The reason for rising discontent among Russians is obvious – except to the Anglo-American and German press and the governments prompting them. All Russians know this except for the young living at home, dependent on their family’s income.
The prices for the food in the family grocery basket have been rising sharply since last September. From the start of January, however, Russians have had less income, and they have been forced to spend significantly less on their consumption needs. In the last week of January, their spending was 20% less than the week before; 14% less than the same week a year ago. On current forecasts for food prices and income to the start of spring, the pinch is going to get worse. Everyone in Russia understands this, except the young sitting in front of computer screens and smartphones studying virtually; messaging on the well-known platforms; playing internet games.
The level of influence of Alexei Navalny’s campaign since he began the Novichok operation in August, which he has now transformed into his imprisonment campaign, has had no significant impact to his benefit among Russians – except among a minority of the young. Overall, the measured change in public approval for Navalny over this period – from 4% to 5% in five months — is within the margin for statistical error. He is an internet game, a statistical blip.
The Russian potato is a hot potato politically for President Vladimir Putin. Much hotter than Alexei Navalny, and for a genuine, homegrown reason.
The Russian potato harvest suffered its worst fall last year since 2010. And the political chips will fall just as they did before – the public approval rating for the president, as well for government ministers, is falling. The outcome in the State Duma election of 2011 was a swing against United Russia, the government party, of 15%; the swings in favour of the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party were 8% and 12% apiece. That was the worst electoral rebuff Putin has suffered since he started in the year 2000.
Russian voters are like everyone else the world over. They blame hoarders and speculators when the price of staples starts to jump, and then government corruption for failing to stop them. In January, compared to a year ago, the wholesale price of potatoes was up 75%. And it is getting worse. By April, the wholesale price is expected to grow by another 20%. Between now and next September, when the parliamentary election will be held, Putin must solve the potato problem.
Vkusville sounds half Russian, half French. Piquant, you might say – пикантный.
The name can be translated into English as Taste Town. But for the name of a new chain of food stores this sounds so hackneyed that in your average American or British town you would expect to find there all the sugarised, carbohydratised, and preservatised foodstuffs in the brand-name packages you can find everywhere else in the civilised, genetomodified world. So if you have the money to indulge your appetite, you would leave the cliché store to the plebs to patronise. Not you, nor the bourgeoisie in general.
Moscow is quite different; but not because it doesn’t have an unequal distribution of income, a class of plebians below, a bourgeois class above, and a power elite above them, each with their distinguishing consumer and shopping ideology. That hierarchy of class taste has been the most enduring import from the US, and the most effective NATO strike across the Russian frontier, since Mikhail Gorbachev first invited it; Boris Yeltsin accelerated it; and Vladimir Putin – well, that’s another story.
Not because of him, however, but because of the economic and propaganda warfare waged against all Russians by the US, UK, German and French governments since 2014, Vkusville stands for the taste for Russian independence; for the revival of national (Soviet) foods; and for the rejection of everything the globalised food industry has been selling to Russia. The outcome in Moscow – also growing in St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kaluga, Bryansk, Tula and Voronezh — is the chain of specialty food shops calling themselves Vkusville. Since 2012, they have multiplied in just eight years to more than one thousand two hundred, with a revenue in 2019 of Rb82.5 billion ($1.3 billion). That’s an annual growth rate of 51%. Profit for last year came to Rb3 billion ($47 million) – that was an increase over 2018 of 163%.
A year ago, Vkusville advertised these numbers to New York investment banks in the hope of selling part of the Russian shareholder’s stake in the business to the Nasdaq stock market – for a healthy number of dollars.
It’s an old tsarist ploy. When government officials grow fearful of public protests, attacks on the authorities, and rioting, they increase the volume of alcohol for sale but decrease the number of places where drinkers can gather in public.
Vodka is the opium of the people: this has been the Russian adaptation of Karl Marx’s observation about religion; that was in 1843, long before Marx got acquainted with how things worked in Russia. The way things now work, starting in St Petersburg this month, the opium of the people is banned by a new law from being sold in establishments of less than 50 square metres in floor space; the legal space is even smaller in other regions. This control measure may suit police and priests. But the real benefit will be earned by the large retailers of take-away alcohol, and the large bar and restaurant chains.
“This law will have low influence on the amount of alcohol sales in St. Petersburg, because alcohol sold in bars is only 5% of the total sold,” observes Vadim Drobiz, director of the Centre for Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets (TsIFRRA). “But it will have a great influence on the culture of drinking. In Europe, the US and other Western countries, pubs and bars are usually places for meetings of friends, and the bar culture has a unique history. That’s why the [corona virus] pandemic is a big blow for them there. In Russia the number of pubs and bars is five times less than abroad. But instead of increasing the number of such places, St. Petersburg is now aiming to decrease it. That’s some kind of retrogression.”
“The United Russia party in St. Petersburg insists on the new restrictions in order to increase public order. But if people aren’t drinking in pubs, they will move to homes, yards, parks, so the situation with public order will become even worse. The police didn’t want to control the situation with pubs. Now they’ll have to control it in other places, and it will be more difficult.
Who will profit? “Large business,” responds Drobiz, “especially the retailers who focus on alcohol, and the big bars. St. Petersburg won’t lose much in tax income, because the consumers will shift to other sources of alcohol, but lots of small and medium businesses will be closed.”
Kirill Maistrov, who owns and runs the Docker Pub in St. Petersburg, says: “Everyone is trying to make money out of the pandemic before the controls are lifted. This is nothing more than a market-share grab by the big retailers.”
This is the Bangsamoro banana, and somebody is slipping on it.
On April 4 two young business partners, a Russian named Lev Dengov and a Turkmen, Merdan Gurbanov, with no known source of capital or past business record, signed an agreement to invest almost $600 million in the Bangsamoro region of the Philippines island of Mindanao. Their agreement commits them to creating one of the largest plantations on the island to grow bananas and pineapples for export; the development of the regional port of Polloc for storing and shipping the fruit; and the supply of Russian fertilizers to Filipino planters.
Presiding at the agreement signing was Emmanuel Piñol, the Agriculture Secretary and minister in charge in the Philippines Government. Two weeks later, Piñol publicized the extraordinary deal to the Russian press. Since then, however, he refuses to say how the deal was arranged; where the money will be coming from; and how the investment will be protected in an area which has been a battleground between government forces and Islamic secession movements for the past fifty years.
Dengov and Gurbanov have also gone incommunicado, leaving behind them a trail of plans for corporate registrations around the world, a six-month old company on the register of UK Companies House; and a prospectus for a $400 million investment in a self-service crypto-currency payment system in Russia and the CIS states.
Planters Products Incorporated (PPI), the Filipino fertilizer importer which signed in the deal with Piñol, Dengov and Gurbanov, has cut off its telephone line; its executives don’t answer their emails.
Five of the leading banana importers to Russia, which source most of their fruit from Central and South America, won’t say what they know about the Bangsamoro Banana project, or even if they think a new scheme of importing bananas and pineapples from the Philippines might be commercially viable at any price. (more…)
Alcoholics have ruled Russia in the past, but for the first time in Russian history a producer of alcohol, a winemaker, is running for president in the March election.
Boris Titov, owner of Abrau-Durso whose shares are listed on the Moscow stock exchange, is careful to avoid speaking to the voters about what he knows best. If elected president, is Titov intending to make alcohol cheaper, or more expensive, he was asked ahead of the launch of his campaign last month. Does he propose to raise or lower the price of beer, wine and vodka by increasing or cutting state excise taxes?
Titov replied through a spokesman: “He will not discuss alcohol taxes. There are no plans concerning alcohol regulation in his programme.” Supporting him, and one of the advisors to Titov’s “Party of Growth”, is Alexander Mechetin, owner of the Beluga vodka brand, and one of the four vodka oligarchs who dominate the Russian vodka market (lead image, 1st left; to right, Rustam Tariko; Andrei Strelets; Vasily Anisimov).
The reason for their sensitivity isn’t political. On current polling of Russian voter choice, Titov will be lucky to draw one percent of the vote on March 18. There isn’t a temperance constituency in Russia to appeal to. Promising heavier taxes on alcohol will upset poor drinkers, hurt legal producers, and encourage an increase in the tax-evading trade in samogon (moonshine) and alcohol substitutes, which cause alcohol poisoning. Titov and Mechetin, like the other commercial alcohol producers, as well as the Republic of Tatarstan, currently the biggest volume producer of vodka in the country, say they want the alcohol market to stabilize at the current level of tax, while they produce and sell more alcohol domestically, as well as to the international vodka market. They are looking to the federal government to use police methods to crack down on illegal, untaxed alcohol plants, while motivating regions like Tartarstan to deter the illegal trade by keeping in the region as much of the tax as they can collect.
Titov the winemaker isn’t going to spill the vodka bottle. Nor will any other candidate for the Russian presidency. (more…)
President Vladimir Putin is the bee’s knees. There’s noone to beat him, electionwise. But when it comes to feeding Russians the genuine article, Putin’s promise is a honey trap. Naturally, we are talking only of the business of Russian beekeeping, honey production and trade.
Eighteen months after Putin listened to a Kemerovo region beekeeper complain that adulterated and counterfeit honey products imported from abroad were driving genuine Russian honey out of the market, the president said he would order the government to investigate. The study which followed early this year has confirmed the economic damage adulteration is doing to the Russian bee business, and proposed to combat it with tighter regulations and more comprehensive testing. But the packers and retailers of fake honey have successfully lobbied Putin to sit on his hands. Nothing has happened – except that Russian production of honey is now falling. .
“The share of Russian natural honey on the domestic market used to be 94%,” says Arnold Butov, president of the Russian National Union of Beekeepers (RNSP). “ But this is decreasing. Some organizations and enterprises make honey with additives to increase the weight and sweetness of the product, making it easier to pour. These products are becoming more popular among consumers, and retailers prefer them to natural honey. We tried to appeal to the responsible governmental organizations, but were ignored. Someone there is lobbying the interests of retailers. The Bashkiria Republic government supports its honey producers very well. That can’t be said about the federal government, where control of honey production is very weak. We are writing a letter to President Putin in order to demonstrate the problems, and we hope that before 2021, when Apimondia, the international federation of beekeepers’ associations, is scheduled to convene at Ufa, in Bashkiria, some of these problems will be solved.” (more…)
Medovukha, Russia’s fermented honey drink known in English as mead, is at least one thousand years old. If it’s what the Greeks meant by ambrosia, the nectar of the gods, then it is as ancient as wine, Dionysos’s tipple. Whether Rurik the Viking* brought mead with him to ancient Rus, or whether it was there already, is uncertain. What is sure is that after a revival of the Russian taste for medovukha multiplied consumption between 2011 and 2015 by sixteen times, the Finance Ministry in Moscow decided this year to tax it into extinction, destroying its own excise revenue from the drink at the same time.
In April President Vladimir Putin publicly called this “not very fair”, and promised to do something to relieve the mead brewers. He hasn’t.
There’s no Viking, no oligarch to defend mead. Gennady Timchenko, the president’s crony according to the US Treasury sanctions list, is an investor in wine. So is LUKoil owner, Vagit Alekperov. Oleg Deripaska’s agricultural business produces tea and cider. Vladimir Yevtushenkov is also a cider man. Vasily Anisimov sells Putinka; he’s the oligarch for vodka.
The wife of Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev owns a vineyard. Boris Titov, the ombudsman for Russian small business, owns Abrau-Durso, the only Russian winemaker listed on the stock exchange. This year, Titov’s company has been setting a share price record so Titov has been growing richer than he’s ever been. Mead is too small a business for Titov to care for a slice of it. (more…)
Johnny Appleseed, an eighteenth century nurseryman and orchardist, is honoured in his American homeland for being a patriotic soldier in the war against the British, and for going barefooted in the mission of Jesus Christ to convert the native Indians, whose tribal lands he enriched with apple nurseries. It’s the job he did for apples that has given him his nickname. When he died, his estate amounted to 490 hectares of apple orchards.
What is less well-known is that because grafting was against Johnny’s religious conviction, the apples he produced were prone to disease and good only for pressing into alcoholic cider, sauce for roast pork, and baked apple-pies. In Russia the first two are unheard of. Porvidlo (Повидло) and charlotte (Яблочная шарлотка), puree and pies, are the next best thing, applewise. (more…)
The Russian government this week fired a new shot across the bows of New Zealand, one of the Obama Administration’s staunchest allies in the Pacific and on the Ukraine and Syrian warfronts.
Starting on Monday next, February 6, imports of New Zealand beef will be banned by the Russian Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor, RSN). The results of testing by RSN confirmed “numerous identifications of bacteria of the Listeria monocytogenes type.” In addition, traces of the prohibited hormone growth additive ractopamine had been detected in NZ beef offal. Accordingly, RSN said, it was commencing “temporary restrictions on deliveries to Russia of beef and beef offal from New Zealand”; the offal is a common ingredient in Russian sausage manufacture. The announcement from RSN added: “Rosselkhoznadzor also considers the possibility of entering of temporary restrictions on import from New Zealand to Russia of fish products, in connection with numerous identifications in consignments of New Zealand fish of bacteria of Listeria monocytogenes type, and higher than admissible levels of mercury.”
NZ lamb and mutton exports to Russia have not been mentioned by RSN, and are not affected for the time being.
The threatened ban on NZ fish is not new. The threat was first announced last October 5, days after the NZ prime minister at the time, John Key, issued a public insult to President Vladimir Putin, and attacked Russian policy in the Ukraine and Syria. Read the full story here.
Weeks later, on December 4 Key announced his surprise retirement. NZ press reports claimed that Key’s wife had forced the move, not Putin. (more…)
A lucky man can stumble upon a treasure, runs an old Russian proverb; an unlucky one can’t even find a mushroom. If he does find a mushroom, Lewis Carroll’s account of Alice in Wonderland added a problematic choice: eating one side of the mushroom may dwarf you; eating the other may turn you into a giant. The blue caterpillar didn’t make clear to Alice which side was which.
Investing in Russian mushroom farming to replace imports is the same – your money could go either way. Especially if, as the new mushroom farmers of Moscow and St. Petersburg are finding out, they grow low-cost, high-margin oyster mushrooms, which Russians haven’t thought of collecting from the forest, or considered paying money to eat before.
For the moment, the case of the oyster mushroom is being called patriotic import substitution. But if the mushroom entrepreneurs are calculating that war conditions in Russia will be extended for years, continuing to diminish most Russians’ buying power and their ability to eat meat for protein, then mushroom protein for sale may be a new form of war profiteering, financed out of the state budget. (more…)
The privations of war and the taste for oysters don’t usually go in the same direction. Two years into the new war, the problem now for Russian oyster farmers is that if they aren’t careful, they may harvest not just plenty of home-grown oysters to replace imports within a year or two. They may also produce far more oysters than Russian consumers can afford to eat. If that happens, it will be the Russian oyster farmers and investors along the Black Sea shore who will suffer. (more…)
The soybean is an edible legume native to East Asia. For Russians
that means it’s a native of Siberia. Eighteen months ago, President Vladimir Putin declared Russian soybeans to be the best in the world.
The president was on a tour of the Russian Far East, the region of the country where most Russian soybeans are grown. He promised to increase federal budget support to accelerate the rate of growth of the soybean harvest until Russia can become self-sufficient in soybeans, and do without imports from the world’s two largest sources, the US and Brazil. The Russian harvest has been breaking records, but for the time being, it is far short of the domestic requirement. Can the annual import volume of two million tonnes – roughly one-half of consumer demand, and equal to the domestic harvest – be grown at home, and how quickly? (more…)
For Russians to eat as much cheese as they want, there aren’t enough cows in Russia, and too many palm trees in Malaysia. The impact of year-old sanctions in cutting off the flow of imported cheese from Russia’s suppliers in Europe is to stimulate the production of domestic cheese. But at the same time Russian cheesemakers face a lack of raw milk supplies. To feed the market, palm oil is being used instead for products the Russian dairy industry is calling fake. If the Russian milk supply is to match rising demand, then Russian farmers and traders say the government must subsidize the cost of domestic milk production and deter palm-oil substitution.
“Adulteration by palm oil and bad politics behind sanctions have produced an impossible position for the dairy producers,” says an independent dairy farmer near Moscow. “Today we cannot produce enough affordable cheese for the masses! In provincial supermarkets and shops pseudo-cheese is being sold at Rb500 to Rb600 a kilo. This is impossible when the average supermarket insists on its mark-up of 100%. For one kilo of genuine cheese you need 10 to 11 litres of milk. That means a minimum cost for one kilo of cheese of Rb300 – and that’s just the cost of the milk.” (more…)
The largest retailers in Russia are achieving revenue and profit growth at the same time as Russian consumers are suffering from falling wages, higher prices, and loss of confidence, which has dwindled to lows not recorded for the past twenty years. How the expansion of the retail business is made possible by the squeeze of its customers is a paradox which the supermarket companies themselves, many of them publicly listed shareholding groups, don’t want to discuss in public.
There’s an even more secret paradox. The biggest of the foreign retailers in Russia – Auchan, Metro, Ikea, and Kingfisher (Castorama) – are nationals of countries whose governments have gone to war with Russia, imposing the sanctions which have triggered the Russian economy’s current contraction. But in a series of interviews attempted this week in Moscow, the spokesmen for these foreign groups don’t want to acknowledge that they are profiting at the expense of their domestic rivals. What they fear, retail sector analysts say off the record, is that the Kremlin will introduce legislation to require an increase in the domestic sourcing of retailer supplies. That would be good for Russia, but bad for the German, French, Swedish and British groups. (more…)
Oleg Deripaska, control shareholder and chief executive of the Russian state aluminium monopoly Rusal, hasn’t exactly made a positive rate of return for Asian investors. In fact, share-buyers at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange are likely to conclude that he’s made a hash of every venture he’s tried to bring to that particular market.
Starting with Rusal, the first Russian corporate issue on the Hong Kong exchange, the share dropped 8% on its debut in January 2010, and the company has subsequently lost more than half its initial capitalization. Why then should Deripaska risk his reputation and asset value again with a fresh offer to Asian investors, particularly the Chinese? Answer: he has no reputation and little asset value left to lose. (more…)
War, devaluation, and recession aren’t usually something to drink champagne to. So it was inevitable that Abrau-Durso, Russia’s only champagne house listed on the stock exchange, would suffer.
When President Vladimir Putin told the leadership of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on Thursday that “the situation cannot remain like this forever. It will change, for the better I hope,” he wasn’t exactly raising a toast in bubbly. The situation, added Putin, “will not change for the better if we succumb and yield at every step. It will only change for the better if we become stronger.”
Abrau-Durso has an anti-crisis strategy. This is to expand its vineyards; substitute home-grown for imports of wine-making materials from South Africa, Chile, and southern Europe; reduce costs and the sale price of each bottle; sell more wine at a lower margin of profit; combat what Abrau-Durso executives regretfully call “contempt for Russian wine.” (more…)
If you think Russia’s food supply is crashing under the impact of international sanctions because that’s what the Obama Administration is telling its media, think again. This week’s reported panic over the staple buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum, groats, grits, гречневая крупа) is a figment. (more…)
It is easier to know what’s inside a McDonald’s hamburger than inside the corporation’s financial accounts. That’s because the type font on the internet version of the corporation’s financial reports is so small, a magnifying-glass is required at the computer screen to decipher the text; even then computer programming by McDonald’s prevents copying the text. But a magnifying-glass cannot uncover the current financial condition of McDonald’s in Russia. Those numbers are entirely hidden, and McDonald’s spokesmen refuse to say what the company’s Russian sales revenues are, and how fast they are falling. (more…)
Boris Titov (centre) has proposed the revival of Crimean winemaking with at least $20 million in state budget funds each year for the next five. If everything goes according to his plan, the outcome by the end of 2019 will be a state winemaking corporation, ripe for privatization, with 140,000 hectares of vines producing a bumper harvest not seen since the Soviet Union. Even that is less than half the area of vineyards required to support the growing Russian consumption of wine, particularly of the champagne type.
Titov, whose official post in the Russian government is Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights, is the owner of Abrau-Durso through Abrau Durso Group Limited of Cyprus, and Solvalub Trading Ltd., a company registered on the Channel Island of Jersey. Abrau-Durso is one of Russia’s leading winemakers, producing premium-priced sparkling and still white wines and reds. For the archive on Abrau-Durso, read this. (more…)
The Russian government commenced its counter-sanctions programme a month ago, on August 7. This extended what had been a quarter-billion dollar loss for Australian meat exporters, beginning on March 31, to more than $7 billion in losses for the European Union plus Canada and Norway. In a briefing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev implied that the sanctions were a sorry tit-for-tat for the sanctions already imposed on Russia. “This retaliation wasn’t easy for us. We were forced into it, but even under these conditions, we’re sure we’ll be able to turn things to our benefit.”
That explains why Poland is at the top, along with Australia, the US, Canada, the Netherlands, even Denmark, home of the noisiest anti-Russian outside Ukraine, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, ex-prime minister of Denmark and outgoing secretary-general of NATO. The story of what the Australians did to deserve the counterpunch can be read here. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (lead image) and his wife, Anne Applebaum, have been echoing Rasmussen’s claims from NATO headquarters, hoping to land themselves in his job, and or the European Union’s foreign ministry. The story of how they failed, leaving Poland’s apple-growers and other exporters with the bill, can be read here. (more…)
Russian dairy producers have filed for protection from pseudo-cheese exported in growing volumes from Ukraine through customs checkpoints in the Belgorod region. According to Soyuzmoloko, the Russian dairy producers’ association, Ukrainian exporters have been cutting their cheese shipments across the border, and more than doubling the volume of the substitutes, camouflaging the switch with identical packaging and false labelling.
Conventional customs inspection cannot distinguish between cheese manufactured from dairy fats and fakes made out of vegetable oil. So Soyuzmoloko has applied to the Kremlin to install specialized testing units at border checkpoints, and to introduce a new labelling regulation to identify the vegetable oil substitution. An application to the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) – the rule-making executive of the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan — was filed on June 25 to impose protective duties against all Ukrainian cheese, pseudo-cheese, and other dairy product imports ranging from 25% to 35%. (more…)
Stealth warfare against the Russian economy may be encouraging capital outflows, but for Russians on the home front, glasses are still being raised with a growing volume of sparkling wine or champagne going down the hatch. Abrau-Durso, the only Russian winemaker listed on a public stock exchange, is also going up, and like the bubbles, defying threats from Washington.
Even if falling consumer incomes and worsening economic prospects threaten the rate of growth in Russian consumption, Russia is “still the most promising country in the world for the consumption of wine products,” declares Vadim Drobiz, director of the Centre for Research on Federal and Regional Markets for Alcohol (TsIFRRA) in Moscow. “This remains the fact even if the entire world is tired of wine, and economic crisis is pushing down on consumption. Seventy years ago, in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, and Chile annual wine consumption was between 120 and 150 litres per capita. Now they drink 40 litres. In principle, this decline will continue, as wine is replaced by beer and strong alcohol. In 1985 in Russia, we consumed 21 litres, but now 4.5. We’ve declined by almost five times over the 25 years. Although the figures have been even lower: in 1995 the consumption was 3 litres of wine per capita. So we are improving since then.” (more…)
The Australian Government has decided not to exclude President Vladimir Putin from the summit meeting of the G-20 heads of government scheduled for Brisbane in November. The move to withdraw the entry ban, first declared on March 19, is too late to prevent the restoration of Australia’s $200 million beef export trade to Russia. According to importers in Moscow, the orders for that meat are now going to several South American countries. Imports of pork, veal and turkey from the US, banned by Russia for more than a year, have been revived. (more…)
Australian meat imports to Russia have been banned by an order of the Russian veterinary and phyto-sanitary service, Rosselkhoznadzaor (RSN). The order was issued on March 31, and halts a trade which earned Australian meat exporters almost $200 million last year. The Russian action came twelve days after the Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, announced that President Vladimir Putin may be banned from entering Australia to attend the G20 summit meeting, scheduled in Brisbane in November.
The RSN announced that it has found traces of a growth hormone or steroid called Trenbolone, first in chilled Australian beef, then in beef offal, and now in frozen beef. RSN official Alexei Alexeyenko said the comprehensive ban was imposed after RSN judged that certifications from the Australian government’s veterinary authorities could not be trusted. This followed negotiations between RSN and their Australian counterparts between December and February, and after the Australians had given fresh undertakings. According to Sergei Dankvert, the head of RSN, the Australians had promised to exclude from their exports to Russia meat with trenbolone traces, but this hasn’t happened. (more…)
The assets of Petro Poroshenko, frontrunner in the Ukrainian presidential election called for May 25, are facing growing pressure in Crimea and mainland Russia.
If US and French Government proposals now in discussion in Brussels expand anti-Russian sanctions to strike at the offshore assets of Russian oligarchs, Poroshenko is likely to be targeted for retaliation, and lose the Bogdan auto assembly and sales outlets in Crimea; the Sevmorverf shipyard in Sevastopol; Roshen confectionery plants in Lipetsk; and roughly half the Roshen group’s trading revenues. The Crimean assets are relatively small in value. The Lipetsk assets have been estimated by Roshen to have cost more than $100 million. About $80 million, half the Roshen group’s annual sale revenues, is accounted for by Poroshenko’s exports to Russia. (more…)
Would you buy a used car from David Bonderman (lead image), Dmitry Shvets, and Jan Dunning if you knew they registered their businesses in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Cayman Islands, and Bahamas; kept their takings out of their companies and in their pockets; and were more heavily indebted to the state than any of their competitors?
Bonderman is one of the principals of the TPG Group, an equity investment fund in San Francisco; Shvets works for him as the head of TPG’s Moscow office; and Dunning, a Dutchman, is chief executive of Lenta, a Russian supermarket and hypermarket operator. Together, they are trying to sell their shares on Lenta’s second attempt at an initial public offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange (LSE). The story of the failure of their first attempt can be read here. This time, they are more confident of selling about one in five of Lenta’s shares and pocketing about $1 billion for themselves. Unlike most Russian IPOs in the international market, not a penny of this share sale will be invested in the future of Lenta’s business. (more…)
There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to pork sausage. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our profitability.
If Europeans do that, it’s classical from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. If Russians do it, it’s trade war. Oleg Tyagnibok, the Ukrainian oppositionist whom the US Government is promoting into power in Kiev, hasn’t been asked yet what he thinks of the Russian ban on European pork imports. But he’s bound to blame the “Moscow-Jewish mafia” because he’s blamed them before, though not exactly for trying to enforce the kosher code. (more…)
Oligarchy versus democracy is a very old game, and so are the seven deadly sins. Why exactly men like Vladimir Potanin, Mikhail Prokhorov, Alisher Usmanov, Andrei Melnichenko et al. should calculate that advertising their standard of living should help them keep it is difficult to say. Maybe their pockets are under better control than their appetites. Maybe they believe that advertising profligacy will boost the accounting of their net worth and stave off margin calls.
That’s the point the ancient Athenians grasped with conviction. It’s the point of many of Plato’s and Socrates’s dialogues; of the comedies of Aristophanes; and of the records of the Athens law courts which have come down to us. To those Greeks, if a man displayed an excess of money, or what he did with it – by eating, drinking, betting, having sex, bejewelling his body, house, slaves, children, wives — he was by that very fact to be suspected of a crime against the democracy. The Athenian judgement was both retrospective and prospective: spending money intemperately was evidence that it had been too easily (dishonestly) earned. It was also evidence that state policy (investment, tax, war) would be corruptly influenced to serve such oligarchs’ material and personal interests, to the loss of everyone else. (more…)
It is quite clear that the Russian Government objects to an international agreement to stop fishing for the Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. What is far from clear is why.
On the surface, the Russian fleet caught just 522 tonnes of the species from the Ross Sea last year; at the current wholesale price of between $10 and $11 per kilogram – and depending on how the fish is labelled in Japanese and American markets – that may be worth between $5 and $6 million. That isn’t much, but it may be a lot of money for the small Russian fishing fleets operating in the area. Commercially, it is dwarfed by the pollock catch of Russia’s fareastern fishing fleet in the North Pacific. In a 2011 study of Russia’s wild fish catch by the Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture, it was noted that growth in the annual volume of the catch has been rapid, but toothfish wasn’t even mentioned. According to the official Antarctic catch data, in that year Russia took just 455 tonnes of toothfish – 11% of the total Antarctic toothfish volume, but an infinitesimal fraction of Russia’s wild fish catch worldwide. (more…)
The report last week of an abrupt ban on kangaroo imports to Russia, issued on July 25, concluded with the statement by Rosselkhoznadzor (RSN), the government’s veterinary and phytosanitary inspectorate, that there had been no phytosanitary problem with the meat, and that with guarantees RSN will negotiate with the Australian exporter, the ban might be lifted.
The Australian exporter, Macro Meats, has reacted with the hope that negotiations with RSN will achieve this outcome soon. (more…)
Agatha Christie’s whodunit entitled And Then There Were None – the concluding words of the children’s counting rhyme — is reputed to be the world’s best-selling mystery story.
There’s no mystery now about the war of Europe and North America against Russia; it is the continuation of Germany’s war of 1939-45 and the war aims of the General Staff in Washington since 1943. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and President Vladimir Putin (right) both said it plainly enough this week.
There is also no mystery in the decision-making in Moscow of the President and the Defense Minister, the General Staff, and the others; it is the continuation of the Stavka of 1941-45.
Just because there is no mystery about this, it doesn’t follow that it should be reported publicly, debated in the State Duma, speculated and advertised by bloggers, podcasters, and twitterers. In war what should not be said cannot be said. When the war ends, then there will be none.
Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.
How little the Germans have changed.
But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.” By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”
So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.
Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors voted to go to war with Russia by a vote of 26 member countries against 9.
China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa voted against war with Russia.
The IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi (lead image, left) has refused to tell the press whether a simple majority of votes (18) or a super-majority of two-thirds (23) was required by the agency charter for the vote; he also wouldn’t say which countries voted for or against. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then covered up for what had happened by telling the press: “I believe that [IAEA’s] independence that exists and must be preserved is essential. The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties.” The IAEA vote for war made a liar of Guterres.
In the IAEA’s 65-year history, Resolution Number 58, the war vote of September 15, 2022, is the first time the agency has taken one side in a war between member countries when nuclear reactors have either been attacked or threatened with attack. It is also the first time the IAEA has attacked one of its member states, Russia, when its military were attempting to protect and secure a nuclear reactor from attack by another member state, the Ukraine, and its war allies, the US, NATO and the European Union states. The vote followed the first-ever IAEA inspection of a nuclear reactor while it was under active artillery fire and troop assault.
There is a first time for everything but this is the end of the IAEA. On to the scrap heap of good intentions and international treaties, the IAEA is following the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the UN Secretary-General himself. Listen to this discussion of the past history when the IAEA responded quite differently following the Iranian and Israeli air-bombing attacks on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Osirak, and later, the attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sites.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided this week to take the side of Ukraine in the current war; blame Russia for the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP); and issue a demand for Russia to surrender the plant to the Kiev regime “to regain full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”
This is the most dramatic shift by the United Nations (UN) nuclear power regulator in the 65-year history of the organisation based in Vienna.
The terms of the IAEA Resolution Number 58, which were proposed early this week by the Polish and Canadian governors on the agency board, were known in advance by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin in the late afternoon of September 14, before the vote was taken. Guterres did not reveal what he already knew would be the IAEA action the next day.
Never mind that King Solomon said proverbially three thousand years ago, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
With seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, Solomon realized he was the inventor of the situation comedy. If not for the sitcom as his medicine, the bodily and psychological stress Old Solly had to endure in the bedroom would have killed him long before he made it to his death bed at eighty years of age, after ruling his kingdom for forty of them.
After the British sitcom died in the 1990s, the subsequent stress has not only killed very large numbers of ordinary people. It has culminated today in a system of rule according to which a comic king in Buckingham Palace must now manage the first prime minister in Westminster history to be her own joke.
Even the Norwegians, the unfunniest people in Europe, have acknowledged that the only way to attract the British as tourists, was to pay John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers to make them laugh at Norway itself. This has been a bigger success for the locals than for the visitors, boosting the fjord boatman’s life expectancy several years ahead of the British tourist’s.
In fact, Norwegian scientists studying a sample of 54,000 of their countrymen have proved that spending the state budget on public health and social welfare will only work effectively if the population is laughing all the way to the grave. “The cognitive component of the sense of humour is positively associated with survival from mortality related to CVD [cardio-vascular disease] and infections in women and with infection-related mortality in men” – Norwegian doctors reported in 2016. Never mind the Viking English: the Norwegian point is the same as Solomon’s that “a sense of humour is a health-protecting cognitive coping resource” – especially if you’ve got cancer.
The Russians understand this better than the Norwegians or the British. Laughter is an antidote to the war propaganda coming from abroad, as Lexus and Vovan have been demonstrating. The Russian sitcom is also surviving in its classic form to match the best of the British sitcoms, all now dead – Fawlty Towers (d. 1975), Black Adder (d. 1989), You Rang M’Lord? (d. 1988), Jeeves and Wooster (d. 1990), Oh Dr Beeching! (d.1995), and Thin BlueLine (d. 1996).
The Russian situation comedies, alive and well on TV screens and internet streaming devices across the country, are also increasingly profitable business for their production and broadcast companies – not despite the war but because of it. This has transformed the Russian media industry’s calculation of profitability by removing US and European-made films and television series, as well as advertising revenues from Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mars, and Bayer. In their place powerful Russian video-on-demand (VOD) streaming platform companies like Yandex (KinoPoisk), MTS (Kion), Mail.ru (VK), and Ivi (Leonid Boguslavsky, ProfMedia, Baring Vostok) are now intensifying the competition for audience with traditional television channels and film studios for domestic audiences. The revenue base of the VOD platforms is less vulnerable to advertisers, more dependent on telecommunications subscriptions.
Russian script writers, cameramen, actors, designers, and directors are now in shorter supply than ever before, and earning more money. “It’s the Russian New Wave,” claims Olga Filipuk, head of media content for Yandex, the powerful leader of the new film production platforms; its controlling shareholder and chief executive were sanctioned last year.
By Olga Samofalova, translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow @bears_with
It was the American humourist Mark Twain who didn’t die in 1897 when it was reported that he had. Twain had thirteen more lively years to go.
The death of the Russian aerospace and aviation industry in the present war is proving to be an even greater exaggeration – and the life to come will be much longer. From the Russian point of view, the death which the sanctions have inflicted is that of the US, European and British offensive against the Soviet-era industry which President Boris Yeltsin (lead image, left) and his advisers encouraged from 1991.
Since 2014, when the sanctions war began, the question of what Moscow would do when the supply of original aircraft components was first threatened, then prohibited, has been answered. The answer began at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1947 when the first Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) or Parts Manufacturing Approval (PMA) was issued by Washington officials for aircraft parts or components meeting the airworthiness standards but manufactured by sources which were not the original suppliers.
China has been quicker to implement this practice; Chinese state and commercial enterprises have been producing PMA components for Boeing and Airbus aircraft in the Chinese airline fleets for many years. The Russian Transport Ministry has followed suit; in its certification process and airworthiness regulations it has used the abbreviation RMA, Cyrillic for PMA. This process has been accelerating as the sanctions war has escalated.
So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.
The weakest link in the British government’s four-year long story of Russian Novichok assassination operations in the UK – prelude to the current war – is an English medical expert by the name of Guy Rutty (lead image, standing).
A government-appointed pathologist advising the Home Office, police, and county coroners, Rutty is the head of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit in Leicester, he is the author of a post-mortem report, dated November 29, 2018, claiming that the only fatality in the history of the Novichok nerve agent (lead image, document), Dawn Sturgess, had died of Novichok poisoning on July 8, 2018. Rutty’s finding was added four months after initial post-mortem results and a coroner’s cremation certificate stopped short of confirming that Novichok had been the cause of her death.
Rutty’s Novichok finding was a state secret for more than two years. It was revealed publicly by the second government coroner to investigate Sturgess’s death, Dame Heather Hallett, at a public hearing in London on March 30, 2021. In written evidence it was reported that “on 17th July 2018, Professor Guy Rutty MBE, a Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist conducted an independent post-mortem examination. He was accompanied by Dr Phillip Lumb, also an independent Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist. Professor Rutty’s Post-Mortem Report of 29th November 2018 records the cause of death as Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity.”
Hallett, Rutty, Lumb, and others engaged by the government to work on the Novichok case have refused to answer questions about the post-mortem investigations which followed immediately after Sturgess’s death was reported at Salisbury District Hospital; and a cause of death report signed by the Wiltshire Country coroner David Ridley, when Sturgess’s body was released to her family for funeral and cremation on July 30, 2018.
After another three years, Ridley was replaced as coroner in the case by Hallett in March 2021. Hallett was replaced by Lord Anthony Hughes (lead image, sitting) in March 2022.
The cause-of-death documents remain state secrets. “As you have no formal role in the inquest proceedings,” Hallett’s and Rutty’s spokesman Martin Smith said on May 17, 2021, “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.”
Since then official leaks have revealed that Rutty had been despatched by the Home Office in London to take charge of the Sturgess post-mortem, and Lumb ordered not to undertake an autopsy or draw conclusions on the cause of Sturgess’s death until Rutty arrived. Why? The sources are not saying whether the two forensic professors differed in their interpretation of the evidence; and if so, whether the published excerpt of Rutty’s report of Novichok poisoning is the full story.
New developments in the official investigation of Sturgess’s death, now directed by Hughes, have removed the state secrecy cover for Rutty, Lumb, and other medical specialists who attended the post-mortem on July 17, 2018. The appointment by Hughes of a London lawyer, Adam Chapman, to represent Sergei and Yulia Skripal, opens these post-mortem documents to the Skripals, along with the cremation certificate, and related hospital, ambulance and laboratory records. Chapman’s role is “appropriate” – Smith’s term – for the Skripals to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb and add independent expert evidence.
Hughes’s appointment of another lawyer, Emilie Pottle (lead image, top left), to act on behalf of the three Russian military officers accused of the Novichok attack exposes this evidence to testing at the same forensic standard. According to Hughes, it is Pottle’s “responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry takes all reasonable steps to test the evidence connecting those Russian nationals to Ms Sturgess’s death.” Pottle’s responsibility is to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb.
The US Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been firing several hundred million dollars’ worth of cyber warheads at Russian targets from its headquarters at MacDill Airforce Base in Florida. They have all been duds.
The weapons, the source, and their failure to strike effectively have been exposed in a new report, published on August 24, by the Cyber Policy Center of the Stanford Internet Observatory. The title of the 54-page study is “Unheard Voice: Evaluating Five Years of Pro-Western Covert Influence Operations”.
“We believe”, the report concludes, “this activity represents the most extensive case of covert pro-Western IO [influence operations] on social media to be reviewed and analyzed by open-source researchers to date… the data also shows the limitations of using inauthentic tactics to generate engagement and build influence online. The vast majority of posts and tweets we reviewed received no more than a handful of likes or retweets, and only 19% of the covert assets we identified had more than 1,000 followers. The average tweet received 0.49 likes and 0.02 retweets.”
“Tellingly,” according to the Stanford report, “the two most followed assets in the data provided by Twitter were overt accounts that publicly declared a connection to the U.S. military.”
The report comes from a branch of Stanford University, and is funded by the Stanford Law School and the Spogli Institute for Institutional Studies, headed by Michael McFaul (lead image). McFaul, once a US ambassador to Moscow, has been a career advocate of war against Russia. The new report exposes many of McFaul’s allegations to be crude fabrications and propaganda which the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been paying contractors to fire at Russia for a decade.
Strangely, there is no mention in the report of the US Army, Pentagon, the Special Operations Command, or its principal cyberwar contractor, the Rendon Group.
Maria Yudina (lead image) is one of the great Russian pianists. She was not, however, one who appealed to all tastes in her lifetime, 1899 to 1970.
In a new biography of her by Elizabeth Wilson, Yudina’s belief that music represents Orthodox Christian faith is made out to be so heroic, the art of the piano is diminished — and Yudina’s reputation consigned again to minority and obscurity. Russian classical music and its performers, who have not recovered from the Yeltsin period and now from the renewal of the German-American war, deserve better than Wilson’s propaganda tune.
Those lighting Mikhail Gorbachev’s funeral pyre are torching the truth of the matter – that Gorbachev was a liar of monumental vanity who betrayed his country out of greed and incompetence, outpointed by his adversaries in Moscow, Washington, and London because they knew him better than he knew himself.