THE FUTURE OF RUSSIAN POLITICS IN PICTURES – PRICES GO UP; SPENDING GOES DOWN; POLITICAL DISCONTENT GOES UP; NAVALNY GOES OUT

by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

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.

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HOLD THE FRENCH FRIES, MAKE THAT RUSSIAN FRIES – POTATOES AND THE SEPTEMBER RUSSIAN ELECTION

by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

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.

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IN THE BELLY OF THE BOURGEOISIE – VKUSVILLE IS A UNIQUE RUSSIAN ACHIEVEMENT, PROFITABLE TOO

by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

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.

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NO ROOM AT THE BOOZER – NEW ST. PETERSBURG LAW BANS SOCIALISM, PROMOTES CAPITALISM IN RUSSIAN DRINKING

by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

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.”   

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RUSSIANS GO BANANAS IN PHILIPPINES, PROMISE INVESTMENT OF $600 MILLION

By John Helmer, Moscow

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…)

NO KREMLIN HANGOVER FOR THE VODKA OLIGARCHS

By John Helmer, Moscow

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…)

RUSSIAN HONEY TRAP – HOW ADULTERATED HONEY IS DRIVING RUSSIAN BEEKEEPERS OUT OF THE MARKET, WITH A STING FROM THE KREMLIN

By John Helmer, Moscow

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…)

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

By John Helmer, Moscow

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

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

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

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

VLADIMIR YEVTUSHENKOV IS JOHNNY APPLESEED – RUSSIAN APPLE OLIGARCHS GROW IN THE DARK

By John Helmer, Moscow

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…)

NEW ZEALAND MEAT ON THE RACK – RUSSIA STARTS RACTOPAMINE BAN

By John Helmer, Moscow

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…)

MORE IMPORT SUBSTITUTION TIPS IN WARTIME — WHICH SIDE OF THE RUSSIAN MUSHROOM WILL MAKE A FORTUNE

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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HOW TO FIND A RUSSIAN OYSTER IN TIME OF WAR

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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MR BEAN GOES TO THE US, PARAGUAY, BRAZIL TOO – RUSSIAN SOYBEAN SECTOR TO CHALLENGE AMERICAN IMPORT SUPREMACY

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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?
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BETWEEN THE COW AND THE PALM-TREE — RUSSIA’S NEW CHEESE MARKET HAS TROUBLE GROWING AS FAST AS CONSUMERS WANT

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.”
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THE RUSSIAN SUPERMARKET PARADOX – HOW AUCHAN, METRO AND CASTORAMA GAIN FROM RUSSIAN CONSUMER PAIN

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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RASH OR RASHER — OLEG DERIPASKA TRIES SELLING CHINESE INVESTORS A SLICE OF KUBAN AGRO

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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HOW TO POUR CHAMPAGNE IN WAR TIME — ABRAU-DURSO HAS AN ANTI-FIZZLE PLAN, BUT FOR CRIMEAN WINE THE WAR IS STILL A DISASTER

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.”
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RUSSIA TAKES THE FAT OUT OF MCDONALDS, AS ANTI-AMERICAN RETALIATION ENDORSED BY HALF THE POPULATION

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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BACCHUS RETURNS TO CRIMEA — BORIS TITOV TO REPORT $100 MILLION WINEMAKING PLAN THIS MONTH

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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WHAT IMPACT RUSSIA’S COUNTER-SANCTIONS? — POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER SIKORSKI FEEDS APPLES TO CAMERAS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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THE COW ISN’T LAUGHING — RUSSIAN DAIRY PRODUCERS FILE TO BAR VEGETABLE-FAT IMPORTS FROM UKRAINE

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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%.
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CHEERS FROM THE FRONT! RUSSIAN WINE KEEPS ITS FIZZ

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.”
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POPEYE PULLS PUTIN PUNCH — TOO LATE TO PREVENT KNOCK-OUT FOR AUSTRALIAN MEAT EXPORTS TO RUSSIA

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER EATS HORMONES, LOSES $200 MILLION AS MEAT EXPORTS TO RUSSIA BANNED

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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COLOUR PETRO IN, COLOUR PETRO DOWN AND OUT — POROSHENKO’S ASSETS AT RISK

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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LENTA’S SECOND TRY AT IPO — TPG AND DAVID BONDERMAN DO WHAT THEY KNOW BEST, AND HEAD FOR THE EXIT

lenta_exit

By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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PORK THE EU! RUSSIA BANS EUROPEAN FEVER

pork_the_eu

By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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FAT WHITE TRUFFLES, SLIM WHITE THIGHS — THE RUSSIAN OLIGARCHS’ HIDDEN ASSETS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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THE SHY RUSSIAN FISHERMAN – ROSRYBOLOVSTVO WANTS TO PROTECT ITS ANTARCTIC TOOTHFISH FLEET, BUT WON’T SAY SO

toothfish_wc

By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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KANGAROO MEAT BAN TO SAVE DOMESTIC PORK PRODUCERS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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.
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RED HAS TURNED YELLOW – THE GREEK AND CYPRIOT COMMUNISTS ARE FLYING A DIFFERENT FLAG IN THE UKRAINE WAR



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The Ukraine war is splitting the communist parties of Europe between those taking the US side, and those on the Russian side.

In an unusual public criticism of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and of smaller communist parties in Europe which have endorsed the Greek criticism of Russia for waging an “imperialist” war against the Ukraine, the Russian Communist Party (KPRF) has responded this week with a 3,300-word declaration:  “The military conflict in Ukraine,” the party said, “cannot be described as an imperialist war, as our comrades would argue. It is essentially a national liberation war of the people of Donbass. From Russia’s point of view it is a struggle against an external threat to national security and against Fascism.”

By contrast, the Russian communists have not bothered to send advice, or air public criticism of the Cypriot communists and their party, the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL). On March 2, AKEL issued a communiqué “condemn[ing] Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calls for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Ukrainian territories….[and] stresses that the Russian Federation’s action in recognising the Donetsk and Luhansk regions constitutes a violation of the principle of the territorial integrity of states.”

 To the KPRF in Moscow the Cypriots are below contempt; the Greeks are a fraction above it.

A Greek-Cypriot veteran of Cypriot politics and unaffiliated academic explains: “The Cypriot communists do not allow themselves to suffer for what they profess to believe. Actually, they are a misnomer. They are the American party of the left in Cyprus, just as [President Nikos] Anastasiades is the American party of the right.” As for the Greek left, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza – with 85 seats of the Greek parliament’s 300, the leading party of the opposition – the KKE (with 15 seats), and Yanis Varoufakis of MeRA25 (9 seats), the source adds: “The communists are irrelevant in Europe and in the US, except in the very narrow context of Greek party politics.”

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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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THE WAR AGAINST FOOD – WHO IS TO BLAME



By Nikolai Storozhenko, introduced and translated by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

This week President Joseph Biden stopped at an Illinois farm to say he’s going to help the  Ukraine ship 20 million tonnes of wheat and corn out of storage into export, thereby relieving  grain shortages in the international markets and lowering bread prices around the world.  Biden was trying to play a hand in which his cards have already been clipped. By Biden.  

The first Washington-Kiev war plan for eastern Ukraine has already lost about 40% of the Ukrainian wheat fields, 50% of the barley, and all of the grain export ports. Their second war plan to hold the western region defence lines with mobile armour, tanks, and artillery  now risks the loss of the corn and rapeseed crop as well as the export route for trucks to Romania and Moldova. What will be saved in western Ukraine will be unable to grow enough to feed its own people. They will be forced to import US wheat, as well as US guns and the money to pay for both.

Biden told his audience that on the Delaware farms he used to represent in the US Senate “there are more chickens than there are Americans.”  Blaming the Russians is the other card Biden has left.  

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EXILE



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The problem with living in exile is the meaning of the word. If you’re in exile, you mean you are forever looking backwards, in geography as well as in time. You’re not only out of place; you’re out of time — yesterday’s man.

Ovid, the Roman poet who was sent into exile from Rome by Caesar Augustus, for offences neither Augustus nor Ovid revealed, never stopped looking back to Rome. His exile, as Ovid described it, was “a barbarous coast, inured to rapine/stalked ever by bloodshed, murder, war.” In such a place or state, he said, “writing a poem you can read to no one is like dancing in the dark.”

The word itself, exsilium in Roman law, was the sentence of loss of citizenship as an alternative to loss of life, capital punishment. It meant being compelled to live outside Rome at a location decided by the emperor. The penalty took several degrees of isolation and severity. In Ovid’s case, he was ordered by Augustus to be shipped to the northeastern limit of the Roman empire,  the Black Sea town called Tomis; it is now Constanta, Romania. Ovid’s last books, Tristia (“Sorrows”) and Epistulae ex Ponto (“Black Sea Letters”), were written from this exile, which began when he was 50 years old, in 8 AD, and ended when he died in Tomis nine years year later, in 17 AD.  

In my case I’ve been driven into exile more than once. The current one is lasting the longest. This is the one from Moscow, which began with my expulsion by the Foreign Ministry on September 28, 2010.  The official sentence is Article 27(1) of the law No. 114-FZ — “necessary for the purposes of defence capability or security of the state, or public order, or protection of health of the population.” The reason, a foreign ministry official told an immigration service official when they didn’t know they were being overheard, was: “Helmer writes bad things about Russia.”

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IN THE FOG OF WAR THERE’S THE GUTERRES CERTAINTY AND THE CADIEU CERTAINTY – GORILLA RADIO SEES THROUGH THE COVER-UP



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Antonio Guterres is the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), who attempted last month  to arrange the escape from Russian capture of Ukrainian soldiers and NATO commanders,  knowing they had committed war crimes. He was asked to explain; he refuses.   

Trevor Cadieu is a Canadian lieutenant-general who was appointed the chief of staff and head of the Canadian Armed Forces last August; was stopped in September; retired from the Army this past April, and went to the Ukraine, where he is in hiding. From whom he is hiding – Canadians or Russians – where he is hiding, and what he will say to explain are questions Cadieu isn’t answering, yet.

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DID UN SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES COMMIT A WAR CRIME AT AZOVSTAL?

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, is refusing this week to answer questions on the role he played in the recent attempt by US, British, Canadian and other foreign combatants to escape the bunkers under the Azovstal plant, using the human shield of civilians trying to evacuate.

In Guterres’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on April 26 (lead image), Putin warned Guterres he had been “misled” in his efforts. “The simplest thing”, Putin told Guterres in the recorded part of their meeting, “for military personnel or members of the nationalist battalions is to release the civilians. It is a crime to keep civilians, if there are any there, as human shields.”  

This war crime has been recognized since 1977 by the UN in Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention.  In US law for US soldiers and state officials, planning to employ or actually using human shields is a war crime to be prosecuted under 10 US Code Section 950t.  

Instead, Guterres ignored the Kremlin warning and the war crime law, and authorized UN officials, together with Red Cross officials,  to conceal what Guterres himself knew of the foreign military group trying to escape. Overnight from New York, Guterres has refused to say what he knew of the military escape operation, and what he had done to distinguish, or conceal the differences between the civilians and combatants in the evacuation plan over the weekend of April 30-May 1.May.

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THE LAST DITCH IS POLAND – RUSSIA’S PHASE-3 PLAN FOR WESTERN UKRAINE



By Vlad Shlepchenko, introduced & translated by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The more western politicians announce pledges of fresh weapons for the Ukraine, the more Russian military analysts explain what options their official sources are considering to destroy the arms before they reach the eastern front, and to neutralize Poland’s role as the NATO  hub for resupply and reinforcement of the last-ditch holdout of western Ukraine.

“I would like to note,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, repeated yesterday, “that any transport of the North Atlantic Alliance that arrived on the territory of the country with weapons or material means for the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces is considered by us as a legitimate target for destruction”.  He means the Ukraine border is the red line.

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THE MATLIN PLOT, THE BROWDER PLOT AND THE NEW YORK TIMES PLOT



By Lucy Komisar,  New York*
  @bears_with

Here’s a story the New York Times has just missed.

US politicians and media pundits are promoting the targeting of “enablers” of Russian oligarchs who stash their money in offshore accounts. A Times article of March 11   highlighted Michael Matlin, CEO of Concord Management as such an “enabler.” But the newspaper missed serious corruption Matlin was involved in. Maybe that’s because Matlin cheated Russia, and also because the Matlin story exposes the William Browder/Sergei Magnitsky hoax aimed at Russia.

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YELLOW COAL, THE FUEL MADE OUT OF RACE HATRED — MAY DAY MESSAGE FROM SIGIZMUND KRZHIZHANOVSKY, 1939



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In 1939 a little known writer in Moscow named Sigizmund Khrzhizhanovsky published his idea that the Americans, then the Germans would convert human hatred into a new source of energy powering everything which had been dependent until then on coal, gas, and oil.

Called yellow coal, this invention originated with Professor Leker at Harvard University. It was applied, first to running municipal trams, then to army weapons, and finally to cheap electrification of everything from domestic homes and office buildings to factory production lines. In Russian leker means a quack doctor.

The Harvard professor’s idea was to concentrate the neuro-muscular energy people produce when they hate each other.  Generated as bile (yellow), accumulated and concentrated into kinetic spite in machines called myeloabsorberators, Krzhizhanovsky called this globalization process the bilification of society.

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IS CAESARISM THE PROBLEM, THE SOLUTION, A FANCY DRESS COSTUME, OR A PROPAGANDA CARTOON?



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In imperial history there is nothing new in cases of dementia in rulers attracting homicidal psychopaths to replace them.  It’s as natural as honey attracts bees.

When US President Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke on October 19, 1919, he was partially paralysed and blinded, and was no longer able to feed himself, sign his name, or speak normally; he was not demented.

While his wife and the Navy officer  who was his personal physician concealed his condition, there is no evidence that either Edith Wilson or Admiral Cary Grayson were themselves clinical cases of disability, delusion,  or derangement. They were simply liars driven by the ambition to hold on to the power of the president’s office and deceive everyone who got in their way.  

The White House is always full of people like that. The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution is meant to put a damper on their homicidal tendencies.

What is unusual, probably exceptional in the current case of President Joseph Biden, not to mention the history of the United States,  is the extent of the president’s personal incapacitation; combined with the clinical evidence of psychopathology in his Secretary of State Antony Blinken;  and the delusional condition of the rivals to replace Biden, including Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Like Rome during the first century AD, Washington is now in the ailing emperor-homicidal legionary phase.  But give it another century or two, and the madness, bloodshed, and lies of the characters of the moment won’t matter quite as much as their images on display in the museums of their successors craving legitimacy, or of successor powers celebrating their superiority.  

Exactly this has happened to the original Caesars, as a new book by Mary Beard, a Cambridge University professor of classics, explains. The biggest point of her book, she says, is “dynastic succession” – not only of the original Romans but of those modern rulers who acquired the Roman portraits in marble and later copies in paint, and the copies of those copies, with the idea of communicating “the idea of the direct transfer of power from ancient Romans to Franks and on to later German rulers.”

In the case she narrates of the most famous English owner of a series of the “Twelve Caesars”, King Charles I — instigator of the civil war of 1642-51 and the loser of both the war and his head – the display of his Caesars was intended to demonstrate the king’s self-serving “missing link” between his one-man rule and the ancient Romans who murdered their way to rule, and then apotheosized into immortal gods in what they hoped would be a natural death on a comfortable bed.

With the American and Russian successions due to take place in Washington and Moscow in two years’ time, Beard’s “Twelve Caesars, Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern”,  is just the ticket from now to then.

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