By John Helmer, Moscow
Last week Mother Nature delivered a once-in-a-billion-geological-year event — one of the largest natural diamonds ever found in Russia, at Alrosa’s Yubileynaya (Jubilee) mine in fareastern Sakha (Yakutia) (image right). The American diamonds found to date have been peanuts by comparison.
Then ПРИРОДА МАТЬ despatched a meteorite at 54,000 kilometres per hour to burn, bang, break up, and drop over Chelyabinsk city in the central Urals (image left). Not since the Tunguska event of 1908 has such a thing happened in Russia. The US reports three times more meteorite falls than Russia; but at an estimated 10 tonnes by the time it was over Chelyabinsk, the latest meteorite was bigger than most of its American counterparts. It killed noone, but flying glass and blast effects injured about 1,100. Early the same week, a combination of Mother Nature’s blizzards and tornadoes in the US killed at least 9, and inflicted far more valuable damage.
It is puerile to personify Mother Nature and blame her for the bounty and destruction she wreaks this way. More telling, the unpredictability of such occurrences has so far beaten the best of the NATO early-warning technologies to the punch. Had the angle of entry been adjusted by less than a degree and the timing by less than a second, the asteroid might have done away with all the trouble of a Scottish referendum on independence and a British referendum on exiting the European Union; in fact, done away with Scotland and half of England, too, which were as unwarned and unprepared as Chelyabinsk.
As for profiting from the after-event debris, Russians are selling bits of the Chelyabinsk meteorite at prices up to Rb2,000 ($67), depending on size. This is half or less of the going price for these meteorites for sale by the UK website specialist.
So why should the New York Times and the US Government Radio go religious and make Russia appear to have been the victim of Mother Nature as punishment for Russia’s accumulated sins, at least as some Americans count them. Masha Gessen, an ex-employee of Mikhail Prokhorov and currently the US Government Radio’s Moscow mouthpiece, reports “there is nothing like a meteor to showcase national character. When one blew up in the sky over Chelyabinsk on Friday morning, the defining traits of Russian citizens emerged for all to see.” These traits, according to Gessen, are “reckless fearlessness”; “recklessness”; “profound, learned helplessness”; and “lack of trust”.
If this is sociology, not chauvinism, the principal evidence cited is that thousands of Chelyabinsk residents went to their windows to see what was exploding in their sky. Gessen thinks they ought to have climbed under their tables, as she claims she does herself when there are surprise bangs outside. But the sociology gets deeper. “Russians do not generally expect to control what happens to them and see little point in trying. The other reason is a pervasive distrust of the authorities: The fire alarm is always presumed to be a false one.”
In the history of Russian journalism since 1991 there have been a great many Russian reporters like Gessen who, by being Russian themselves (more or less), avoid the professional reporter’s requirement to source, substantiate and balance the evidence for claims. But even Bloomberg, which invented the blind attribution to a Russian business source “familiar with the matter”, doesn’t allow self-sourcing by their Russian reporters. With US budget funds in her pocket, and the New York Times op-ed page for her platform, Gessen has turned the Russians who watched the Chelyabinsk meteorite into dinosaur caricatures, and the outcome into an Urals update of Lot’s exit from Sodom and Gomorrah. No Lot’s Wife, looking back turns into gold, not salt, for Gessen.
What bad luck for Russia – unless you also count what Mother Nature has been doing for the Yakuts, and the state diamond monopoly, Alrosa. Weighing 145.44 carats, the Jubilee gemstone which was recovered from the ore-mill at Aikhal in January, is not the largest ever found in the world. There have been bigger diamonds found in India and South Africa. But it is far bigger, luckier and in Gessen’s terms, more character-forming than the diamonds found in the US. Here’s the list of the biggest and most famous. And here’s a list of the biggest stones mined over the past century.
Alrosa, the Russian diamond monopoly, has yet to decide what it plans to do with its fortunate find. A press release from the company reports that the stone dimensions are 35mm by 20mm and 26mm. It is described as a “crystal in the shape of an octahedron, transparent, with a yellow hue. There are small graphite-sulfide inclusions in its periphery.” The mining and milling processes have caused a “production induced scuff on one of its peaks and one of its facets has a shallow crack.” Alrosa has published this photograph of the unique stone. The press release, issued on February 12, claims that “according to experts from ALROSA’s Diamond Sorting Center, this stone may be valued at $1 million if put on auction.” This is kidding. It’s the price Alrosa may be obliged to take if state budget funds are spent on the government’s first option to buy the stone for its uniqueness.
Alrosa sources will not say if it is planned to auction the Jubilee diamond, and if so, in what form. The sources told PolishedPrices.com that no decision has been reached on the future of the stone. They claim the decision-making process will be a lengthy one. Even after a decision has been reached, it may be classified as a trade secret and not made public.
Ararat Evoyan, executive director of the Russian Association of Diamond Manufacturers and one of the longest-serving diamantaires active in Moscow, told PolishedPrices.com: “There is a legal framework. If it will be recognized as a unique gemstone — and it will be recognized — then further actions will be according to the law on the precious metals and stones, and the applicable government decrees. [Alrosa] should apply to the Ministry of Finance and to the Government.” Once recognized as a unique stone, Evoyan said, the State Diamond Fund (Gokhran, a branch of the ministry of Finance) has a priority right to purchase it, and this requires a government decree and the budget allocation to pay for it. If the Fund does not exercise its option, then Alrosa “should have to get permission to sell and thereafter, apparently, to sell by auction, and so on. This procedure is well-known.” Alrosa then picks up the right to export in whole as rough, cut or polished in whole or in part, and auction it abroad. “That requires a special resolution from the Government,” said Evoyan, “to allow them to export to the auction. With that, Alrosa may sell through auction houses like Sothebys or Christies.”
Not only the federal Gokhran has an option to acquire the stone. So does the State Fund of the Sakha Republic.
Asked if there is a possibility that the Jubilee diamond may be cut into smaller stones for sale, Evoyan said his view is that “it ought to be purchased into the State Fund. It is a unique, rare, and good stone. Nature has created such a stone and today we still do not know quite how science may apply it, and for what purpose such a diamond may be necessary. Certainly, this diamond has some unique qualities that we cannot use at present. The simplest thing you can do is to turn it into a decoration. But it is better to keep it; better if the state will buy it and put it into the Fund. [The Fund] has the money. Let them buy and put it in reserve, and let the next generations find a better way of using it. I would not sell it.”
A leading commercial diamantaire in Moscow told PolishedPrices.com he expects the stone will be acquired by the State Fund. “It will definitely not be split before sale. Right now it is difficult to say. If the State Fund will have money, it will buy it.”