BORIS DUBROVSKY IS NOW SWISS – THE DIRTY AIR MAN OF CHELYABINSK FINDS A CLEAN PLACE FOR HIS LUNGS AND HIS WALLET

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Boris Dubrovsky (lead images), President Vladimir Putin’s governor of Chelyabinsk between 2014 and March 19, 2019, has long been at risk of lung disease, and he is now reported to be in a Swiss clinic for treatment. His prognosis is uncertain.

More certain it is that Dubrovsky will not be returning to Chelyabinsk. That’s not because the  city air is injurious to his health, as federal regulators and citizens’ groups have measured throughout Dubrovsky’s gubernatorial term;  but rather because Dubrovsky has been charged by the Investigative Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the criminal scheme of monopolizing road construction contracts in the Chelyabinsk region. The sum of the criminal damage for which Dubrovsky is accused currently stands at Rb20 billion ($308 million). That’s damage to the regional and federal budgets. How much money Dubrovsky has trousered for himself is not charged or reported.  

No Russian prosecution claims have been filed against Dubrovsky to the Swiss authorities. The Swiss press are now investigating the accommodations in local banks and real estate where Dubrovsky’s money may be located under his own or his son’s name. (more…)

ROMAN ABRAMOVICH DOESN’T DRINK NOVOKUZNETSK RIVER WATER, PREFERS THE MEDITERRANEAN FOR HIS AQUATHERAPY

By John Helmer, Moscow

Roman Abramovich (lead image) is the leading shareholder of the Russian steel, iron-ore and coal mining group called Evraz. Among Russia’s leading steel groups, it ranks second in output of crude steel; fourth in market value. It is the leader in indebtedness.

By international measures, Evraz also leads its Russian peers in its record of controlling noxious air and water emissions from mill and mine operations. CDP, an international agency for monitoring industrial pollution, reported a year ago its global answer to the question, “who’s ready to get tough on emissions?” Evraz came 12th in CDP’s table of the world steel emission control leaders; no other Russian steelmaker was ranked.  That was  not exactly a commendation in international terms. According to CDP, “Evraz ranks third last. It performs among the bottom companies on our emissions and energy benchmarking, and does not disclose forward-looking reduction targets, or any participation in research toward breakthrough emissions reduction technologies.

If you live in Novokuznetsk city, where Evraz operates two steel plants, the company’s international status is too good to be true. For the past decade, Evraz has been under local court and federal orders to put a stop to its waste water pollution by building a new water treatment plant. The company refuses.  It won’t explain, hoping that its influence with city, regional and federal government officials, will ensure that there will no enforcement, and no news of this either. (more…)

ILL WIND BLOWS PROFIT FOR IGOR ZYUZIN AND HIS MECHEL STEEL AND COAL COMPANY — IN CHELYABINSK WHERE THERE IS PROFIT, THERE’S CORRUPTION

By John Helmer, Moscow

Sergei Ivanov had been in charge of protecting Russia’s environment for just ten weeks when he arrived in Chelyabinsk city last November 1. The former Kremlin chief of staff and principal advisor to President Vladimir Putin took with him a large delegation of federal officials, including a deputy prime minister, the minister of natural resources and environment, and the chief of the environmental control agency, Rosprirodnadzor,  to meet Boris Dubrovsky, the Chelyabinsk governor (lead image, right).  

Much was promised for cleaning up the air of the city and region. A month later, on December 5, President Vladimir Putin visited Chelyabinsk region, and flew by helicopter with Dubrovsky over several of the worst air pollution areas.  Dubrovsky announced  that he favoured a new set of air control standards for enforcement by federal and regional governments. Putin replied with the acknowledgement that air pollution was especially serious in Chelyabinsk.  He claimed: “we need to encourage entrepreneurs, and industry to apply the latest technology, the best technology available. This program starts to work, and I very much hope that it will have the desired effect in 2017.”

Then in mid-January the smog struck Chelyabinsk city. Ivanov, Dubrovsky and Putin had all failed to prevent the longest air pollution crisis in the city for years.  Mechel’s owner, Igor Zyuzin (lead image, left), had succeeded in keeping his plants operating with minimal interruption, a promise to do better, and no criminal charges.  A local environmental activist says:  “People in the west think Putin is so powerful he can change the outcome of elections in the US, UK, France and Germany. So how come he can’t put a stop to the говно in the Chelyabinsk air coming from one oligarch who owns the plants?” (more…)

ALEXEI MORDASHOV HAS GOT WOOD! THE OLIGARCH’S FULL FRONTAL TAKEOVER OF RUSSIA’S PLYWOOD BUSINESS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

In the seedier studios of California, when the director cries “We’ve got wood!” he means the male lead has an erection, and it’s his cue to start his business while the cameras roll at a pornographic scene. Russia’s plywood business isn’t as sexy, but it’s faster growing and bigger too. It’s also becoming a oligopoly for Alexei Mordashov, who is already the well-known oligarch of the Russian steel and mining sectors.

Mordashov (lead image) met President Vladimir Putin in January. He claims he got the president’s go-ahead to build a new wood-processing complex at the village of Suda, outside Cherepovets. Public opposition is fierce – so fierce that the Kremlin is concealing what exactly Putin and Mordashov said about the project at their meeting; how much state money will be given to Mordashov for the scheme; and what Putin intends to do next. Not since Putin took sides with the locals in Irkutsk region against Oleg Deripaska’s paper and pulp plant on the edge of Lake Baikal, has there been such a test of Russians, oligarchs, the President – and who has wood.
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NEW CAT’S PAW AWARD – FINANCIAL TIMES MAKES IGOR ZYUZIN HERO FOR STANDING UP TO VLADIMIR PUTIN

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By John Helmer, Moscow

In publishing on Russia, there comes a time when a writer, journalist, bank analyst, television presenter, or academic produces something so lacking in truthfulness, so replete with fawning and meretriciousness, that this website must kill and skin another goat; dry out the vellum; and have a fresh scroll inscribed with the Cat’s Paw – that’s the Personal Abasement Award (PAW).

This award is designed to encourage accountability and ethical reporting on Russia. The PAW committee decided to suspend the Cat’s Paw awards when the start of the Ukraine civil war threatened to overwhelm the supply of vellum and the goat population on which it depends. The goats who have earned the Cat’s PAW scroll have also multiplied exponentially.
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SEQUEL: OPENING THE RUSSIAN RAILWAYS SCRAP BOOK

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By John Helmer, Moscow

For the first time Moscow analysts have issued precise estimates of the ferrous scrap sold in the domestic Russian market by the major scrap companies, and identified the market shares of the leading companies by name. The disclosures also confirm that the state-owned Russian Railways (RZhD) is one of largest scrap producers and traders in the market, trailing three of the large steel groups – Novolipetsk, Magnitogorsk, and Evraz – but far ahead of the scrap operators which are independently owned.

Reliable is not, however, the term to use for volumes of scrap either in the domestic or export trade. What is missing is not only a measure of the size of the black trade in scrap, but also the reluctance of everyone, including the industry analysts in Moscow, London, and Washington, to acknowledge, let alone count the value of what is going on.
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IRON MAN TAKES A TUMBLE – WILL AFRICA SUCCEED AUSTRALIA, BRAZIL, RUSSIA TOO, AS THE NEW LOW-COST GLOBAL SUPPLIER OF IRON-ORE?

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Ukrainian civil war, and its aftermath, economic warfare between the US, the European Union, and Russia, are transforming the global flows of the minerals from which steel is made. Starting with iron-ore, the future for steelmaking will start at the minehead, not in Australia, nor Brazil, but in West Africa. That is if Gennady Bogolyubov, the Ukrainian miner, can help to produce high-grade iron-ore at a cash cost of $20 per tonne. At that price, Bogolyubov and China’s iron-ore traders and bankers calculate, they will be able to break free of the global price-fixing for the mineral which has been dominated, until now, by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto in the US camp, and Vale of Brazil.
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EVRAZ IPO — ROMAN ABRAMOVICH INVITES US STOCK BUYERS TO OVERLOOK WHO HE IS, AND WHERE HE COMES FROM

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By John Helmer, Moscow

During his lengthy testimony and cross-examination in the UK High Court, Roman Abramovich (below, left) claimed he couldn’t remember much about what taxes he paid. The judge believed him. That remarkable episode in the history of Russian taxation took place on November 5, 2011, at 3 in the afternoon.

Now Abramovich has presented the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with a prospectus for selling shares of the North American division of his steel company, Evraz. The document runs to 218 pages, and except for the minuscule print on one, Abramovich omits to say who he is, and how he controls Evraz. He glosses over one key word from his description of Evraz, and the big risk for shareholders in North America: that word is “Russia”.
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US DECLARES WAR ON RUSSIA — TITANIUM

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Ukrainian government and commercial interests are lobbying the US Government to support a stealth sanction against VSMPO-AVISMA, the Russian supplier of titanium to Boeing and other US aerospace companies. Instead of VSMPO, the Ukrainians are seeking US government financing for the establishment of new high-grade titanium production lines at Zaporizhye Titanium and Magnesium Combine (ZTMC), and expansion of Ukrainian titanium exports to the US.

This week, a confidential message from the US Department of Commerce revealed that, “in recent meetings with U.S. Department of Commerce officials, the GOU [Government of Ukraine] expressed that it would like to have U.S. companies involved in the development of the titanium resources in Ukraine. The Commerce Department is, of course, very interested in encouraging the involvement of all U.S. companies in all relevant sectors given such an opportunity, and we are inviting input from industry regarding this topic.”
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INTERPIPE PRESENTS ITS FINANCIALS — VICTOR PINCHUK PLAYS KING CANUTE

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Interpipe, the steel and pipemaking group owned by Victor Pinchuk (lead image, centre) and based in Dniepropetrovsk, is high and dry, according to the latest financial report signed by the auditors on June 30, 2014. That is despite having suffered a 14% downturn of sales revenues for the year to $1.5 billion; a 5% increase in the bottom-line loss to $73.4 million; and its default on borrowings which now total $1.03 billion. Just $34.5 million in cash is on hand. With additional current liabilities of $343.2 million, Ernst & Young, Interpipe’s auditors calculate that , “the Group’s current liabilities exceed its current assets by $649.1 million.” That’s ground, the auditors warn, “of a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt about the Group’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

Excerpts of the report were issued to creditors and bondholders two weeks ago. The full report can be read here. The company’s website has yet to publish the 55-page document.
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O! WHAT A LUCRATIVE WAR IN EASTERN UKRAINE RINAT AKHMETOV IS HAVING, SO FAR

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Rinat Akhmetov (lead image, above left and right) is still the Ukraine’s richest man. If you believe the financial reports just issued by his Metinvest group, Ukraine’s largest steel, iron-ore, coal and coke maker, it’s a case of his singing all the way to the bank in Switzerland — without the irony of the musical, “O! What A Lovely War!”

A new ratings report issued by Moodys claims that Metinvest is benefitting from “the company’s ability to generate positive cash flows even in times of a severe downturn as observed in 2009 and more recently; (2) low leverage; (3) high degree of vertical integration; (4) large iron ore reserves; and (5) the geographically advantageous location of some of its major assets.” Exactly what advantage the geography of eastern Ukraine is conferring on Akhmetov’s business Moody’s analysts don’t say.
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SEVERSTAL SETTLES US LITIGATION WITH RG STEEL — ALEXEI MORDASHOV DEMONSTRATES PARACHUTE TECHNIQUE TO SHAREHOLDERS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Three years of litigation in New York and Delaware between Severstal and US steelmaker RG Steel over a failed Maryland steelmill, for which Alexei Mordashov paid $810 million, will be finalized at a US court hearing on July 15. Moscow and US sources report that lawyers for the two sides are expected to present for the judge’s approval an agreement for RG Steel to receive $30 million in cash from Severstal, and in exchange, Severstal will acquire RG Steel’s 50% stake in their joint coke venture, Mountain State Carbon (MSC).

At most, this outcome for Severstal is worth $70 million – one-eleventh of what Mordashov originally paid in March 2008, announcing at the time: “We believe in the long-term promise of the U.S. market.”
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KREMLIN LOSES FEAR OF REGIONAL DEMONSTRATIONS — THE STEEL OLIGARCHS ISSUE PINK “PRODUCTION RELEASE” SLIPS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Last year Russia’s six major steelmakers cut 33,500 jobs from their payrolls, because, they explain, they are struggling to reduce losses and cut bank debt. That amounted to a loss of almost one in ten jobs in the Russian steel sector. At the end of 2013, the headcount of steelworkers was 355,900, down 9.4% from 2012.

Government officials and sector analysts acknowledge that five years ago during the collapse in steel trade in the last months of 2008 and first half of 2009, such a job cull would have been impossible because the Kremlin warned the mill proprietors against mass layoffs. Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine (MMK) announced it was reducing its steel output by 15% in October 2009 after earlier claiming the cutback would be 25%. Alexander Mastruev, head of personnel at MMK, said at the time: “It is not necessary to dramatise the situation, and to panic.” MMK was considering a furlough of employees, not dismissal and job cuts, he added. At Mechel, it was claimed at the time there was no plan to review production plans “for now” but the length of the working day might be cut. According to Mechel, “we are making all effort to save all working places and our employees.”
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DISQUIET ON THE EASTERN FRONT — VICTOR PINCHUK’S INTERPIPE REPORTS FINANCIAL DAMAGE, OFFERS TO SELL OUT

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Russian Customs reports this week that imports of steel pipes from Ukraine have dropped by 50% or more, compared to 2013. Steel industry sources in Moscow are predicting the Russian market may have closed to Ukrainian steelmakers, as Gazprom and Rosneft, the largest buyers of pipes, are directed by the Kremlin to buy instead from domestic pipemills.

By contrast, Interpipe, based in Dniepropetrovsk and owned by Victor Pinchuk (image), is reporting that within two years it expects the current conflict to have blown over. Sales to the Russian market, Pinchuk’s principal income-earner, will recover to the tonnage and revenue levels the company was achieving before July of 2013, according to the latest Interpipe forecast. That is when the Kremlin halted favourable import-quota arrangements for Ukrainian pipes, and imposed penalty import duties. Interpipe was already loss-making before the Russian market began to close. The year-end loss for 2013 has not yet been released by Interpipe. Counting both operating losses and writedowns of asset value, industry analysts and traders say this week the loss figure is between $100 and $200 million. “A perfect storm” is the way Interpipe is describing its financial situation to creditors.
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ALEXEI MORDASHOV AND IGOR ZYUZIN VIOLATE THE NEW KREMLIN RULE ON NOT AIRING THEIR DIRTY LINEN IN FOREIGN AIR

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Two Russian steelmaking oligarchs, Alexei Mordashov (above, left) of Severstal, and Igor Zyuzin (right) of Mechel, went to court early this month over a debt of $4 million. The debt stems from a contract for delivery of Mechel-made metallurgical coke to Severstal’s steelmill in Dearborn, Michigan. The court is the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in Chicago. The claim was filed by Severstal’s local lawyers on May 5.

Russian reporting of the case this week noted the irony in the situation that both Mordashov and Zyuzin are trying to sell the companies which are now facing each other in court as plaintiff and defendant. As yet unreported is the Kremlin directive, informally but directly from President Vladimir Putin to the control shareholders of Russia’s large metals and minerals companies, not to take their business disputes to foreign courts. The order, confirmed by insiders at a well-known metal company, has been put in the context of the threat the Russian economy is now facing from US sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine.
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ALEXEI MORDASHOV HITS US WITH SANCTIONS — DEMANDS $1.5 BILLION FOR LAST TWO US STEELMILLS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The disclosure that Severstal is planning to sell its remaining two US steelmills has taken the Russian steel industry by surprise, triggering speculation the Kremlin has asked for the move as part of the ongoing conflict between the US and Russia in Ukraine.

For the time being, Severstal’s owner and chief executive Alexei Mordashov is making no official statement. Assessments in Moscow are divided over whether Mordashov has discussed the US asset sale plan with President Vladimir Putin as part of Russia’s reaction to the threat of US sanctions against the energy and metals sectors of the Russian economy. Russian steel industry sources believe Mordashov has authorized the press leak to advertise his asset sale in an attempt to lift the price.
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EVRAZ PLAYS THE HIDDEN HAND — VITKOVICE STEEL SALE IS A RELATED-PARTY TRANSACTION (IN WHICH SERGEI TARUTA, ACTING DONETSK GOVERNOR, GETS A REWARD HE CAN’T AFFORD)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Evraz group, controlled by Roman Abramovich and Alexander Abramov, is listed on the main board of the London Stock Exchange (LSE). It is also the second most indebted steelmaker in Russia, with a current debt of about $6.5 billion, and a loss on its 2013 balance-sheet of $572 million.

This parlous condition is obliging Abramovich and Abramov to get rid of as many of their lossmaking steelmills as they can, and avoid defaulting on their bank loan covenants. Because the duo miscalculated when they paid premium prices for their foreign assets, the writedowns to the current value of their purchases are inflicting big numbers on the loss line of the Evraz financial reports, eliminating shareholder dividends, and cutting market capitalization. At the moment, the market values Evraz at £1.3 billion ($2.2 billion) – that’s to say, one-third of what Evraz owes its banks. The market capitalization has been dwindling steadily since February 2012 when it was £6.9 billion. Among Russian steelmakers only Igor Zyuzin, owner of the Mechel group, has generated more debt, and destroyed more asset value.
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IS IT CURTAINS FOR IGOR ZYUZIN? VLADIMIR LISIN AND MIKHAIL FRIDMAN ON THE ATTACK

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Alfa Bank, owned by Mikhail Fridman, has issued an unexpected loan repayment demand from Mechel, controlled by Igor Zyuzin (left), for $150 million. That’s chicken-feed in Mechel’s debt pile of almost $10 billion. But with dozens of trade creditors in the arbitrazh courts demanding their invoices be paid; a collapsing share price; and nothing of value left to mortgage or to meet margin calls, Zyuzin is on the edge of bankruptcy. So why has Fridman issued his ultimatum? Since two out of every three dollars Zyuzin owes are under state bank control, Fridman’s notice appears to be a call on the banks, and on the government behind, to get rid of Zyuzin altogether and redistribute Mechel’s steelmaking and coal-mining assets. It isn’t likely Fridman, who abandoned the mining and metal lines of business after the 2008 crisis, is acting alone.

The Alfa Bank demand was issued during a meeting last Thursday, March 13, with government ministers and bankers to discuss Mechel’s financial position. Mechel and Alfa sources confirm that the meeting, chaired by Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, was told that Mechel was in violation of its loan covenants and that Alfa demanded pre-payment within 24 hours.
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NO ROSATOM REACTOR SALE TO SOUTH AFRICA, NO EVRAZ SALE OF HIGHVELD STEEL, NO COINCIDENCE

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By John Helmer, Moscow

After almost a year of inconclusive negotiations with a secretive South African group called Nemascore, Evraz, the Russian steelmaker and miner, has announced to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange that negotiations have opened to sell its control stake in Highveld Steel & Vanadium to new buyers. The notice to the exchange last week said Evraz informed the Highveld board that “it is, in addition to Nemascore (Proprietary) Limited, currently engaging with other potential bidders with a view to disposing of its 85.11% stake in the Company. The independent board of the Company has agreed to allow these potential bidders to conduct a due diligence investigation into the affairs of the Company.” The Evraz notice added that the talks are “incomplete, confidential and non-binding, hence there is no certainty that a transaction will take place.”
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PARTITIONING UKRAINE — WHO GAINS FROM FIGHTING RUSSIA TO THE LAST UKRAINIAN?

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By John Helmer, Moscow

When the last war with Germany was ending, the British intelligence services rounded up as many of their German counterparts as they could find, and interrogated them. They were taken by surprise, as a series of reports by Hugh Trevor-Roper, then a signals intelligence analyst, uncovered as early as 1944.* For the British, the surprise was that neither German military intelligence (Abwehr) nor the SS intelligence organization (Sicherheitsdienst) had the doctrine or the resources for strategic deception: that’s the capacity to mask from your opponent what your plans are, and thereby fool your target into positioning himself for defeat. By the standards of British deceit, as British historians and thriller writers have proclaimed ever since, the Germans were naïve – exposing a colossal Achilles heel to be exploited just because it was always possible to persuade them to put their Achilles foot into a trap.

Predictability and naivety aren’t recommended for war-fighting — nor just for Germans, and not just then. The British intelligence services’ reports on the Russian capacity for deception remain top secret. But what the British believed was once their own superiority in deception tactics, they have now dispensed with, or lost. So when it comes to waging the Anglo-American war against Russia, there’s been no disguise for the Achilles Heels on display in the war for Chechnya or in the Georgian War of August 2008 – both of them lost by the Anglo-American side.
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UKRAINIAN BID TO REENTER RUSSIAN STEEL MARKET IS STALLED

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Kremlin has yet to agree to a Ukrainian application for the resumption of duty-free quotas for steel pipe imports to Russia. In December, Ukrainian Industry Minister Mykhaylo Korolenko told Bloomberg that there had been an agreement with the Kremlin to reinstate the quotas which were cancelled on July 1 and a penalty duty of 19% introduced instead. In effect, this killed the Ukrainian trade.
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VICTOR PINCHUK’S INTERPIPE DEFAULTS AGAIN — IT’S A WRAP!

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Interpipe, the heavily indebted Ukrainian pipemaker owned by Victor Pinchuk (left foreground), has defaulted on its pledge to list its Eurobonds on the Luxembourg Stock Exchange by December 27, a notice from Deutsche Bank, the bond trustee, has revealed. This is Pinchuk’s second default in two months. On November 1, Interpipe announced it was unable to pay its international banks $106 million due on at least half a billion dollars in loans.

According to the latest disclosure, Deutsche Bank now has the authority to call for repayment of the face value of the Interpipe bonds plus interest. Interpipe’s last financial report indicates that as of December 31, 2012, the sum owing would be more than $198 million. A repayment call would also trigger repayment demands from Interpipe’s international banks and the Italian export agency SACE. The banks, led by ING of the Netherlands, Commerzbank of Germany, and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), are owed more than $543 million; SACE, $156 million.
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EVRAZ STILL UNABLE TO SELL HIGHVELD STEEL; DEAL TIMING APPEARS TIED TO SOUTH AFRICAN REACTOR PURCHASE FROM ROSATOM

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By John Helmer, Moscow

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

The new announcement acknowledges that closure of the sale has been postponed three times already, and that six cautionary notices have been issued to the Johannesburg market. Neither Evraz nor Nemascore has explained the reasons for the delay, claiming this is prevented by a non-disclosure agreement covering their deal. In its December 19 announcement, Evraz claims that a “due diligence process is still progressing”, and that the “Transaction is expected to be concluded towards the end of Q1 2014.” The story of Nemascore and its ties to the South African President, Jacob Zuma, can be read here.
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INTERPIPE IS IN THE LION’S MOUTH — THAT’S THE RUSSIAN BANKS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Interpipe, the heavily indebted Ukrainian pipemaker owned by Victor Pinchuk (centre), owes at least $120 million to Russian banks, led by state-owned Sberbank controlled by former Minister of Economic Development, German Gref (wall picture, left). But the Russian bankers are not represented in any of the loan restructuring negotiations which are currently under way, following Interpipe’s default on $106 million in debts owed to its international lenders on November 1.

The Russian debt and the Russian influence over Interpipe’s financial survival have been disclosed by Interpipe executives at a briefing for Interpipe’s Eurobond holders on December 9. The Russian loan agreements carry standard protective clauses allowing a call for full repayment when Pinchuk and his holding are in default to other lenders, suppliers, or creditors. If the Russians decide to do this, Interpipe’s executives acknowledge they cannot pay. They have less than $90 million in free cash at present, and admit they cannot borrow extra money.
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DANIELI IN THE LION’S DEN — VICTOR PINCHUK CHEWS OVER $1.3 BILLION DEBT

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Victor Pinchuk, the owner of Interpipe, the Ukrainian steelmaker which defaulted on its debts on November 1, has called his first-ever public business meeting. The date is December 9, and the meeting will be telephonic. Deutsche Bank, which is acting as trustee for Interpipe’s $200 million Eurobond issue, is promising to answer questions about the company’s financial collapse, and provide a copy of the debt repayment agreement Pinchuk has with his banks.

Those attending the meeting will not be able to read Interpipe’s presentation until the start of the conference call. They will then have just 60 minutes to read, ask their questions, and listen to the answers. According to Deutsche Bank, the conference call will “last no more than one hour.”
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INTERPIPE STARTS DEBT REFINANCING TALKS, BLAMES RUSSIA FOR DEFAULT, AS VICTOR PINCHUK BEGS PRESIDENT VICTOR YANUKOVICH FOR RUSSIAN REWARD

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Interpipe, the Ukrainian pipemaker owned by Victor Pinchuk (left), son-in-law of ex-President Leonid Kuchma (centre, right), has released its first official acknowledgement that it is in default on $106 million of debt owed to its banks. In a statement yesterday on the company website, Interpipe said negotiations are under way with the banks, and that they had been informed in advance of the company’s failure to meet the repayment amount due on November 1. “The creditor banks”, according to Interpipe, “have formed a steering committee of creditors. The parties will have to agree to change the schedule of payments on the main body of the loans, as well as some other changes in the loan agreement conditions. The company plans to continue to pay interest on all borrowings in full. The operating activities of Interpipe run in the normal mode.”

Interpipe’s debts currently exceed $1.3 billion; it has less than $50 million in cash. The banks, which negotiated with Interpipe for an earlier debt restructuring agreement in 2011, include Citi, Barclays, Intesa, ING, and Credit Agricole. The banks are not commenting publicly except for Intesa in Milan; it said this week it is aware of the default and is evaluating the situation with the other lenders.
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MECHEL’S IGOR ZYUZIN EVOLVES — FROM OLIGARCH TO DEADBEAT DEBTOR TO GOSPLAN APPARATCHIK

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The sharp selloff of Mechel, the steel and coal group controlled by Igor Zyuzin, ought to demonstrate — if fresh proof were needed — that this is no longer a commercial operation in the normal sense of the term. Today Mechel is a nationalized enterprise kept solvent by five state banks in order to preserve the economies of several cities and regions across the country.

The stock market gyrations this week, in which almost $330 million in market capitalization was liquidated, should also demonstrate – if that too were necessary – how little a Russian company listing on the New York Stock Exchange provides by way of accountable financial reporting or effective regulation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
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VICTOR PINCHUK TRIPS HIMSELF UP — INTERPIPE FAILS PAYMENT DEADLINE, FACES DEFAULT AND LIQUIDATION

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Interpipe, the leading Ukrainian pipemaker, failed to meet last Friday’s deadline for repayment to its international bankers of $106 million, sources in Kiev have confirmed. Interpipe, owned by Victor Pinchuk (image above) and his wife Elena, daughter of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, is the largest steelmaker in the former Soviet Union to face bankruptcy and liquidation in recent years. According to sources close to Interpipe, who ask not to be identified, Interpipe’s debts now exceed $1.3 billion; its free cash on hand is less than $50 million.

The group says it continues to produce pipes at its new electric arc furnace plant at Dniepropetrovsk, despite market shut-out measures adopted by Russia, the CIS Customs Union, and the US, which have introduced, or plan shortly to impose penalty duties on pipe imports of 19.4% and 30.8%, respectively. These measures, compounding the generally depressed market demand for pipes, have led Fitch Ratings to slash Interpipe’s earnings estimate for this year by more than $100 million to $260 million, possibly less.
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MORE FROM FIBBER — EVRAZ INCREASES PRODUCTION AT CLAYMONT STEEL; EVRAZ CLOSES CLAYMONT STEEL: IS THIS A PLOY TO STOP UKRAINIAN EXPORTS TO THE US?

fibber_evraz

By John Helmer, Moscow

Struggling with a rising debt burden of more than $8.2 billion, the Evraz group, owned by Roman Abramovich (left), Alexander Abramov (centre) and Alexander Frolov (right), has suspended production at its Claymont steelmill in Delaware. The production halt is indefinite. A company announcement from Moscow on Monday says that “due to subdued market demand and the high volume of imports, it will suspend operations at its steel mill in Claymont, Delaware. Over the next two months, about 375 employees will complete processing and shipping of existing products and prepare the mill for idling. EVRAZ will consider restarting the operations as soon as the market conditions improve. Evraz doesn’t expect any adverse financial effect on its operations in North America as a result of this action, and customers of the Claymont mill will be served by other EVRAZ facilities in Portland, Oregon, and Regina, Saskatchewan.”

Dated October 14, this was a big surprise. If what Evraz says now is believable, why did the company say publicly on August 29 that it was planning to increase production at Claymont Steel? Less than seven weeks ago, in the Evraz half-yearly financial report this is what the company claimed: “The key focus of the flat product group, in the period, was enhancing capacity utilisation. To this end, EVRAZ North America is currently finalising works to increase the rolling speed at EVRAZ Claymont which should improve productivity and provide capacity for higher output levels when the order book is strong.” (page 17).
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FIBBER ABRAMOVICH — EVRAZ TELLS TALL TALES ON COST-CUTTING, BUT DEBTS KEEP GROWING

whisper

By John Helmer, Moscow

Fibber McGee was one of the first situation comedy serials on American radio; from 1935 to 1959, it was also one of the longest running. The situation joke was that Fibber would tell tall tales which his wife Molly would expose. Fibber (left image-1) stood (and fell) for hare-brained schemes; Molly, his wife on stage and off (left image-2), stood for commonsense.

Evraz is one of Russia’s largest steel and mining companies employing about 110,000 people worldwide. In Russia the group operates three steelmills in two regions; ten coalmines in two other regions, five iron-ore mines, and two vanadium refineries near Moscow. It is controlled by Roman Abramovich (right image-1), whose way of telling tales managed to persuade the UK High Court judge Dame Elizabeth Gloster, in the well-known case brought by the late Boris Berezovsky. But no Molly, Gloster. She decided that to protect her judgement from the Court of Appeal, she believed one of the two claimants rather than dismissing both of them for lying their heads off. A good part of Russia was wise to what was true, what was false. Gloster did something else. “I bethcha!”, one of Molly’s famous lines, turned out to be Gloster’s in the end. Or, as the Greek character used to refer to their names in the radio show, it was a case of “Fizzer and Kewpie”.
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FITCH DOWNGRADES INTERPIPE TO DEFAULT — VICTOR PINCHUK TO ASK ITALIANS FOR RESCUE FROM RUSSIAN AND AMERICAN MOVES

ukr_eu_interpipe

By John Helmer, Moscow

The international ratings agency Fitch has downgraded its assessment of the Ukrainian pipemaking group Interpipe, owned by Victor Pinchuk, warning that Russian action since July to impose penalty duties on Ukrainian pipe imports is causing a serious loss of sales and a grave shortage of cash for Interpipe. If that continues, a release from Fitch says, the company “is unlikely to be able to meet its scheduled debt repayments.” The Fitch report was issued in London on Monday. It comes just three months after the agency had reported that the outlook for Interpipe as stable, confirming at the time Interpipe’s B- rating.

In the latest action Fitch says it is downgrading Interpipe to CCC. Sources close to recent talks between Fitch and Interpipe describe the triple-C rating as indicating, according to the Fitch methodology, the high probability of default.
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AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

How little the Germans have changed.

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

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

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RUSSIAN AVIATION INDUSTRY CORRECTS YELTSIN YAW – BOEING, AIRBUS DITCHED



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

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

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

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

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

So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.

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



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KILLING IS CHEAPER — THE US ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND WEAPONIZES TWITTER, FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, WHATSAPP, TELEGRAM

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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MARIA YUDINA OUT OF THE DARK – THE RUSSIAN CLASSICAL PIANIST PLAYS AGAIN

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

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.

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