When US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was telling the Russians and the US state press yesterday to stop hacking into American politics, sitting beside him was a former US Navy signals officer and lawyer named Margaret Peterlin (lead image, red circle). Peterlin’s job for the last two years was managing a Boston company specializing in cyber warfare weapons, including the latest in US computer programmes to mimic foreign hackers and convince US targets they have been hacked by Russians. Peterlin was also an advisor to Donald Trump during the presidential transition. Her targets then included Hillary Clinton and her campaign organization. (more…)
Mr Hiccup (left) was the lead character of an Italian-Swiss cartoon of thirty years ago. His chronic hiccups persisted for years, inflicting cost, pain and misfortune on almost everyone unlucky enough to meet him. In each of 39 episodes Mr Hiccup tried a new remedy, but he always failed. Others paid the price. And so it’s been for Mikhail Fridman (right), the Russian oligarch, who had lunch with the Financial Times last month. That’s when Fridman revealed he’s Mr Hiccup. (more…)
Mikhail Fridman, the control shareholder of a large Russian banking, telecommunications, grocery, and oil and gas group, has held another lunch with the Financial Times to demonstrate that he doesn’t want to answer questions about the risks to his assets in the Ukraine, where he was born and where he remains the largest individual Russian investor; in the United States, where his Vimpelcom company is listed on the NASDAQ exchange and recently pleaded guilty to corruption charges; in London, where his asset holding LetterOne is now based; or in Russia which has issued his passport. At a London restaurant interview published on April 2, Fridman has also lunched to demonstrate what the Financial Times (FT) reported at its first lunch with him, on March 15, 2003, as “ our newspaper’s reputation for independence…supported by a strict separation of editorial from advertising.”
“The only separation the FT makes is between money and power”, responds a Moscow publisher. “The FT hates Russian power, but loves Russian money. Without inhibition, it advertises both, and calls the product a newspaper.” (more…)
Last Friday a US federal court judge named Andrew L.Carter Junior issued a warrant for the US Government to seize $300 million in bank cash and investment accounts in Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg. The proceeding conceals the name of the owner of the targeted bank accounts, and of the mastermind in what court documents call “an international conspiracy to launder corrupt payments made to GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL A, a relative of the President of Uzbekistan and a government official at all times relevant to the facts alleged.”
The court claim by the US Department of Justice names Russian telecommunications companies MTS and Vimpelcom for having “made more than $500 million in corrupt payments”. But the US Government court papers are selective. The Russian companies weren’t the only ones in the alleged conspiracy between 2004 and 2011, Justice acknowledged in court. The other telecommunication company names concealed in the court papers included TeliaSonera, owned by the Swedish and Finnish governments, and the International Communications Group (ICG), which is given the protective code “U.S.Company-1”, and whose method of buying its entry into Uzbekistan was unrecorded. (more…)
Mikhail Fridman (lead image, centre) and Alexei Reznikovich (left) have a telephone problem, and it’s got a name, Gregory Shenkman (right).
It’s not that Vimpelcom, the global mobile telephone company they control through LetterOne (L1), Fridman’s offshore holding, isn’t a lucrative business. In market capitalization Vimpelcom is currently worth $8.7 billion; it dropped from $18 billion in 2010 to $3 billion at the start of this year, and is now up almost threefold. Volatility like this indicates the market sentiment that conventional telephone companies have hit the limit of their value. To grow richer, the telephone companies must do new things. And for the technology to do that, Fridman and Reznikovich admit they must find assets which Russia isn’t producing at present.
For Russian nationals, that’s easier said than done right now. For Vimpelcom to grow, LetterOne is thinking of buying the wherewithal in Silicon Valley, California. That may be the heartland of the technology Fridman and Reznikovich want. It’s also the belly of the beast, so far as the Kremlin and Russian security forces believe, because of the Ukraine sanctions campaign; NATO’s military reinforcements along Russia’s frontiers, and the US Government’s effort to force regime change in Moscow. Trading with the American enemy is an increasing concern at Vimpelcom, because the Kremlin insists; and because the US Government is preparing to strike at Vimpelcom for alleged bribery in pursuit of its international business. So what have Fridman and Reznikovich engaged Shenkman for? (more…)
Forgery in the Russian art market is diminishing. “The situation is becoming much better. There are now very few fakes,” reports James Butterwick, a London-based dealer and specialist in Russian art. “This has nothing to do with the experts. The market is the expert now, and it’s become very difficult to buy a picture of dubious authenticity. Save us from the academics and the connoisseurs.” (more…)
President Vladimir Putin’s summons to the oligarchs for dinner on December 18 turned out to be a teddy bears’ picnic. And why not – they got all they came for, and more. The country outside got decidedly less, but for the time being how little is a state secret. (more…)
Following the publication of yesterday’s report on the case of Vladimir Yevtushenkov, an insider from the Russian oil industry has communicated this analysis of what provoked Yevtushenkov’s arrest, and what will happen next. The insider has had more than 15 years of experience working with Igor Sechin, now chief executive of Rosneft.
“The problem of Yevtushenkov is in his misunderstanding of what it means to own an oil company. He was given a right just to touch the object [Bashneft]; to clean and polish it; and then to hand it over to Sechin [Rosneft]. But Yevtushenkov decided that he was the real owner, and he started disputing with Sechin over the price of the asset. That’s something that is totally indisputable.The Ukrainian theory [of the case] is just camouflage.” (more…)
Conspiracy or screw-up — there is no shortage of complicated theories in Russia to explain why an oligarch of Vladimir Yevtushenkov’s (image, left) size is being made to run the gauntlet, quite apart from the fact that he’s probably guilty of the crimes alleged against him. What is missing is the Russian equivalent of screw-up. That’s to say, who screwed up – if this is what is happening. (more…)
Petro Poroshenko disappointed most of the audience at Victor Pinchuk’s Kiev party on Friday and Saturday by suggesting that he is ready to trim the terms of Ukraine’s partnership agreement with the European Union in order to meet President Vladimir Putin’s demands. But that’s exactly what Pinchuk (front row, 6th left) needs if Interpipe, his steel and pipemaking group in Dniepropetrovsk region, is to trade its way out of bank default and insolvency.
According to Poroshenko, “We have to be the most flexible concerning the [EU] Agreement on association and do everything possible to keep those opportunities which we will have within association, and at the same time to make it comfortable for Russia. I will personally use my best efforts for this purpose.” (more…)
The sanctions programme adopted against Russia to date aims, according to this week’s declaration by US President Barack Obama, at curtailing the capabilities of the Russian government to field men and arms on or across Russian borders; and to penalize individuals and corporations for sustaining the Russian economy while the war in eastern Ukraine continues.
For the first time, US officials have declared that every sector of the Russian economy, including investment and financing for industry, urban development, farm production and food supply, are targets. (more…)
When Alexander Shokhin was a junior official in the international economic department of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the 1980s, it was plain he was short-sighted. That was because of the glasses he wore – the old Soviet type, super-thick. He’s come a long way since then, and so has sight-correction technology. When Shokhin met President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on February 14, his eyewear was much improved. His short-sightedness wasn’t.
Now president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE), the principal business lobby in Moscow, Shokhin tried telling Putin his clients would agree to paying more Russian tax on their corporate, and maybe personal incomes, if Putin agreed to let them keep legal title of their assets abroad, under the jurisdiction of foreign courts, not Russian. Putin rejected the offer. It was one week before the Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich was ousted from office in Kiev, and the international position of Russian capital was to be exposed to unprecedented restrictions and risks – from a US Government attack on offshorization, not from the Kremlin’s. (more…)
A new type of warfare is being tested in Ukraine. The strategem was first publicly disclosed on February 23, when Zbigniew Brzezinski — the wannabe Secretary of State if the Democratic Party wins the 2016 presidential election — proposed a billion-dollar levy on each of ten Ukrainian oligarchs. Brzezinski didn’t identify them by name, but suggested they were “principal beneficiaries of the country’s stunningly widespread corruption”. Another $10 billion, according to Brzezinski’s scheme, should be “matched” by the deposed president, Viktor Yanukovich, and his family.
Swiss sources reveal that the Swiss government and banks are under pressure right now to extend their freeze of the Yanukovich bank accounts to other Ukrainians on a US Government target list. Brzezinski’s proposal used the term “persuade” for his billion-dollar levy. The US Treasury has conveyed to the Swiss, as well as to banks of the European Union (EU), the targeting of as many Ukrainians as the new government in Kiev wants to threaten, especially if their business is concentrated in the eastern half of the country. (more…)
Following a fresh investigation of its business practices in the former Soviet Union, TeliaSonera, the Stockholm-based telecommunications company, reported Friday that it has dismissed four senior executives, including the chief financial officer and the head of its mobile telephone division. A company statement claims that the objective of the investigation was “a risk assessment from a business ethics perspective”. The spokesman of the company, Salomon Bekele, says the targets were geographically limited to its “Eurasia division”, and that TeliaSonera’s business in Uzbekistan and Russia were “excepted”.
According to TeliaSonera’s financial report for the first nine months of the year, issued on October 17, Sweden currently accounts for about 36% of the company’s sales, Eurasia about 22%. But the Eurasia division is the group’s main source of growth, generating SEK5.3 billion ($807.6 million), 11.1% more in sales revenues compared to last year counted in local currencies; in Swedish kronor the growth rate was 3.1%. Earnings (Ebitda) from the Eurasian division jumped 9.5% to SEK8 billion ($1.2 billion). By comparison, the company’s consolidated revenues fell by 1.8%, earnings rose by 1.5%. (more…)
If QIWI, the Russian electronic payments operator, is such a good thing, why did the market cut the stock price the minute QIWI announced this week that it’s planning to sell off more of the control shareholders’ shares?
QIWI was co-founded by Alisher Usmanov’s internet portal company, Mail.ru, and Usmanov continues to be one of QIWI’s biggest clients and sources of cashflow. In May, QIWI launched an initial public offering (IPO) of 12.5 million shares on the US Nasdaq exchange. Usmanov was the biggest seller at the time. Through Mail.ru, he started with 21.4% of the issued share capital, and ended up with 19.4% of the voting shares. He was followed by Andrei Romanenko, QIWI’s board chairman and one of the co-founders, who started with 12.7%, and ended with 8.6%. For the May 3, 2013, prospectus, read this. (more…)
Swiss and French financial police have searched offices or homes in France as part of what the spokesman for the Swiss Attorney-General calls “our Uzbek case”. According to Jeannette Balmer, “perquisitions [searches] have been made in France on our request.” She declines to say when the searches were conducted, the addresses of the premises searched, or the names of the Uzbek targets. A report by Ola Westerberg of the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyra first revealed the French operation on July 2.
According to Westerberg, searches by the Brigade de Recherche et d’Investigation Financière were conducted simultaneously at different French addresses on June 18. The targets, according to Westerberg, were all connected to Takilant, a Gibraltar front company allegedly used to take bribes from TeliaSonera, the Swedish telecommunications group, in return for operating concessions and mobile telephone licences in Uzbekistan. Behind Takilant is alleged to be Gulnara Karimova, the front-running candidate to succeed the current President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, her father. For the runup to the June 18 operation in France, read the archive here. (more…)
You could pack your bathing togs, sunglasses and sailing cap, and thus attired pay a call at 24 De Castro Street, in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, to drop your eighteen dollars off personally. This would be more fun than calling your stockbroker to put the money on buying a share in Luxoft in its initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange this week. The BVI address is where Luxoft, a Russian computer programmer and software developer, is registered. The sailing weather is milder than the Isle of Man, in the English Channel, where Luxoft’s controlling shareholder, the IBS group, is based.
IBS and Luxoft are hoping to collect as much as $84 million on the share punt. Punt is the word for the IPO, which beats all previous Russian IPOs in leaving the control shareholders and Russia’s state bank VTB with 98.5% of the voting shares of the newly listed company. The tiny 1.5% of voting shares being sold for $84 million also come with the proviso that the payoff for the control shareholders is entirely up front. This, the prospectus explains, is because no future dividend will be paid to the new shareholders. The only gain they can bet on is capital gain on the share price. But that depends on Anatoly Karachinsky (image right), the control shareholder behind both Luxoft and IBS, earning a future profit which he doesn’t plan to share. (more…)
If the Union de Banques Suisses (UBS), Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank decided to put their employees in uniform; contracted with a factory in Bangladesh to make the costumes as cheaply as possible; and then floated shares of the Bangladesh Uniform Company (BUC) on an international stock market, taking underwriting fees, capital gains, and dividends as large BUC’s annual profit, would that be a clever line of business? What independent investor would want to buy into such a scheme?
The question arises as a group of Russians spin out of their holding, an Isle of Man entity called IBS, their British Virgin Islands subsidiary called Luxoft, and sell brand new shares of the latter on the New York Stock Exchange at a valuation of between $500 million and $1 billion; and with better than 50% capital gain forecast in just six months. If IBS, with a market capitalization on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange of €419 million ($549 million) can double its money by getting UBS to flog off an outsource department, isn’t a share-buyer guaranteed his return so long as the banks renew their outsourcing contracts? Will they do that, though, if the graduate-degree Russians who do the work insist that Luxoft pay them better than grade-school wages? (more…)
What can have motivated Vladimir Yevtushenkov (image right) of the Sistema conglomerate of Moscow to hire for his board of directors last week a man who is a magnet for negative British press coverage, and who was judged last year by the UK High Court for an action brought, and lost, by his friend, Nathaniel Rothschild?
The announcement of Lord Peter Mandelson’s (top left) appointment to the Sistema board, replacing Yevgeny Novitsky, was issued last Thursday. The announcement doesn’t explain what was wrong or obsolete with Novitsky’s talents or connexions, about which the Russian press have printed many allegations. Mandelson, on the other hand, is the owner of a small public relations company tied to WPP, an international conglomerate of PR firms controlled by Philip Lader, who sits on Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal board. Lader’s relationship with Mandelson has been described in a WPP press release as “provid[ing] seed capital along with additional benefits in kind including office accommodation”. (more…)
According to Russian-language records and a Tashkent party film published by Stockholm television last week, Alisher Usmanov held the hand of Gulnara Karimova and whispered intimately to her just days after the latter had been making plans to collect millions of dollars in payments from Swedish telephone company, TeliaSonera. Karimova is one of two daughters of the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov; she is a leading candidate to replace him if he falls ill, or to succeed him at the presidential election due in March 2015. Karimova is also one of several targets of official investigations underway in Sweden and Switzerland, alleged to have been behind a corrupt payment system through which TeliaSonera obtained and operated its mobile telephone concession in Uzbekistan, and through which the Russian rival, Mobile Telesystems (MTS), owned by Vladimir Yevtushenkov, lost its concession and was forced out of Uzbekistan last year. The tale of that billion-dollar expropriation can be read here.
Usmanov, who is Uzbek by origin, is TeliaSonera’s shareholding partner in Megafon, the London-listed mobile telephone operator and rival of Yevtushenkov in the Russian telecommunication market. Usmanov is also on the top of Rich Lists in Russia and the UK, based on estimates of his asset value in Russian telephony, iron-ore mines, steelmills, print and internet media, not counting his debts and obligations. He has been one of the more nervous of the oligarchs, ready to put up his hand to volunteer, and quick to implement the Kremlin’s marching orders. (more…)
In the research for its profile on Alisher Usmanov, BBC Radio-4 was told by its sources in Russia that claims Usmanov is close to the Kremlin have been invented; and that Usmanov has never been granted a personal audience with President (Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin.
The BBC programme was broadcast on April 28. For the story and the soundtrack, click here.
The BBC researchers were unable in time to verify that Usmanov has never met Putin in a one-on-one session. So that part of the interview material was omitted from the broadcast. The day after, Usmanov’s spokesman Yulia Mazanova has responded: “Regarding meetings of AB Usmanov with Russian President Vladimir Putin, I can report that Mr Usmanov as a member of the Board of RSPP [Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists] regularly participates in the meetings of the President of Russia Mr. Putin and the Russian business community.” (more…)
Alisher Usmanov’s fortune began with a business of making plastic bags when they were in short supply in Moscow in the last days of the USSR. At least, that’s the asset in the self-start, self-made fortune story which reporters for global rich lists have been persuaded to believe about Usmanov. How much capital he accumulated in plastic bags and how this recommended him as a debt collector for Rem Vyakhirev and others in the early Gazprom leadership – Usmanov’s next step up the fortune ladder — have yet to be clarified.
Last autumn there was also much the UK Financial Services Authority (now renamed Financial Conduct Authority) and the UK Listing Authority wanted to be clarified, because the UK regulators refused to allow Usmanov’s telecommunications company Megafon to make its initial public offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange. Earlier UK refusals to allow Usmanov to sell shares in his iron-ore mines and steelmills through the Metalloinvest holding weighed on that judgement. The story of how the “clarifications” were added to the prospectus, and the Megafon share sale allowed, has been told here and here. (more…)
From small seeds, big truths can be cultivated, pressed, packaged, and retailed profitably. Lies, too.
The elder daughter of Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova, was so named because in the Uzbek language Gulnara signifies the flower of the pomegranate. The Persians say the same thing.
Last week, after months of negotiation with newspapers worldwide, Karimova issued two press interviews in Switzerland, where she is Uzbekistan’s representative to the Geneva branch of the United Nations. Her effort has been arranged before prosecutors in Switzerland and Sweden file public indictments against Uzbek, Swiss and Swedish company officials for corruption offences, including bribery and money-laundering. They acknowledge they are cooperating with each other; they may be cooperating secretly with the Prosecutor-General of Russia. The deadline for the opening of the Swedish criminal dossier in the Stockholm District Court is July 25. (more…)
Interpol publishes the names of less than a third of the people identified by Red Notices as wanted for arrest. That’s so fugitives can’t know the risks of apprehension they run when they try crossing international borders. The Red Notice for Bekhzod Akhmedov has been published because the authorities in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, want it to appear that Akhmedov is still on the run – that is to say, alive and well, and not in Uzbekistan. If after arguing with Gulnara Karimova last May or June he never made it out of the country, if he has been dead since then, Interpol is helping to cover up the crime of how he died, and who killed him.
Karimova is the senior daughter of Islam Karimov, the President of Uzbekistan since the end of the Soviet Union in 1990. Karimova is the dominant business figure in the country. Her father, just turned 75, is serving out the last of the terms allowed by the Uzbek constitution. The next presidential election, due in December 2014, has been postponed to March 2015. That allows just two years to fix the succession on terms that will suit the Karimov family, but powerful enough to keep a lid on every variety of dissent which has been repressed in the country to date. That’s a tall order – expensive too. (more…)
Lars Nyberg (right), chief executive until Friday afternoon of TeliaSonera, the Swedish and Finnish telecommunications group, is something of an expert on the blowback effect. Firearms and forensics experts understand that blowback is what happens after a gunshot, when the vacuum inside the gun barrel draws in blood and tissue from the person who’s just been shot. Even if the corpse cannot be found, the blowback evidence can convict the shooter whose prints are on the gun, of murder. The typical defence in situations like that is no corpus delicti, no evidence of crime.
In the case of TeliaSonera’s payment of more (much more) than $320 million to a one-person company registered in Gibraltar allegedly having nothing to do with Gulnara Karimova (centre), Nyberg claims he is innocent of intending corruptly to advance TeliaSonera’s profits in its Uzbek mobile telephone concession. Karimova is the senior daughter of Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov, and the dominant business figure in the country. (more…)
You don’t have to be a commercial rival of Ziyavudin Magomedov to notice that the billion-dollar business ventures he promises to deliver often fail to materialize. There was his claim, for example, that with his control stake of the United Grain Company (OZK is the Russian acronym), he intended to bid for control of an Australian grain company GrainCorp. There was the promise of coal and grain terminals on Russia’s fareastern coast. Then there was the fleet of tankers to carry oil between Russia’s northern ports and Rotterdam, powered by the latest liquefied natural gas technology. Not one of those claims has materialized.
What then of Magomedov’s promise to the Rotterdam port authority, reported by Dutch sources, that if he was granted permission to build a new oil terminal, he would fill it with an extra 30,000 tonnes per year (600,000 barrels per day)? The port authority has done what it said it would do – Magomedov has his terminal permit and a deadline of two years in which to start stocking and transhipping oil. But can he deliver? Where will the extra Russian crude supplies come from, especially since the Russian oil majors, like Rosneft, LUKoil, Surgutneftegaz, Gazpromneft, and Bashneft, have their own Rotterdam plans, and no interest in sharing their profit with Magomedov? A leading European oil shipment expert says: “In my understanding, Mr Magomedov is a bubble blower.” (more…)
The old oligarchs, and several new aspirants, have a new playground in the Russian transportation sector, where their profits are guaranteed by the state budget. Carrying cargo from mine and wellhead to plant and port, and back again from port to market, is already profitable in conventional terms, and so the state assets, once part of the state railways monopoly, are the target of active lobbying for special favour. Carrying passengers around the biggest conurbation in the country – Moscow – is another target. But because passenger fares are regulated and subsidized by the state, the profitability of transporting them is more restricted than cargo transportation. It is also better hidden. Still, the game rules for privatization are the same as they were in the natural resource, energy and mining sectors – buy cheap (corruptly), sell dear (offshore).
In general, purchasing assets from the state on the cheap means the acquiescence of state officials in low-ball privatizations, or non-competitive “strategic placements”, paid with state bank loans on soft securization terms, subsidized interest rates, non-market repayment guarantees: everyone knows these are administrative measures requiring extras. (more…)
It has taken Alexei Mordashov (image lower right) three and a half years to persuade shareholders of Toronto-listed High River Gold (HRG) to accept his takeover of the company. That’s the longest foreign defence against a Russian takeover in the oligarch record-book. But when the count was completed on December 11, Mordashov’s victory was still a close-run thing. What has happened is that most of the holdout shareholders opted to take cash for their shares, and abandon the business, rather than accept a swap of their HRG shares for shares of Mordashov’s larger goldmine holding, London-listed Nord Gold.
Mordashov has the company he wanted, but not with a vote of confidence in his or his goldmining future. In the process, not a single Canadian court, Canadian stock market regulator, nor even a Canadian newspaper reporter took the side of the minority shareholders. They have included Sprott Asset Management, one of Canada’s leading independent fund managers; according to its latest performance sheet, its investments in gold and precious metals stocks have been bleeding red for the year to date, the full year, and indeed for the past three years. (more…)
Not even the two people usually familiar with the matter were able to convince Bloomberg that there has been genuine demand in the London market for Megafon shares at Alisher Usmanov’s asking price. Instead, as the company and its underwriters tried to sign buyers before the subscription book closed this afternoon, brokerage sources claimed the initial public offering (IPO) was anchored by an order for $170 million. That’s 10% of the shares on offer – if the company is following its undertaking to sell 15% at a base valuation of $11 billion.
While speculation of the identity of the “anchor investor” focused on major investment funds, a source really familiar with the matter claimed that she “wouldn’t be surprised if it is ‘friends and family’. That seems to be the tactic these days.” (more…)
The November 15 announcement by Megafon, the telephone property of Alisher Usmanov and Andrei Skoch, reveals a discount on last month’s valuation targets of up to 20%, depending on how the assets for sale are counted. To attract buyers for shares at bargain-basement prices, the company is promising to pay out more than 50% of its net profit in dividends, a temptation which wasn’t enough in last month’s offer to convince investors to buy into Megafon at the bottom of the valuation range of $11 billion. So uncertain is the future that the minority Swedish shareholder, TeliaSonera, confirms that it has agreed to retain its Megafon shares for no longer than next May, and may then sell out entirely.
Megafon says it has commenced a roadshow of presentations to investors today, and plans to start selling shares and General Depositary Receipts (GDRs) on the London Stock Exchange on November 28. The company has issued an Intention to List (ITL) document, but it is refusing to release the prospectus, or provide details of what it claims in that document about the risks the company faces, and what it reveals of the business practices and litigation record of Usmanov and Skoch. (more…)
When it comes to interior decoration, no one does gilding better than Alisher Usmanov. And when it comes to serving delicacies to journalists, none cooks up the hors d’oeuvres better than he does. In the international stock markets, however, these qualities don’t quite cut the mustard. In consequence, in London this week Usmanov has set the Russian record for the number of attempts at initial public offerings (IPOs) or strategic share sales which have failed for buyers or price, or which he has withdrawn for related, if undisclosed reasons.
In between February and October 2008, there were at least two direct IPO tries for Usmanov’s Metalloinvest holding of iron-ore mines and steelmills, and one reverse listing attempt with Kazakhmys. In 2010 there was an attempt at selling a stake to Mitsui, and then a reverse listing negotiation with Nathaniel Rothschild’s ill-fated Vallar; both misfired. Between 2010 and 2011 another London Stock Exchange (LSE) bid was tried. Add to this reckoning the 2003-2004 negotiation with the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus; abortive schemes to add Ukrainian and Kazakh iron-ore assets to his Mikhailovsky and Lebedinsky mines; and a national metals champion plan to merge with Norilsk Nickel and Rusal in 2009. (more…)
The Belgians like to speak of themselves as the victims when the great powers of Europe go to war. They were when the Germans invaded in 1914 and 1940.
But since 2014 when the Belgian government has been repeating it is gung-ho for the war with Russia, there has been no Russian attack, no occupation. Instead, there has been the amicable Russia-Belgium diamond trade worth more than $30 billion in annual exports and imports, supplied by the Russian state diamond company Alrosa.
If Belgian officials cut that trade off by agreeing to the European Union (EU) sanctions banning Russian diamond imports, as proposed by other EU states, that would liquidate ten thousand diamond polishing and related jobs concentrated in Antwerp, and destroy the country’s fifth largest export business forever. Alrosa would move its diamonds to Dubai, killing Antwerp as a diamond trading and cutting centre, just as Amsterdam as a diamond centre was killed by the German occupation of 1940. Antwerp took advantage of Amsterdam’s misfortune in 1946. Dubai will now do the same.
This is what Belgian government and diamond industry officials mean when they say they favour the toughest possible sanctions on Russian gas exports to Europe – but no sanctions on Russian diamonds. This is what Prime Minister Alexander De Croo meant when he told an Antwerp conference of diamantaires on September 14: “Sanctions should focus more on the aggressor than ourselves.”
Earlier, reacting to an attack on the diamond trade with Russia by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky in a speech to the Belgian parliament, the spokesman for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) said: “Not only are thousands of jobs in Antwerp at stake in the short term, but this decision will inevitably lead to a worldwide shift in the diamond trade in the long term. As long as international policy-makers worldwide do not adopt a unanimous position to sanction Russian diamonds in their entirety, Antwerp will be the only place that will bear the consequences of an EU sanction.”
By “worldwide shift” he meant Dubai.
De Croo has camouflaged Belgium’s resistance by repeating he will not veto a Russian diamond ban if there is “overwhelming support” for it in the EU. So a majority of the EU states have continued pressing; they are led by Poland. In March of this year, De Croo announced: “I would like to officially state that our country has never hindered any measures regarding diamonds. Our country did not interfere in this issue.” In private, however, De Croo has been casting Belgium’s veto.
The Poles have been attacking De Croo, pressing the case for an EU ban on Russian diamond imports as payback for De Croo’s insistence on imposing EU budget sanctions against the Warsaw government last year. De Croo is also refusing to accept Ukraine’s demand for accelerated membership of the EU and of NATO, and for fresh EU funding to pay Kiev’s war-fighting bills.
Instead, he has just announced €8 million in non-lethal aid to Kiev. “Ukraine can keep on counting on Belgium,” De Croo declared. “More than words, there are actions. Once again, Belgium is responding to concrete needs and will be providing essential equipment to Ukraine in the coming weeks.” The equipment is first-aid kits and pharmaceuticals produced by Belgian companies.
This week the secret Belgian veto campaign appears to have succeeded. The new draft of the eighth round of EU sanctions includes dental floss and deodorants; it leaves out diamonds. This omission is expected to be confirmed publicly on Friday of this week at the EU summit meeting in Prague.
“At the moment, diamonds are not included on the agenda for the next round of sanctions,” announced Tom Neys, the AWDC spokesman. “But things change quickly. [On] Friday [October 7] they will finalize discussions, and the EU [leaders decide] on October 6 and 7. The fact that sanctions also create other ethical problems, and that these sanctions will have no effect in Russia, are probably important elements in these debates. Now is the time to focus on international solutions.”
By “international solutions” the Belgians mean keeping Dubai from taking over Antwerp’s diamond business.
Timing is everything when you are telling jokes on stage; summing up for the jury in a murder trial; or when you are a general preparing to send your army over the top. Knock the comedian, lawyer, or general off his timing, and the laugh, the verdict, and the casualties will go against him.
John Mortimer, a London barrister and author of the Rumpole of the Bailey television show, once told the story of a friend who was coming to the end of his final jury address when he saw the judge writing a note and handing it to the usher. When it was passed to the lawyer as he was speaking, he glanced down to read: “Dear Jim, I thought you’d like to know that your flies are open and I can see your cock.”
Cocks which show or crow – like boys crying wolf – don’t comprehend the risks they create for themselves, and others. This is how it is in Berlin for Olaf Scholz and in Washington for Joseph Biden right now. They can afford to be impervious to the derision they are drawing in Warsaw; not so to the reaction to their antics in Moscow.
In this broadcast by Chris Cook, Gorilla Radio blows the final whistle before we all go over the top (Germans first, then the Poles). Even former Secretary of State John Kerry, career liar that he’s been, is revealed to be blowing on the same whistle this time round.
The official Russian reaction to the Nord Stream attack is to identify it as a US military operation, and to wait for an investigation to produce the evidence. That means wait, delay. No retaliation.
“How will we respond?” Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday in the most detailed briefing so far from Moscow. “We will respond with an investigation. This is a must, and our law-enforcement bodies have already launched it. This [the gas pipelines] is our property, resources, and infrastructure.”
“I would like to believe that the international investigation of what happened on the gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea will be objective… We will seek to conduct an honest and objective investigation… I hope that someone in the United States, or maybe someone in Europe — although, unfortunately, Europe in this case can no longer be counted on — someone from the independent investigators will have the desire to clarify the involvement of the United States, the special services and all other bodies in what happened on 25-27 September of this year in the Baltic Sea.”
This means that the Russian Government is waiting, delaying. There will be no retaliation for the time being.
The reason is that Russian officials suspect the Biden Administration of preparing an October Surprise just ahead of Election Day, November 8: an attack on domestic US infrastructure – the electricity grids, for example – which will be reported as the Russian retaliation that won’t be.
The Nord Stream attacks were a military operation of the US, Poland, Denmark, and Sweden, with additional NATO air surveillance support from bases in Italy. Politically, they were an attack on Germany, but the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has yet to say publicly what he knew in advance, what he knows now.
Who then knows what will come next except that there is now war in Europe, outside the Ukraine. Will the October Surprise begin war inside the United States?
The Polish government in Warsaw, facing re-election in less than a year, wants all the credit from Washington for their joint operation to sabotage the Nord Stream gas pipelines on the Baltic seabed.
It also wants to intimidate the German chancellor in Berlin, and deter both American and German officials from plotting a takeover by the Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, next year.
Blaming the Russians for the attack is their cover story. Attacking anyone who doesn’t believe it, including Poles and Germans, Warsaw officials and their supporting media claim they are dupes or agents of Russian disinformation.
Their rivals, Civic Platform (PO) politicians trailing the PiS in the polls by seven percentage points, want Polish voters to think that no credit for the Nord Stream attack should be earned by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. They also want to divert the Russian counter-attack from Warsaw to Washington.
“Thank you USA” was the first Polish political declaration tweeted hours after the blasts by Radoslaw Sikorski (lead image, left), the PO’s former defence and foreign minister, now a European Parliament deputy. In support and justification, his old friend and PO ministerial colleague, Roman Giertych, warned Sikorski’s critics: “Would you nutters prefer that the Russians find us guilty?”
The military operation on Monday night which fired munitions to blow holes in the Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor, near Bornholm Island, was executed by the Polish Navy and special forces.
It was aided by the Danish and Swedish military; planned and coordinated with US intelligence and technical support; and approved by the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
The operation is a repeat of the Bornholm Bash operation of April 2021, which attempted to sabotage Russian vessels laying the gas pipes, but ended in ignominious retreat by the Polish forces. That was a direct attack on Russia. This time the attack is targeting the Germans, especially the business and union lobby and the East German voters, with a scheme to blame Moscow for the troubles they already have — and their troubles to come with winter.
Morawiecki is bluffing. “It is a very strange coincidence,” he has announced, “that on the same day that the Baltic Gas Pipeline opens, someone is most likely committing an act of sabotage. This shows what means the Russians can resort to in order to destabilize Europe. They are to blame for the very high gas prices”. The truth bubbling up from the seabed at Bornholm is the opposite of what Morawiecki says.
But the political value to Morawiecki, already running for the Polish election in eleven months’ time, is his government’s claim to have solved all of Poland’s needs for gas and electricity through the winter — when he knows that won’t come true.
Inaugurating the 21-year old Baltic Pipe project from the Norwegian and Danish gas networks, Morawiecki announced: “This gas pipeline is the end of the era of dependence on Russian gas. It is also a gas pipeline of security, sovereignty and freedom not only for Polish, but in the future, also for others…[Opposition Civic Platform leader Donald] Tusk’s government preferred Russian gas. They wanted to conclude a deal with the Russians even by 2045…thanks to the Baltic Pipe, extraction from Polish deposits, LNG supply from the USA and Qatar, as well as interconnection with its neighbours, Poland is now secured in terms of gas supplies.”
Civic Platform’s former defence and foreign minister Radek Sikorski also celebrated the Bornholm Blow-up. “As we say in Polish, a small thing, but so much joy”. “Thank you USA,” Sikorski added, diverting the credit for the operation, away from domestic rival Morawiecki to President Joseph Biden; he had publicly threatened to sabotage the line in February. Biden’s ambassador in Warsaw is also backing Sikorski’s Civic Platform party to replace Morawiecki next year.
The attack not only escalates the Polish election campaign. It also continues the Morawiecki government’s plan to attack Germany, first by reviving the reparations claim for the invasion and occupation of 1939-45; and second, by targeting alleged German complicity, corruption, and appeasement in the Russian scheme to rule Europe at Poland’s expense. .
“The appeasement policy towards Putin”, announced PISM, the official government think tank in Warsaw in June, “is part of an American attempt to free itself from its obligations of maintaining peace in Europe. The bargain is that Americans will allow Putin to finish building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in exchange for Putin’s commitment not use it to blackmail Eastern Europe. Sounds convincing? Sounds like something you heard before? It’s not without reason that Winston Churchill commented on the American decision-making process: ‘Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.’ However, by pursuing such a policy now, the Biden administration takes even more responsibility for the security of Europe, including Ukraine, which is the stake for subsequent American mistakes.”
“Where does this place Poland? Almost 18 years ago the Federal Republic of Germany, our European ally, decided to prioritize its own business interests with Putin’s Russia over solidarity and cooperation with allies in Central Europe. It was a wrong decision to make and all Polish governments – regardless of political differences – communicated this clearly and forcefully to Berlin. But since Putin succeeded in corrupting the German elite and already decided to pay the price of infamy, ignoring the Polish objections was the only strategy Germany was left with.”
The explosions at Bornholm are the new Polish strike for war in Europe against Chancellor Olaf Scholz. So far the Chancellery in Berlin is silent, tellingly.
The only Russian leader in a thousand years who was a genuine gardener and who allowed himself to be recorded with a shovel in his hand was Joseph Stalin (lead image, mid-1930s). Compared to Stalin, the honouring of the new British king Charles III as a gardener pales into imitativeness and pretension.
Stalin cultivated lemon trees and flowering mimosas at his Gagra dacha by the Black Sea in Abkhazia. Growing mimosas (acacias) is tricky. No plantsman serving the monarchs in London or at Versailles has made a go of it in four hundred years. Even in the most favourable climates, mimosas – there are almost six hundred varieties of them — are short-lived. They can revive after bushfires; they can go into sudden death for no apparent reason. Russians know nothing of this – they love them for their blossom and scent, and give bouquets of them to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Stalin didn’t attempt the near-impossible, to grow lemons and other fruit in the Moscow climate. That was the sort of thing which the Kremlin noblemen did to impress the tsar and compete in conspicuous affluence with each other. At Kuskovo, now in the eastern district of Moscow, Count Pyotr Sheremetyev built a heated orangerie between 1761 and 1762, where he protected his lemons, pomegranates, peaches, olives, and almonds, baskets of which he would present in mid-winter to the Empress Catherine the Great and many others. The spade work was done by serfs. Sheremetyev beat the French king Louis XIV to the punch – his first orangerie at Versailles wasn’t built until 1763.
Stalin also had a dacha at Kuskovo. But he cultivated his lemons and mimosas seventeen hundred kilometres to the south where they reminded him of home in Georgia. Doing his own spade work wasn’t Stalin showing off, as Charles III does in his gardens, like Louis XIV before him. Stalin’s spade work was what he had done in his youth. It also illustrated his message – “I’m showing you how to work”, he would tell visitors surprised to see him with the shovel. As to his mimosas, Stalin’s Abkhazian confidante, Akaki Mgeladze, claimed in his memoirs that Stalin intended them as another lesson. “How Muscovites love mimosas, they stand in queues for them” he reportedly told him. “Think how to grow more to make the Muscovites happy!”
In the new war with the US and its allies in Europe, Stalin’s lessons of the shovel and the mimosas are being re-learned in conditions which Stalin never knew – how to fight the war for survival and at the same time keep everyone happy with flowers on the dining table.
Agatha Christie’s whodunit entitled And Then There Were None – the concluding words of the children’s counting rhyme — is reputed to be the world’s best-selling mystery story.
There’s no mystery now about the war of Europe and North America against Russia; it is the continuation of Germany’s war of 1939-45 and the war aims of the General Staff in Washington since 1943. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and President Vladimir Putin (right) both said it plainly enough this week.
There is also no mystery in the decision-making in Moscow of the President and the Defense Minister, the General Staff, and the others; it is the continuation of the Stavka of 1941-45.
Just because there is no mystery about this, it doesn’t follow that it should be reported publicly, debated in the State Duma, speculated and advertised by bloggers, podcasters, and twitterers. In war what should not be said cannot be said. When the war ends, then there will be none.
Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.
How little the Germans have changed.
But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.” By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”
So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.
Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors voted to go to war with Russia by a vote of 26 member countries against 9.
China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa voted against war with Russia.
The IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi (lead image, left) has refused to tell the press whether a simple majority of votes (18) or a super-majority of two-thirds (23) was required by the agency charter for the vote; he also wouldn’t say which countries voted for or against. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then covered up for what had happened by telling the press: “I believe that [IAEA’s] independence that exists and must be preserved is essential. The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties.” The IAEA vote for war made a liar of Guterres.
In the IAEA’s 65-year history, Resolution Number 58, the war vote of September 15, 2022, is the first time the agency has taken one side in a war between member countries when nuclear reactors have either been attacked or threatened with attack. It is also the first time the IAEA has attacked one of its member states, Russia, when its military were attempting to protect and secure a nuclear reactor from attack by another member state, the Ukraine, and its war allies, the US, NATO and the European Union states. The vote followed the first-ever IAEA inspection of a nuclear reactor while it was under active artillery fire and troop assault.
There is a first time for everything but this is the end of the IAEA. On to the scrap heap of good intentions and international treaties, the IAEA is following the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the UN Secretary-General himself. Listen to this discussion of the past history when the IAEA responded quite differently following the Iranian and Israeli air-bombing attacks on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Osirak, and later, the attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sites.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided this week to take the side of Ukraine in the current war; blame Russia for the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP); and issue a demand for Russia to surrender the plant to the Kiev regime “to regain full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”
This is the most dramatic shift by the United Nations (UN) nuclear power regulator in the 65-year history of the organisation based in Vienna.
The terms of the IAEA Resolution Number 58, which were proposed early this week by the Polish and Canadian governors on the agency board, were known in advance by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin in the late afternoon of September 14, before the vote was taken. Guterres did not reveal what he already knew would be the IAEA action the next day.