IF IT SMELLS ALLURING, IT’S RUSSIAN – IN WARTIME L’ORÉAL (FRANCE) AND ESTÉE LAUDER (US) MAKE A BAD SMELL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The war plan of the US and the European allies is destroying the Russian market for traditional French perfumes, the profits of the French and American conglomerates which own the best-known brands, the bonuses of their managers, and the dividends of their shareholders. The odour  of these losses is too strong for artificial fresheners.

Givaudan, the Swiss-based world leader in production and supply of fragrances, oils and other beauty product ingredients, has long regarded the Russian market as potentially its largest in Europe; it is one of the fastest growing contributors to Givaudan’s profit worldwide. In the recovery from the pandemic of Givaudan’s Fragrance and Beauty division – it accounts for almost half the company’s total sales — the group reported “excellent double-digit growth in 2021, demonstrating strong consumer demand for these product categories.”    Until this year, Givaudan reveals in its latest financial report, the growth rate for Russian demand was double-digit – much faster than the  6.3% sales growth in Europe overall; faster growth than in Germany, Belgium and Spain.    

Between February 2014, when the coup in Kiev started the US war against Russia, and last December, when the Russian non-aggression treaties with the US and NATO were rejected,   Givaudan’s share price jumped three and a half times – from 1,380 Swiss francs to 4,792 francs; from a company with a market capitalisation of 12.7 billion francs ($12.7 billion) to a value of 44.2 billion francs ($44.2 billion). Since the fighting began in eastern Ukraine this year until now, Givaudan has lost 24% of that value – that’s $10 billion.  

The largest of Givaudan’s shareholders is Bill Gates. With his 14%, plus the 10% controlled by Black Rock of New York and MFS of Boston, the US has effective control over the company.

Now, according to the US war sanctions, trade with Russia and the required payment systems have been closed down, alongside the bans on the importation of the leading European perfumes. So in place of the French perfumers, instead of Givaudan, the Russian industry is reorganizing for its future growth with its own perfume brands manufactured from raw materials produced in Crimea and other regions, or supplied by India and China. Givaudan, L’Oréal (Lancome, Yves Saint Laurent), Kering (Balenciaga, Gucci), LVMH (Dior, Guerlain, Givenchy), Chanel, Estée Lauder, Clarins – they have all cut off their noses to spite the Russian face.

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ANDREI GURIEV IS RUSSIA’S ROBIN HOOD – HE TAKES PHOSAGRO SHARES FROM THE RICH AND GIVES THEM TO HIMSELF

By John Helmer, Moscow

The Russian fertilizer oligarch Andrei Guriev (lead image) lives in less than seclusion in London in the largest house of that city except for the Queen’s residence at Buckingham Palace. In 2015 the running costs of Guriev’s establishment were large but stable. But it occurred to him that the prospects of war between Russia and the US were so serious, he ought to take more cash out of his London-listed Russian phosphate producer Phosagro, which had been running at a loss the year before. So Guriev arranged for a dividend payout of 80% of the 2015 profit of Rb36.4 billion – that was Rb29 billion (about $470 million).  The percentage grab was a Russian oligarch record.

Guriev runs  a family business. He is deputy chairman of the 8-man board; his son Andrei Junior is chief executive; his wife Yevgenia Gurieva holds a 4.82% shareholding in her own name; and through Cyprus companies the Gurievs own another 45.5%. Or they did until recently, when Guriev arranged the sale of 4.5% of his shares for the purpose, he declared to the stock market, of buying 2.7% from another shareholder.

Noone in Russia or the London market knows why Guriev did such a thing, or why it made commercial sense to do so – unless Guriev was doing what a market source says he has always done. “Maybe he’s the trustee and nominee shareholder for someone else, and selling for that shareholder, not for himself.”   Guriev’s supporters in the market claim the deal was intended to improve the liquidity and share value of the company. But the result was the opposite — in the time Guriev took for his back-to-back deal between January and March, the Phosagro share price fell 15%. (more…)

ANDREI MELNICHENKO AND ALEXANDER MASHKEVICH – ROUND-2 DECIDED IN WASHINGTON

DwB_1745

By John Helmer, Moscow

Andrei Melnichenko’s Eurochem group, one of Russia’s largest producers of fertilizers, has responded to a New York lawsuit this month from Alexander Mashkevich’s International Mineral Resources (IMR). Mashkevich is accusing Melnichenko of paying American agents to hack into his company computers, steal sensitive information, and promote litigation and propaganda damaging to Mashkevich and his companies’ reputations. Melnichenko says he has been vindicated.

In a press release issued in Moscow yesterday, Eurochem announced it has won “favourable decisions” from a US federal district court in Washington, DC, whose rulings followed a week after the IMR filed its accusations in the New York Supreme Court. Eurochem, its release says, “has obtained favorable judicial decisions in its legal dispute with a contractor retained for the construction of the cage shaft at the Group’s potash mining project in Russia’s Gremyachinskoe deposit. On November 17-18, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a series of decisions rejecting all allegations that the consulting expert hired by EuroChem-VolgaKaliy had engaged in unlawful information-gathering activity.” The contractor referred to in the judgement is Shaft Sinkers, an associated company of IMR under Mashkevich’s control.

The opening of the Washington court files, which had remained sealed or unreported for more than a year, also exposes a world of Washington lobbying and propaganda targeted at the Kazakhstan Government and President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
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SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS – ALEXANDER MASHKEVICH ASKS NEW YORK JURY TO FIND ANDREI MELNICHENKO GUILTY OF BAD REPUTE, HACKING AND MEDIA MANIPULATION

DwB_1742

By John Helmer, Moscow

Proof that oligarchs have more money than sense isn’t hard to come by. For a man with no business reputation left to lose in London to ask a jury in New York to judge his business rival to be a scoundrel is a proof that Alexander Mashkevich (lead image, with glasses), control shareholder of International Mineral Resources, is determined to test against Andrei Melnichenko (lead image, without glasses), owner of the Eurochem fertilizer group.

International Mineral Resources (IMR), a Dutch company owned by Mashkevich and his two partners, Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov, has been an offshoot of Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC). When ENRC was at the peak of its London Stock Exchange value, Mashkevich was worth over $3 billion. He’s down to less than $2 billion now, according to Forbes which doesn’t count liabilities. Melnichenko, whose debts are also not counted by Forbes, is reported to be worth over $8 billion. By the arithmetical rule, having four times more money than Mashkevich, Melnichenko should have one-quarter the common sense. Or is it the other way round?
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DUTCH COURT SINKS ANDREI MELNICHENKO, REVIVES SHAFT SINKERS

dutch_court

By John Helmer, Moscow

A court in The Netherlands has dismissed a fraud claim for more than $800 million by Andrei Melnichenko against Alexander Mashkevich and the two other Kazakh owners of International Mineral Resources for lack of evidence. The 11-page judgement was issued by the District Court of Amsterdam on June 25. Three judges, A.W.H. Vink, K.M. van Hassel, and R. Raat, signed the unanimous ruling.

International Mineral Resources (IMR) is registered in Amsterdam, and is owned by Mashkevich, Patokh Chodiev, and Alijan Ibragmiov, the controlling shareholders of Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC). The trio also hold a 48% stake in Shaft Sinkers (ShS), a South Africa-based, London-listed mine engineering company which specializes in building mine shafts. The lawsuit was initiated on March 25, 2013, by Melnichenko’s Volgograd-region potash mining subsidiary, EuroChem Volga-Kaliy LLC. This escalated the conflict between Melnichenko and Mashkevich, after they had failed in direct and indirect meetings to agree on compensation for the failure of Shaft Sinkers technology for one of the mineshafts at Eurochem’s newest potash mine, Gremyachinskoye, in the Volgograd region.
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IGOR SECHIN TO SULEIMAN KERIMOV — YOU’RE NOT A FERRARI, I’M NOT A PALM TREE

ferrari_tree

By John Helmer, Moscow

To the disability of being unable to speak his mind in public Suleiman Kerimov has the added handicap of being unable to accept how short his arms are, particularly when handling money from state banks. In overreaching himself Kerimov has provided a case study of how President Vladimir Putin expects the Russian oligarchy to conduct its business when state interests are at stake; and also of the continuing importance of former deputy prime minister Igor Sechin, now chief executive of the Rosneft oil company.

In July Kerimov got too big for his boots when he believed he had Kremlin support for upsetting the potash cartel known as the Belarusian Potash Company (BPC), directly threatening President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. The BPC, headquartered in Minsk since 2005, was a Russian creation — successor to a line of trading organizations for the concealment of potash sale profits with names like Ferchimex (Belgium), Bermont (Switzerland), Fertexim (Cyprus), and Uralkali Trading (Switzerland). All of them were the creation of the fertilizer, I mean fertile, mind of Dmitry Rybolovlev, whom Sechin drove out of the potash business in 2010, replacing him with Kerimov. Sechin failed to oust Rybolovlev’s trader, Oleg Petrov, who stayed on to teach Kerimov the tricks of the trade.
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GUNG-HO OR GUNG-HOOEY – WHAT DID ANDREI MELNICHENKO KNOW, OR FAIL TO KNOW, ABOUT THE KREMLIN PLAN FOR THE POTASH PRICE?

gung-ho

By John Helmer, Moscow

On December 7, 2012, Andrei Melnichenko (image right, right) told prospective buyers of $750 million in loan participation notes that he was gung-ho on the future of the potash business of his Eurochem group. For Eurochem — 92% owned by board chairman Melnichenko; 8% by chief executive Dmitry Strezhnev – potash was, still is, a brand-new line of business. But in a decade or so, Melnichenko told investors, he aimed to be number-1 for potash in Russia and in Europe; and for potash, nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers combined, close to number-1 in the world.

Apparently nothing stood in his way – not Uralkali, Russia’s current potash monopoly producer; nor Suleiman Kerimov (left, left), the control shareholder of Uralkali. Not Belaruskali, the state-owned potash monopoly of Belarus, nor Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Those four names don’t appear in the risk or strategy sections of Melnichenko’s investment prospectus, a copy of which has just fallen from a Eurochem truck. How he proposed to defeat such rivals the Eurochem prospectus didn’t even acknowledge as a problem. Can Melnichenko have been so unthinking as to expect his rivals to surrender their market positions and profits without a fight? Did Melnichenko take his bond buyers for dolts and boobies?
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THE POTASH COLLAPSE – KREMLIN DECLARES TAKEOVER WAR ON ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO AND ANDREI MELNICHENKO

potash_hammer

By John Helmer, Moscow

Uralkali, Russia’s potash monopoly, has been spending heavily for months – more than $1.3 billion — not so much to buy back its free-floating shares, as to let its control shareholders escape. The cash has come from new bondholders and from state banks, Sberbank and VTB. Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs have played along helpfully, too.

Since Tuesday, July 30, we know why. That’s the day Uralkali announced to the rest of its shareholders that it was leaving the Belarusian Potash Company (BPC), the long-time export joint venture with Belaruskali, the Belarusian producer, and abandoning production and marketing control in order to support the potash price above $400 per tonne. In short, bye bye BPC — hello potash at $200 per tonne.
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ANDREI MELNICHENKO GOES TO THE PRECIPICE, RISKING EUROCHEM FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA, AND HIMSELF

melnichenko_putin

By John Helmer, Moscow

It’s been three years almost to the day since Vladimir Putin (left), then Russian Prime Minister, visited the Gremyachinskoye potash mine in southwestern Volgograd region.

The mine, the newest in construction in Russia, with one of the country’s largest potash reserves, and one of the most costly ever to be built, is owned by Eurochem. This nitrogen, phosphorus and potash fertilizer company is already, the company’s website proclaims, number-1 in Russia, number-3 in Europe, and number-10 in the world. According to its owner, Eurochem aims to be number-5 in the world once Gremyachinskoye starts operating. Eurochem is 92.2% owned by Andrei Melnichenko (right), who is also chairman of the company board. But Melnichenko was nowhere to be seen when Putin visited his property. Instead, Putin was hosted by Eurochem’s chief executive Dmitry Strezhnev. He is Melnichenko’s placeman. Strezhnev owns 7.8% of the Eurochem shares through an offshore equity and trade proceeds scheme which Melnichenko controls in Cyprus, the British Virgin Islands, and Switzerland.
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DMITRY RYBOLOVLEV FINDS THE CASH TO BUY THE MOST EXPENSIVE APARTMENT IN NEW YORK

By John Helmer, Moscow

In the interior designer trade, there is a standard known inside Russia and the world over as the vomit test.

The World of Interiors usually passes; Architectural Digest often fails. This isn’t what it sounds like – no disparagement intended of the design or designer as such. No Sirree. The test is simply whether the design portrayed is so crowded, with so many different and overlapping patterns, that if you vomited, noone would notice.
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US BANKS LEFT PHOSAGRO TO ITS FATE — THAT’S RESURRECTION AS A RUSSIAN NATIONAL CHAMPION

By John Helmer, Moscow

Two US banks named in May by Phosagro as mandated arrangers of its initial public offering (IPO) walked away from the share sale attempt after finding little interest among international investors to buy the shares from Phosagro’s owner, Andrei Guriev. The Americans also had problems with verifying how Guriev came into possession of the property he is selling — what one American bank source today calls “the shadow of Yukos”.
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PHOSAGRO SPILLS THE BEANS AS IPO PROSPECTUS LEAKS

By John Helmer, Moscow

If Phosagro, one of Russia’s leading phosphate miners and exporters, were a Mom and Pop store, the release this morning of the 441-page prospectus reveals that Mom Gurieva and Pop Guriev are selling a good part of the family jewels for cash. The only other seller of shares for the initial public offering (IPO) now under way in London is Maxim Volkov, 39, the chief executive since 2009; he is selling his entire 1% stake.
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IS THAT RUSSIAN RISK MONEY WAVING GOODBYE, OR GOING SHORT ON COMMODITIES?

By John Helmer, Moscow

In The Long Good-Bye, private detective Philip Marlowe says of the snob column in the newspapers, “I don’t read them often, only when I run out of things I dislike.” Some people feel that way about the weekly report from Emerging Portfolio Fund Research(EPFR). That is the Boston outfit which tracks the flow of investor funds into and out of emerging market destinations in the aggregate (GEM, EMEA), and in particular countries.

The bad news, out today in EPFR’s bulletin and Uralsib Bank’s weekly analysis, is that outflow of investor cash in Russian stocks and funds hit a record this week of $298 million. This was a big turnaround from the previous week’s positive inflow; though it makes just a small dent in the total flow inward to Russia since January 1 of $3.5 billion.
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POTASH CHAMPION IN THE SKY – WHO ARE THE WISEGUYS KIDDING?

By John Helmer, Moscow

This is the season for believing.

But less than a fortnight ago, one of the three wise men in the picture – left to right, Filaret Galchev, Alexander Nesis, Suleiman Kerimov – was saying aloud (privately) that the problems of satisfying stakeholders in the proposed Russian potash consolidation were so complicated, he couldn’t hazard a guess on how they would be resolved, except slowly – very slowly. This evening, even with his feet up and noone else listening in, he says he still doesn’t know how the announcement of the merger between Uralkali and Silvinit was finalized yesterday, or even whether it has been finalized.
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THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS – HARRY POTTER IS THE ONLY FOREIGNER ALLOWED TO LOOK INSIDE (BUT THAT’S KIDSTUFF)

By John Helmer, Moscow

Deep inside the Russian government there is a chamber of secrets where officials have gathered just eight times since April 29, 2008, the day when then-President Vladimir Putin signed the law that created the chamber. The law was entitled “On Procedures for Foreign Investments in Business Entities of Strategic Importance for National Defence and State Security”; for short, Law № 57-FZ. The chamber is called the Government Commission for Control of Foreign Investment in the Russian Federation, the Control Commission for short (aka the Government Commission).
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RUSSIANS ENTER THE BIDDING FOR POTASH CORPORATION – TARGET IS THE BIG AUSTRALIAN, BUT CAN THE BEAR’S TUNE BE SWEETER TO CANADIAN EARS?

By John Helmer, Moscow

The Kremlin is thinking of bidding against Australia’s BHP Billiton (BHP) for control of Canada’s leading potash producer, Potash Corporation. But those promoting the bid in Moscow won’t say why they believe the Canadian government should agree to a takeover which the Russians admit they would ask Russia’s Control Commission for Foreign Investment to refuse, if the positions were reversed.
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CONSOLATION PRIZE FOR OUSTED OLIGARCH — RYBOLOVLEV GETS HIS AIRFORCE BACK FOR $130 MILLION

By John Helmer in Moscow

Even in ignominy or retirement, a big boy’s toys are worth playing with.

Uralkali is Russia’s dominant producer of potash fertilizer and will soon merge with Silvinit to become the national potash champion, according to a government scheme first reported here on June 15. At the time, the head of investor relations for Uralkali, Anna Batarina, called this report disreputable nonsense.
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CRUMBS FROM THE OLIGARCHS’ TABLE – URALKALI SOLD AT CONCEALED PRICE, ON HIDDEN TERMS, WITH SECRET SCHEME TO CREATE A RUSSIAN POTASH MONOPOLY

By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian public companies are special, and public shareholders are the last to know. But when Suleiman Kerimov is engaged in a deal, you can be certain of knowing one thing — nothing is what it seems. The brokerages egging the market on today to buy Uralkali shares at a premium, on the ground that Kerimov has just done so, are misled. The controlling shareholder of Uralkali has just been obliged to sell at a discount.
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URALCHEM IPO FAILS ON IMPACT OF LONDON MARKET REGULATOR — NEW PRECEDENT FOR RUSSIAN CORPORATE DISCLOSURE – IS THAT MORGAN STANLEY AND UBS GETTING NAILED?

By John Helmer in Moscow

The first major Russian corporation to attempt to issue shares on the London Stock Exchange since the 2008 crisis has now failed, after the UK Financial Services Authority (FSA) opened an investigation into Dmitry Mazepin’s fertilizer holding Uralchem.

Undisclosed shareholders; a mysterious $200 million share transaction involving insiders; and inadequate financial disclosure by the company and its auditor, are among the problems newly revealed to the FSA in a 59-page complaint lodged by the Brown Rudnick law firm on April 26.
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THE MAZEPIN CHOICE – IS THIS A ONE-MAN BAND PLAYING OUT OF TUNE, OR A PRETTY GIRL REVEALING ALL (ALMOST)?

By John Helmer in Moscow

If you can peer through the volcanic dust, you can tell it’s spring again for the world’s farmers and global feed and food grain production. So naturally the Russian fertilizer companies, which have been one-man bands until now, are thinking of coming back to the stock markets. The first to try out is Uralchem, owned by Dmitry Mazepin, which issued its prospectus for a London Stock Exchange share sale on April 19.

A 40% bloc of shares is for sale to raise between $496 million and $642 million, according to Uralchem’s target. But as one-man bands go, mark analysts who have read the offer document, it’s out of tune with the market realities.
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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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