraud and money-laundering in connexion with Sistema’s takeover of Bashneft, a Volga region oil producer.  That year, Sistema’s market capitalization on the London Stock Exchange dropped from $15.5 billion to $1.2 billion, setting a new record for haircuts among Russia’s oligarchs. Yevtushenkov’s incarceration lasted eight weeks in home confinement, during which he gave up Bashneft and accepted a number of other terms from Russian prosecutors and their superiors.

One of these get-out-of-jail cards has just come to light in Johannesburg, South Africa. Through leaked emails, a big-money deal has surfaced between Yevtushenkov and the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. How much money was promised and for what purpose is not known yet.  But the deal in negotiation has been alleged by South African sources and reporters to be a case of skulduggery on Zuma’s part; that of his son, Duduzane Zuma, and of a financial advisor and collaborator of the Zuma family, Rajesh (aka Tony) Gupta. 

In Moscow today, Yevtushenkov’s head of corporate relations, head of press and head of investor relations would not confirm or deny the meetings with Zuma Senior, Zuma Junior and Gupta. They also refused to give details of the business Yevtushenkov has been conducting with President Zuma. (more…)

HANGING ON — OLEG DERIPASKA’S RUSAL FACES BILLION-DOLLAR DROP IN NIGERIA

Young man hanging on to edge of cliff, close-up (focus on fingers)

By John Helmer, Moscow

Oleg Deripaska, control shareholder of Rusal, the Russian state aluminium monopoly, is the leading investor of Russian funds in offshore businesses which have failed. He is also Russia’s largest corporate debtor.  Noone else in the circle of President Vladimir Putin has performed so improvidently and unpatriotically.

When the costs are counted of last month’s Nigerian High Court ruling against Rusal’s ownership of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (Alscon), and the ruling expected from the same court in Abuja next week, Rusal is facing a liability and compensation judgement amounting to $2.8 billion. That’s one-third of Rusal’s annual sales revenues; it’s also one-third of Rusal’s gross debt, and almost half its current market capitalization on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.   Not a single metals analyst or investment banker in Moscow dares to acknowledge the case, or analyse the risk now facing Rusal from the Nigerian courts and its government.  (more…)

RED SCARE, BLACK HOLE – SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ATTACK ROSATOM FOR “HOLDING GUN TO SOUTH AFRICA’S HEAD”

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By John Helmer, Moscow

South African government officials have attacked Russia’s bid to supply South Africa’s new nuclear reactor programme, accusing Rosatom, the state nuclear power agency, of imposing financially and legally disadvantageous terms which the South Africans, speaking anonymously, term “scary”.

The attack was launched Friday in the Mail & Guardian, a local newspaper associated with the Guardian of London. Just one SA Government official, Enver Daniels, the chief state law advisor in Pretoria, was identified as behind the allegations. Speaking anonymously to the newspaper also was a group identified as “numerous”, and representing the SA ministries of energy, international relations, trade and industry, and the treasury.

The SA officials launched their attack on Rosatom after the full text of the Rosatom agreement on nuclear cooperation with South Africa was discovered openly published on a Russian Foreign Ministry website. The SA Government continues to keep the text of the Rosatom agreement classified. The accusing officials are also familiar with the terms of rival nuclear cooperation agreements signed with the French state company Areva, and with the Chinese government, in collaboration with the US. The SA officials are keeping silent on the terms of these pacts, and on a lobbying campaign by the US and France to drive the Russians out of the running for the $50 billion contract, the largest state procurement in SA history.
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WHOSE POCKETS FULL — SERGEI CHEMEZOV’S FRIENDS VITALY MASHITSKY AND ROBERT MUGABE ARE GOING TO SPEND AT LEAST $600 MILLION TO START, THEN $4.8 BILLION OF RUSSIAN STATE MONEY ON A PLATINUM MINE IN ZIMBABWE

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The world’s most mysterious, and expensive, hole in the ground has been ceremonially opened by the Russian Foreign and Trade Ministers, Sergei Lavrov and Denis Manturov. At least that’s what they say they did a month ago in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. The President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe (lead image, centre), also presided.

The hole to be dug is to cost the Russian state budget and banking system at least $600 million, rising to $3 billion in three years; and then $4.8 billion by 2024 when mine, ore-processing plant and refinery are fully operational. That’s according to the Zimbabwe press announcements. They have also disclosed the list of Russian and Zimbabwean partners in the deal. Calling themselves Afromet, the Russians are Vitaly Mashitsky (lead image, left), Sergei Chemezov (right), and Vnesheconombank (VEB) represented by Alexander Ivanov, son of the presidential chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov. The Zimbabweans are calling themselves Pen East Investments. Together, they have picked the name Great Dyke Investments.

There’s a catch: no Russian involved in what is billed as the Darwendale platinum project wants to admit what he is doing; what protection from loss has been installed by the Kremlin for the money; and why a new platinum mine in east Africa can be a profitable way of spending Russian state money when the country’s platinum miners, Norilsk Nickel and Russian Platinum, say they wouldn’t touch the project with a barge-pole.
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GEORGE SOROS TAKES AIM AT RUSAL — GERALD GROUP PROPOSES OUSTER OF RUSAL FROM GUINEA BAUXITE, ALUMINA CONCESSION

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By John Helmer, Moscow

A combination of American and British commodity traders, aided by George Soros (lead image, left), is planning to oust United Company Rusal, the Russian aluminium monopoly, from its Friguia bauxite and alumina concession in the west African Republic of Guinea. The plan, according to sources in London and Conakry, the Guinean capital, calls for the Guinean President Alpha Conde to revoke Rusal’s production agreement, according to the recommendations of an inter-ministerial group of officials known as the Comité Technique de Revue des Titres et Conventions Miniers (Technical Committee of Review of Mining Titles and Concessions). Conde is being urged by Soros to replace the Russians led by Rusal chief executive, Oleg Deripaska (lead image, right).

The Gerald Group, according to a London source, has a double-barreled target, aiming also at Rusal’s control of the Nikolaev Alumina Refinery (NGZ) in eastern Ukraine. Defending Rusal from the attack, says a source close to Rusal, is Glencore, the Switzerland-based global commodity trader, which is a minority stakeholder in Rusal and the financier of much of its aluminium and alumina trade.
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RUSAL NEGOTIATIONS FAIL IN GUINEA — ONCE AGAIN CONAKRY’S BILL IS MORE THAN $1 BILLION

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By John Helmer, Moscow

United Company Rusal, the state aluminium monopoly controlled by Oleg Deripaska (right), has failed in a bid to ward off billion-dollar sanctions from Alpha Conde (centre), the President of Guinea, with an offer to start a cheap, new bauxite mine three years from now.

Sources in Conakry, the capital of the West African republic, have confirmed that an inter-ministerial committee, which has been reviewing the contract records for more than a decade of mineral resource concessions and mining agreements signed by earlier Guinean governments, has found Rusal to have under-paid and under-performed at its Friguia bauxite mine and alumina refinery. Word that the Technical Committee for Review of Mining Titles and Agreements (Comite Technique de Revue des Titres et Conventions Miniers, CTRTCM) was about to rule Rusal in violation and propose major financial penalties led Deripaska to despatch Victor Boyarkin to Conakry for talks to head off the committee’s recommendations.
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TWIXT CUP AND LIP — SOUTH AFRICAN REGULATOR CHANGES ROSATOM’S CHANCES TO WIN REACTOR BID

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Two months after South Africa’s (SA) President Jacob Zuma appeared to drop Russia in favour of a Chinese-American combination for the country’s $50 billion nuclear reactor programme, the head of the SA National Nuclear Regulator, Bismark Tyobeka, appeared in Moscow last week to be favouring the Russian bid over the competition.

Tyobeka, who was attending a nuclear industry convention, AtomExpo-2014, was reported in the Russian press as saying that now that South Africa’s May 7 parliamentary elections are out of the way, Zuma intends to announce his choice for the first two reactors from among the competing bids of China, Russia, South Korea, and France. Tyobeka reportedly was negative towards the Chinese bid, which is coordinated with Westinghouse of the US. “All these countries also have a chance to become the contractor, but the main thing is whether they have sufficient experience of building nuclear power plants abroad. In that sense Russia has the best experience, and its chances [for the procurement award] are very high.”
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VICTOR BOYARKIN RETURNS TO RUSAL FOR A NEW TOP-SECRET ALPHA MISSION

alpha_mission

By John Helmer, Moscow

Victor Boyarkin, the former lieutenant-colonel of Russian military intelligence and special operations chief for United Company Rusal, returned to the company on Monday after an absence of fifteen months. In Conakry, the capital of Guinea, his arrival is anticipated shortly for a fresh attempt by Oleg Deripaska, Rusal’s chief executive, to relieve new pressure on Rusal to reopen the Friguia (Fria) alumina refinery and bauxite mine, and spend several hundred million dollars committed earlier to investment in Guinea.

The Guinean President, Alpha Conde (image, right foreground), has started to prepare his presidential election campaign for the poll, which is due in less than a year’s time. In Friguia, where Rusal is the principal source of employment, the alumina refinery has been closed since 2012, and according to local sources, the city is “dead. People are starving, and only a heavy military presence can keep things quiet. Conde has nothing to show for his presidency, and unless he can persuade Rusal to reopen the refinery, he must persuade the Russians to make a large compensation to help the city.”
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THE PLATINUM OPEC — IS A GOOD SOUTH AFRICAN IDEA DEAD, OR A DEAD RUSSIAN IDEA GOOD?

platinum_opec

By John Helmer, Moscow

There has long been a fear on the Russian side that South Africa will sell as much platinum and palladium as it can mine, threatening the market price of both metals, and leaving Russia holding very large, very secret stocks of dwindling value. From the Russian point of view, that’s not a unilateral sacrifice Russia should accept; nor a unilateral advantage South Africa should be allowed to take.

Together, Russia and South Africa (SA) produce almost 90% of the world’s platinum supply (5.7 million ounces); 80% of the palladium supply (6.4 million oz). So there has been a natural inclination for the principal producers – Norilsk Nickel in Russia; Anglo Platinum, Impala, Lonmin and Northam in South Africa – to test the scope for price-supportive cooperation in the market, instead of price-damaging competition. The Russian and South African governments have naturally inclined in the same direction.
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MAGIC TRICKS TO CUT RUSAL DEBT — OLEG DERIPASKA ASKS MIKHAIL PROKHOROV TO SELL NIGERIAN SMELTER AWARDED BY THE COURTS TO SOMEONE ELSE

magic_alscon

By John Helmer, Moscow

United Company Rusal, the state aluminium monopoly run by Oleg Deripaska, is selling the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (Alscon). Only the Rusal announcement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEx) doesn’t put a name to the asset. Rusal is also not accepting that the Nigerian courts have already decided the Alscon asset isn’t Rusal’s property to dispose of.

The decision to sell Alscon was reported to the exchange on April 8. The notice explains that the Jersey subsidiary of Rusal, RTI Limited, has hired Renaissance Securities to provide “financial advisory services in respect of a potential sale of shares of a subsidiary(ies) of the Company.” The services are to cost “up to USD10 million (including a fixed success fee of USD3 million and an incentive fee of up to USD7 million) for the entire term of the Mandate Letter, including any extended period of the term.”
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THE CRIMEA EFFECT — WHOEVER CONTROLS CRIMEA CONTROLS HUGE RESERVES OF OFFSHORE GAS, BUT MAYBE THAT WON’T BE EXXONMOBIL OR NATHANIEL ROTHSCHILD

crimea_effect

By John Helmer, Moscow

Georhii Rudko, the chairman of the Ukrainian State Commission for Natural Resources, had nothing to do with the choice of the old British War Office as the venue; nor the timing of his speech, one day before the President of Ukraine and the constitutional order of the country were toppled. But Rudko’s presentation on the future for the oil and gas resources of Ukraine was anything but a sideshow.

Rudko was scheduled to speak at a meeting entitled “Black Sea & Caspian 2014 Conference – Unlocking Full Potential”. The date was February 20. The address was 89 Pall Mall, where the War Office was located between 1858 and 1906, just missing the Crimean War (1853-56), but managing the second Opium War against China; the three Basotho wars in southern Africa; several rebellions in India; and the Boer War in South Africa. As war offices go, the score was a grand slam for the British.
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MODERN ARTFULNESS — SOUTH AFRICA AGREES TO BUY CHINESE NUCLEAR REACTOR TECHNOLOGY WHICH EITHER BELONGS TO OTHERS OR HASN’T BEEN BUILT & TESTED — WITH FUNDS THE SOUTH AFRICAN FINANCE MINISTRY WON’T ALLOCATE TO THE STATE BUDGET, AND THE GOVERNMENT’S ELECTRICITY PLAN RECOMMENDS AGAINST SPENDING ANY TIME SOON

china_reselling

By John Helmer, Moscow

On March 4 the Chinese and South African governments announced they are preparing an agreement on nuclear cooperation to allow the Chinese to sell $50 billion worth of their nuclear reactor technology for South Africa’s power generation programme.

There are four catches. One is that a South African report from the ministry responsible for energy planning recommends against investing in nuclear reactors for at least two, and possibly ten more years. The second catch is that the South African Ministry of Finance has refused to allow any funds to be put into current or future budgets for nuclear reactors. The third catch is that the Chinese have depended to date on reactor technology they have bought from France, the US, and Russia which cannot be resold in the international market. Nuclear reactor bids from each of these three countries have already been tabled for the South African nuclear programme, and until last month the most likely contender for selection, according to South African President Jacob Zuma and Ben Martins, the Minister of Energy, was Rosatom of Russia.
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NO ROSATOM REACTOR SALE TO SOUTH AFRICA, NO EVRAZ SALE OF HIGHVELD STEEL, NO COINCIDENCE

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By John Helmer, Moscow

After almost a year of inconclusive negotiations with a secretive South African group called Nemascore, Evraz, the Russian steelmaker and miner, has announced to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange that negotiations have opened to sell its control stake in Highveld Steel & Vanadium to new buyers. The notice to the exchange last week said Evraz informed the Highveld board that “it is, in addition to Nemascore (Proprietary) Limited, currently engaging with other potential bidders with a view to disposing of its 85.11% stake in the Company. The independent board of the Company has agreed to allow these potential bidders to conduct a due diligence investigation into the affairs of the Company.” The Evraz notice added that the talks are “incomplete, confidential and non-binding, hence there is no certainty that a transaction will take place.”
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RUSAL ORDERED TO TRIAL WITH NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT OVER SALE OF NIGERIAN ALUMINIUM SMELTER, BUT $2.8 BILLION DAMAGES CLAIM DELAYED

rusal_batman

By John Helmer, Moscow

United Company Rusal, the Russian aluminium monopoly headed by Oleg Deripaska (image right), has won a fresh round in its battle to keep control of its Nigerian aluminium smelter, and ward off claims from a Nigerian-American group whom it defeated in the privatization of the asset almost a decade ago. For the time being, the Nigerian government, headed by President Goodluck Jonathan (left), will neither support Rusal, nor act against it. The indecisive Jonathan lost majority control of the Nigerian House of Representatives in December, and he faces an uncertain presidential election in a year’s time.

In a ruling of Nigerian High Court Justice Jude Okeke, issued in Abuja on January 27, the Nigerian Government’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice were ordered to face trial with Rusal in the corruption and damages claim by BFI Group Divino Corporation (BFIG). Rusal had asked the court to join the government to the case. BFIG opposed, arguing that in a separate proceeding the Nigerian courts had already ruled against the government, and in favour of BFIG. According to BFIG’s lawyer in court, Rusal’s move threatened to “open a floodgate for everyone who seeks to interrupt proceedings.”
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SOUTH AFRICAN PROMISE OF ROSATOM REACTOR DEAL DISAPPEARS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The South African Government has pulled back from the agreement it reached last November with Rosatom, the state nuclear industry corporation, to build nuclear reactors to supply South Africa’s future power needs. Officials at the South African Department of Energy refuse to say to what the Minister of Energy, Ben Martins, has decided. Off the record, sources in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Moscow claim the reason for dropping the $50 billion deal is that the government has revised its assessment of its future energy needs, and decided it doesn’t need the new reactors, at least not soon.

But that’s a nose-stretcher. The assessment leading to the change of mind in Pretoria was issued by the Department of Energy on November 21. For weeks beforehand its conclusions were well-known to the ministry, Minister Martins, and to the office of President Jacob Zuma (image above), when he approved the initialling of the Rosatom deal. The deal ceremony took place on November 26, five days after the Energy Ministry had issued its thumbs-down.
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EVRAZ STILL UNABLE TO SELL HIGHVELD STEEL; DEAL TIMING APPEARS TIED TO SOUTH AFRICAN REACTOR PURCHASE FROM ROSATOM

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Evraz, the steelmaking group owned by Roman Abramovich (third figure from left) and Alexander Abramov (fourth from left), has just issued a notice to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange that it has been unable to complete the proposed sale of its South African unit, Highveld Steel & Vanadium, by a December 31 deadline. First announced on March 27, the heavily indebted Evraz said the terms of sale for its 85% shareholding in Highveld called for the acquiror, a South African company called Nemascore, to pay a purchase price of $320 million. Prior to the deal announcement, the Evraz stake had been valued in the market between $106 million and $135 million. Since March the market value of the stake has failed to reach 50% of the transaction price; it is currently just $138.4 million.

The new announcement acknowledges that closure of the sale has been postponed three times already, and that six cautionary notices have been issued to the Johannesburg market. Neither Evraz nor Nemascore has explained the reasons for the delay, claiming this is prevented by a non-disclosure agreement covering their deal. In its December 19 announcement, Evraz claims that a “due diligence process is still progressing”, and that the “Transaction is expected to be concluded towards the end of Q1 2014.” The story of Nemascore and its ties to the South African President, Jacob Zuma, can be read here.
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SERGEI KIRIENKO PULLS STRING — ROSATOM PLAN FOR BEATING THE AMERICANS AND FRENCH OUT OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN NUCLEAR REACTOR CONTRACT

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By John Helmer, Moscow

In the world of mules there are no rules (so Ogden Nash wrote last century). In selling $50 billion worth of nuclear reactors, there are a few.

Sergei Kirienko, the prime minister in charge of the Russian government’s default on its treasury bonds and other financial destruction in 1998, is no donkey. But this week, as the head of the state nuclear power monopoly Rosatom, it’s far from clear what rules Kirienko, and his South African counterparts, had in mind when they initialled their agreement on cooperation this week in Johannesburg.

Russian and South African press reports, as well as officials of both countries, have described the document as an agreement between the two governments for “strategic partnership and cooperation in the field of nuclear energy and industry”, as Vedomosti called it.
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RUSAL PLAYS FOR TIME — NEW TACTICS TO STOP NIGERIAN SMELTER JUDGEMENT BEFORE BANKS INTERVENE, BEFORE CHINA STOPS THE CLOCK

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Last week, on October 7, United Company Rusal – the state aluminium monoply managed by Oleg Deripaska (right) — was due in the Nigerian High Court at Abuja to start trial on the claim by a Nigerian-American group, BFIG, for the handover of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (Alscon). BFIG has been in the Nigerian courts since a ruling by a US federal judge eight years ago that the jurisdiction for its claims is in Nigeria, not in the US. In July of last year Nigeria’s highest court ruled that the government’s Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) had unlawfully privatized the smelter in Rusal’s favour, rigging the share sale and the price corruptly for Rusal’s benefit.

The American government had already agreed. A US Embassy cable from Abuja, dated August 2004 and published by Wikileaks in 2011, told the State Department the Nigerian government’s action towards Rusal had reflected “a lack of transparency in the bidding process, and perhaps some corruption as well.” BFIG’s lawsuit claims $2.8 billion from Rusal in lost or unrealized profits, damages, and costs.
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NIGERIAN COURT DROPS ALL CHARGES, RELEASES MYRE SEADIVER CREW AND VESSEL TO RETURN TO RUSSIA

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By John Helmer, Moscow

A court in Lagos, Nigeria, today dismissed all charges of arms smuggling and illegal entry for the crew of the Russian security tender, Myre Seadiver. Seven crewmen, who have remained on bail at the Russian Embassy in Lagos since the last hearing in July, will be free to leave Nigeria and return home, after the court order is issued tomorrow. The Myre Seadiver and its original 15-man crew were arrested almost a year ago, on October 20, in the Lagos port roads, as the vessel prepared to leave after a month’s refuelling and repairs, and a change of crew. That story can be read here.
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OLEG DERIPASKA’S EARS ARE BURNING — CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS BY SAMUEL MEBIAME IN MIAMI TAPES

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By John Helmer, Moscow

This week it’s hot and humid in Conakry, capital of the west African Republic of Guinea. It will hit 30 degrees in the day; the humidity will be 100%. Until Saturday, when the much-postponed, much-rigged parliamentary elections will be held, there will be occasional thunderstorms, sunny spells, and an inch of rain per day.

But there’s not enough water to douse the allegations that the President of Guinea, Alpha Conde, took payoffs through go-betweens to rig the presidential elections of June and November 2010; put up Guinea’s mining concessions for a fresh round of corrupt awards; and let Rusal off the hook of a billion-dollar compensation order by the Guinean Government and local courts.
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EVRAZ SAYS NEMASCORE DELAYING HIGHVELD STEEL DEAL; RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT REPEATS DEMANDS FOR ZUMA TO MAKE UP HIS MIND

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Evraz, the steelmaking group owned by Roman Abramovich and Alexander Abramov, has revealed that it cannot complete the sale of its South African steel subsidiary, Highveld Steel & Vanadium, on time, and that the South Africans are the reason for the fresh delay.

At the same time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his South African counterpart, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in Moscow on Monday that the Kremlin wants to see less delay, more commitment from President Jacob Zuma on buying nuclear power reactors from Rosatom. Zuma, who has now arrived in St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit meeting, has met President Vladimir Putin twice already this year – in Durban in March, and in Sochi in May – and on each occasion the official communiques have pledged the same thing. Lavrov repeated this on Monday when at a press conference with Nkoana-Mashabane, he said Russia’s priority in its bilateral relationship with South Africa is the billion-dollar sale and purchase of reactors. “Russia is ready to assist in the creation in the Republic of South Africa of nuclear power,” Lavrov said. This, Lavrov emphasized, is the priority in “the complex of bilateral ties…further steps for implementation of these major arrangements…[and] the activization of investment cooperation.”
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SPEEDY GONZALES AND RUSSIA’S RUSH TO ENDORSE THE ZIMBABWE ELECTION RESULT – HOW THE LAVROV DOCTRINE WORKS IN AFRICA

gonzales_lavrov

By John Helmer, Moscow

Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia for the past nine years, is almost as well-known for rushing to the rescue of Russian companies in trouble in Africa, as the payback for the favour is unknown. Still, the Lavrov Doctrine is the first major change to have been introduced in the Kremlin’s foreign policy in Africa since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the old days the Soviet strategy was one of non-intervention in the internal affairs of the African states. The strategic meaning was that Moscow opposed arms deliveries, bush wars, assassinations, putsches, economic threats and bribery operations by the competing colonial powers and superpowers – the British, French, Americans, Portuguese, Belgians. The Russian Foreign Ministry reiterates this non-intervention doctrine from time to time. In Nigeria, for example, it has had the effect of allowing the local navy to take Russians hostage with impunity, and for the courts to rule punitively against local Russian investments.
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LAGOS JUDGE POSTPONES MYRE SEADIVER CREW TRIAL UNTIL OCTOBER — RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEI LAVROV WEAKENS PIRATE POLICY

lagos_judge

By John Helmer, Moscow

When you are between the hammer of the Nigerian Navy and the anvil of the Nigerian Government, what is a Nigerian judge to do, if not make a very public show of doing nothing?

In a new hearing in a Lagos court yesterday, Nigerian judge James Tsoho (centre) repeated the pattern of his predecessor, Judge Okechukwu Okeke, and again postponed the trial of the crewmen of Russian security tender, Myre Seadiver, this time for another three months. The judge is caught between Nigerian government officials embarrassed but too weak to drop their charges of illegal port entry and arms smuggling, and Nigerian Navy officers strong enough to arrange the arrests of the crewmen and vessel on trumped-up charges, and protective of the Navy’s sideline business of selling vessel security service in Nigerian waters. Pirates in uniform are what this story has been about from the beginning, as one click will illustrate.
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RUSAL ANNOUNCES LOYALTY PROGRAMME – DERIPASKA TAKES CASH, DONATES RUSAL SHARES TO SUBORDINATES

rusal_bonus

By John Helmer, Moscow

What is a bonus worth if it’s a promissory note for a value that is sinking towards zero in the short term, and cannot be converted to cash or dividends for years? How much loyalty would a zero-value note be expected to attract?

On July 4, Rusal disclosed to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that it has devised a plan to give shares to company employees for the purpose, the company release claims, “of increasing the employees’ commitment to achievement of the Group’s strategic goals in implementing of the production system.” The plan is for Rusal to buy 0.05% of the 15.2 billion Rusal shares outstanding; that’s 76 million. As Rusal’s share price slips below the HK$3 level, and its market capitalization falls below US$6 billion, it would cost the company US$29 million in cash to fill the employee stock fund to its maximum authorized number. But Rusal says Oleg Deripaska, the chief executive, is going to start the fund off himself at something less than the maximum “The Company currently intends to finance the Plan by applying the internal funding which is available after the CEO voluntarily declined his bonus for the year 2012.” According to Rusal’s financial report for 2012 (page 42), Deripaska’s salary, allowances, benefits in kind, and “discretionary bonuses” came to US$5.536 million. The financial report doesn’t indicate precisely how much of this was in the form of cash, how much in airplane flights to non-business destinations, and how much in bonus cash. The report does claim that Deripaska received 417,266 bonus shares worth at vesting (November 21, 2012) just $274,000.
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EVRAZ DEAL TO SELL HIGHVELD STEEL MISSES DEADLINE, AS SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT BLOWS VTB FINANCING AWAY

wind_that_blows

By John Helmer, Moscow

The attempt by the Evraz steel group, owned by Roman Abramovich and others, to sell its South African steelmaking asset, Highveld Steel & Vanadium, for double its market value appears to have failed. The deadline Evraz had earlier announced for closing the deal with a South African front company called Nemascore expired on June 30. On July 2, Tatiana Drachuk, the Evraz spokesman, added: “The market will be informed if any decision is taken.”

In March Evraz said it had accepted an offer of $320 million for its 85.12% stake in Highveld. At the time the market value of this bloc of shares on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange was the equivalent of $112 million. The offer triggered a sharp rise in Highveld’s share price, but it has since fallen by several degrees. The current market capitalization of the company is $180.3 million; the Evraz stake, $153.4 million.
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MYRE SEADIVER CREW GETS PARTIAL DISMISSAL, NIGERIAN COURT SCHEDULES LAST HEARING

open your door

By John Helmer, Moscow

In a hearing in a Lagos court yesterday, Nigerian judge James Tsoho dismissed all charges against eight of the 15 Russian crewmen on the Myre Seadiver, a security support vessel arrested by the Nigerian Navy last October. At the time, the vessel, which had arrived with Nigerian Navy and Lagos port approvals on September 19, had rotated 11 mariners back to Moscow, and taken on board their replacements; they arrived by plane with visas issued by the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow.
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ANDREI MELNICHENKO’S MYSTERY LAWSUIT – SOUTH AFRICANS DENY RUSSIAN MINE CLAIM

mine_claim

By John Helmer, Moscow

Eurochem, a Russian fertilizer miner and manufacturer owned by Andrei Melnichenko, is suing the South African mine technology company Shaft Sinkers for $800 million on account of a mining technology which Eurochem says has failed in Volgograd (image right). Shaft Sinkers says the technology works perfectly well, in Yorkshire (left) for example. $800 million is the sum of Eurochem’s claims. Much less than that is at stake — according to Shaft Sinkers $15 million in unpaid invoices – but also much more, in Kazakhstan, where Eurochem’s plan for a large new phosphate mine is in trouble of another sort. About that Eurochem doesn’t want to talk at all.

In 2008 Eurochem made several announcements about its new potash mine, Gremyachinskoye mine in Volgograd. In the context of Melnichenko’s proposal to reduce his personal exposure in the company, and sell assets to Gazprom or shares to international investors, Eurochem reported growing reserves, speed in mining new output, and jumping sales revenues. Gremyachinskoye was to be commissioned in two stages, start shipping 2.3 million tonnes of potash per annum in 2012, and by 2015 double that volume.
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AFTERSHOCK OF NORD STREAM EXPLOSIONS RUMBLES WARSAW — POLISH POLITICIANS GO “NUTTERS”

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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?”

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THE BORNHOLM BLOW-UP REPEATS THE BORNHOLM BASH — POLAND ATTACKS GERMANY AND BLAMES RUSSIA

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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LEMONS, MIMOSAS, AND STALIN’S SHOVEL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Agatha Christie’s whodunit entitled And Then There Were None – the concluding words of the children’s counting rhyme — is reputed to be the world’s best-selling mystery story.    

There’s no mystery now about the war of Europe and North America against Russia; it is the continuation of Germany’s war of 1939-45 and the war aims of the General Staff in Washington since 1943. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and President Vladimir Putin (right) both said it plainly enough this week.

There is also no mystery in the decision-making in Moscow of the President and the Defense Minister, the General Staff, and the others; it is the continuation of the Stavka of 1941-45.  

Just because there is no mystery about this, it doesn’t follow that it should be reported publicly, debated in the State Duma, speculated and advertised by bloggers, podcasters, and twitterers.  In war what should not be said cannot be said. When the war ends, then there will be none.  

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RUSSIANS RAISE THEIR GLASSES – THE TOAST IS TO BEATING THE BLOCKADE OF MOSCOW



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under  Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.

How little the Germans have changed.

But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.”  By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”  

So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.  

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THE INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY GOES TO WAR — GORILLA RADIO GOES NUCLEAR

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors voted to go to war with Russia by a vote of 26 member countries against 9.

China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa voted against war with Russia.  

The IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi (lead image, left) has refused to tell the press whether a simple majority of votes (18) or a super-majority of two-thirds (23) was required by the agency charter for the vote; he also wouldn’t say which countries voted for or against. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then covered up for what had happened by telling the press: “I believe that [IAEA’s] independence that exists and must be preserved is essential. The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties.” The IAEA vote for war made a liar of Guterres.

In the IAEA’s 65-year history, Resolution Number 58, the war vote of September 15, 2022,  is the first time the agency has taken one side in a war between member countries when nuclear reactors have either been attacked or threatened with attack. It is also the first time the IAEA has attacked one of its member states, Russia, when its military were attempting to protect and secure a nuclear reactor from attack by another member state, the Ukraine, and its war allies, the US, NATO and the European Union states. The vote followed the first-ever IAEA inspection of a nuclear reactor while it was under active artillery fire and troop assault.

There is a first time for everything but this is the end of the IAEA. On to the scrap heap of good intentions and international treaties, the IAEA is following the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the UN Secretary-General himself.  Listen to this discussion of the past history when the IAEA responded quite differently following the Iranian and Israeli air-bombing attacks on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Osirak, and later, the attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sites.

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INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY TAKES UKRAINE SIDE IN WAR IN SEPTEMBER 15 VOTE, MAKING UN SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES EITHER A LIAR OR A FOOL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided this week to take the side of Ukraine in the current war; blame Russia for the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP); and issue a demand for Russia to surrender the plant to the Kiev regime “to regain full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”      

This is the most dramatic shift by the United Nations (UN) nuclear power regulator in the 65-year history of the organisation based in Vienna.

The terms of the IAEA Resolution Number 58, which were proposed early this week by the Polish and Canadian governors on the agency board, were known in advance by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin in the late afternoon of September 14, before the vote was taken. Guterres did not reveal what he already knew would be the IAEA action the next day.  

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THE RUSSIAN SITUATION COMEDY IS NO LYING MATTER – THE JOKE IS ON THE OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Never mind that King Solomon said proverbially three thousand years ago, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”  

With seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, Solomon realized he was the inventor of the situation comedy. If not for the sitcom as his medicine, the bodily and psychological stress Old Solly had to endure in the bedroom would have killed him long before he made it to his death bed at eighty years of age,  after ruling his kingdom for forty of them.

After the British sitcom died in the 1990s, the subsequent stress has not only killed very large numbers of ordinary people. It has culminated today in a system of rule according to which a comic king in Buckingham Palace must now manage the first prime minister in Westminster  history to be her own joke.

Even the Norwegians, the unfunniest people in Europe, have acknowledged that the only way to attract the British as tourists, was to pay John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers to make them laugh at Norway itself.   This has been a bigger success for the locals than for the visitors, boosting the fjord boatman’s life expectancy several years ahead of the British tourist’s.  

In fact, Norwegian scientists studying a sample of 54,000 of their countrymen have proved that spending the state budget on public health and social welfare will only work effectively if the population is laughing all the way to the grave. “The cognitive component of the sense of humour is positively associated with survival from mortality related to CVD [cardio-vascular disease] and infections in women and with infection-related mortality in men” – Norwegian doctors reported in 2016. Never mind the Viking English:  the Norwegian point is the same as Solomon’s that “a sense of humour is a health-protecting cognitive coping resource” – especially if you’ve got cancer.  

The Russians understand this better than the Norwegians or the British.  Laughter is an antidote to the war propaganda coming from abroad, as Lexus and Vovan have been demonstrating.   The Russian sitcom is also surviving in its classic form to match the best of the British sitcoms, all now dead – Fawlty Towers (d. 1975), Black Adder (d. 1989), You Rang M’Lord? (d. 1988), Jeeves and Wooster (d. 1990), Oh Dr Beeching! (d.1995), and Thin Blue Line (d. 1996).

The Russian situation comedies, alive and well on TV screens and internet streaming devices across the country, are also increasingly profitable business for their production and broadcast companies – not despite the war but because of it. This has transformed the Russian media industry’s calculation of profitability by removing US and European-made films and television series, as well as advertising revenues from Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mars, and Bayer. In their place powerful  Russian video-on-demand (VOD) streaming platform companies like Yandex (KinoPoisk), MTS (Kion),  Mail.ru (VK), and Ivi (Leonid Boguslavsky, ProfMedia, Baring Vostok)  are now intensifying the competition for audience with traditional television channels and film studios for domestic audiences.  The revenue base of the VOD platforms is less vulnerable to advertisers, more dependent on telecommunications subscriptions.

Russian script writers, cameramen, actors, designers, and directors are now in shorter supply than ever before, and earning more money.  “It’s the Russian New Wave,” claims Olga Filipuk, head of media content for Yandex, the powerful leader of the new film production platforms; its  controlling shareholder and chief executive were sanctioned last year.  

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RUSSIAN AVIATION INDUSTRY CORRECTS YELTSIN YAW – BOEING, AIRBUS DITCHED



By Olga Samofalova, translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

It was the American humourist Mark Twain who didn’t die in 1897 when it was reported that he had. Twain had thirteen more lively years to go.

The death of the Russian aerospace and aviation industry in the present war is proving to be an even greater exaggeration – and the life to come will be much longer. From the Russian point of view, the death which the sanctions have inflicted is that of the US, European and British offensive against the Soviet-era industry which President Boris Yeltsin (lead image, left) and his advisers encouraged from 1991.

Since 2014, when the sanctions war began, the question of what Moscow would do when the supply of original aircraft components was first threatened, then prohibited, has been answered. The answer began at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1947 when the first  Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) or Parts Manufacturing Approval (PMA) was issued by Washington officials for aircraft parts or components meeting the airworthiness standards but manufactured by sources which were not the original suppliers.   

China has been quicker to implement this practice; Chinese state and commercial enterprises have been producing PMA components for Boeing and Airbus aircraft in the Chinese airline fleets for many years.  The Russian Transport Ministry has followed suit; in its certification process and airworthiness regulations it has used the abbreviation RMA, Cyrillic for PMA. This process has been accelerating as the sanctions war has escalated.

So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.

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FOR WANT OF A NAIL THE KINGDOM WAS LOST – ENGLISH PATHOLOGIST GUY RUTTY FACES CHALLENGE TO THE RELIABILITY OF HIS NOVICHOK EVIDENCE



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The weakest link in the British government’s four-year long story of Russian Novichok assassination operations in the UK – prelude to the current war – is an English medical expert by the name of Guy Rutty (lead image, standing).

A government-appointed pathologist advising the Home Office, police, and county coroners, Rutty is the head of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit in Leicester,  he is the author of a post-mortem report, dated November 29, 2018,  claiming that the only fatality in the history of the Novichok nerve agent (lead image, document), Dawn Sturgess, had died of Novichok poisoning on July 8, 2018. Rutty’s finding was added four months after initial post-mortem results and a coroner’s cremation certificate stopped short of confirming that Novichok had been the cause of her death.

Rutty’s Novichok finding was a state secret for more than two years. It was revealed publicly   by the second government coroner to investigate Sturgess’s death, Dame Heather Hallett, at a public hearing in London on March 30, 2021. In written evidence it was reported that “on 17th July 2018, Professor Guy Rutty MBE, a Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist conducted an independent post-mortem examination. He was accompanied by Dr Phillip Lumb, also an independent Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist. Professor Rutty’s Post-Mortem Report of 29th November 2018 records the cause of death as Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity.”  

Hallett, Rutty, Lumb, and others engaged by the government to work on the Novichok case have refused to answer questions about the post-mortem investigations which followed immediately after Sturgess’s death was reported at Salisbury District Hospital; and a cause of death report signed by the Wiltshire Country coroner David Ridley, when Sturgess’s body was released to her family for funeral and cremation on July 30, 2018.  

After another three years, Ridley was replaced as coroner in the case by Hallett in March 2021. Hallett was replaced by Lord Anthony Hughes (lead image, sitting) in March 2022.

The cause-of-death documents remain state secrets. “As you have no formal role in the inquest proceedings,” Hallett’s and Rutty’s spokesman Martin Smith said on May 17, 2021, “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.” 

Since then official leaks have revealed that Rutty had been despatched by the Home Office in London to take charge of the Sturgess post-mortem, and Lumb ordered not to undertake an autopsy or draw conclusions on the cause of Sturgess’s death until Rutty arrived. Why? The sources are not saying whether the two forensic professors differed in their interpretation of the evidence; and if so, whether the published excerpt of Rutty’s report of Novichok poisoning is the full story.   

New developments in the official investigation of Sturgess’s death, now directed by Hughes, have removed the state secrecy cover for Rutty, Lumb, and other medical specialists who attended the post-mortem on July 17, 2018. The appointment by Hughes of a London lawyer, Adam Chapman, to represent Sergei and Yulia Skripal, opens these post-mortem documents to the Skripals, along with the cremation certificate, and related hospital, ambulance and laboratory records. Chapman’s role is “appropriate” – Smith’s term – for the Skripals to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb and add independent expert evidence.

Hughes’s appointment of another lawyer, Emilie Pottle (lead image, top left), to act on behalf of the three Russian military officers accused of the Novichok attack exposes this evidence to testing at the same forensic standard. According to Hughes,  it is Pottle’s “responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry takes all reasonable steps to test the  evidence connecting those Russian nationals to Ms Sturgess’s death.” Pottle’s responsibility is to  cross-examine Rutty and Lumb.

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