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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The Ukrainian missile attacks on Sevastopol on Sunday afternoon – five US ATACMS missiles with cluster-bomb warheads – have drawn the most explicit reaction yet from Russia’s independent military bloggers, followed in four hours by an official communiqué from the Defense Ministry.  The Kremlin communiqué which followed the Defense Ministry an hour later as Sunday evening came on, was not the same.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

A new lawyer appeared in a London court on Friday claiming to represent Sergei (lead image, left)  and Yulia Skripal. Jack Holborn, a barrister specializing in what he calls human rights,  told Lord Anthony Hughes, who is conducting a public inquiry into the alleged Novichok death of Dawn Sturgess in 2018, that the Skripals should not be called to give evidence or testify in the case.  

Holborn claimed the Skripals are fearful for their security. “No security measures are perfect”, he said.  

Holborn has not been in contact with the Skripals, however. He refuses to answer questions put to him on what visual contact or other communications he has had with either Sergei or Yulia Skripal.

Instead, he was told what to say at the hearing by the law firm of Kingsley Napley which the British government is paying to show that the Skripals are participating in the Novichok case.

The spokesman for Hughes and the inquiry was asked to explain Holborn’s presence in court for the first time on Friday. She was also asked what authority the Skripals had given Holborn to represent them. The spokesman answered: “Kingsley Napley has been designated as the recognised legal representative of the Skripals under r[ule] 6 of the Inquiry Rules 2006.  By rule 8, the recognised legal representative may appoint a team to  assist them and Kingsley Napley have accordingly instructed counsel to appear on their clients’ behalf.”

In other words, there has been no contact between the lawyers who say they represent the Skripals, and the Skripals themselves. The judge and government are refusing to give evidence that Sergei Skripal is alive,  and that Yulia Skripal is not in prison.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The balloon didn’t quite go up at Wednesday’s session of European Union (EU) officials in Brussels to decide on a new round of anti-Russian sanctions, the fourteenth package of the EU’s economic war. Stopping Russian helium exports, one of the items in the package, wasn’t the sticking point.*  

The Russian helium balloon is going up, nonetheless – but not in the direction the EU, US, and other NATO allies imagine.  What is happening instead, Russian industry sources reveal, is that the war conditions have accelerated Russian investment into a rapid expansion of the country’s helium production, ending Russia’s need for helium imports, advancing Russia ahead of the US as the world’s leading producer and exporter, and threatening US helium producers with the destruction of their price and profitability.  

At present, Russian plants produce between 4 and 5 million cubic litres of helium per year; the country needs to consume about 6 million cubic litres, and so it has been importing about 2 million litres a year. The plan for helium production in newly built plants in Amur, Irkutsk, Tatarstan, and Yakutia — sourced from gasfields in Amur and Yakutia with some of the richest helium concentrations in the world — is to generate about 75 million cubic litres annually. That’s  40% of the current world consumption of about 190 million cubic litres. With that much helium, Russia will top the US as the world’s leading producer; take the largest share of the global helium export market; and with exports to China dominate world supply for the foreseeable future.

When Europeans and Americans will want to buy balloons for their parties, fuel their medical scanning and respiration machines, save their naval divers from the bends, and drive their airships, they will have to beg the Russians and Chinese for the helium at the latter’s price. Their warfighting weapon will have been pricked.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The Russian military bloggers haven’t been as quick as the Kiev regime and NATO allies to dismiss President Vladimir Putin’s peace terms speech to the Foreign Ministry as propaganda. But they did.

According to Boris Rozhin, the editor-in-chief of the Colonel Cassad military blog, Putin’s speech on Friday morning, June 14,  “was not announced in advance”. The Foreign Ministry audience who assembled “learned about it half an hour in advance, no more.” There is telltale vagueness in the  Kremlin communiqué introducing “a meeting with the senior officials of the Russian Foreign Ministry.”  

In practical terms, Moscow’s leading independent military analyst concluded, the speech was a tactical feint and a strategic deception.

“[Putin’s terms] will obviously not be accepted by the West and their Ukrainian puppets,” wrote  Rozhin.  “Against the background of the ‘world summit’ [the Burgenstock, Switzerland, meeting on June 15-16] this will indicate that in fact the West is prolonging the war, so these statements [of Putin] are another torpedo in the summit. Russia is thus showing the countries of the Global South that it has offered a world that will be rejected by those who are broadcasting about ‘peaceful summits’…The war will continue. The goals of the SVO [Special Military Operation] will be achieved by military means.”

The distinction in the last line is between Kremlin political strategy and General Staff military strategy – this is a distinction which published Russian analyses of the president’s speech and the state propaganda organs avoid identifying. The semi-official Vzglyad quoted Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as characterizing the reaction from the West as “of an unconstructive nature”.  No Russian official will say as little as this for the record.

Instead, Vzglyad has mobilized its official sources to patch over the differences between Kremlin strategy and General Staff strategy by emphasizing that Putin is following the latter. “According to [Putin], the West has received a specific condition – either Ukraine will be outside the NATO bloc, or there will be a bold and sharp onslaught that will leave no chance for the enemies. Putin is confident of victory not only over Ukraine, but also over the entire collective West. The proposal was made in order to recall this initiative after the defeat of Ukraine. But Western leaders did not understand Putin, and then they themselves will say that they want peace… But there will be no mercy, tougher conditions will be put forward.”  

In a second report from academics on the Kremlin-financed Valdai Club roster,  Vzglyad claims “the essence of the Russian president’s speech is that the European security system no longer exists and will not be based on the same principles.”  “In addition, the Russian president managed to change the agenda of the Swiss summit…the president’s initiative is capable of transforming the security structures not only of Eurasia, but also in the perspective of the entire planet. In addition, Russia already has really working international institutions in this space: the CIS, SCO, EAEU, CSTO, BRICS, the Union State of Russia and Belarus. All these tools have proven their reliability and suitability in modern conditions.”

The Kremlin’s American camp followers have repeated the semi-official line by scratching the difference between tactics and strategy, between feint and purpose.  “Notice he’s [Putin] not making a demand about Odessa,” said one. “So Odessa is still off the table…So this is a prelude to the next ramp-up in Russian military operations.”  

Russian skeptics,  as well as non-Russian military analysts,  point out that Putin has repeatedly refused to follow the General Staff’s advice, restricting their proposed military operations to an extent that there is open questioning about his reasons. One source says Putin’s June 14 exposition is “only half-right in blaming the Western ‘globalist liberal elites’ [Putin’s speech] for the current ‘extremely dangerous state of affairs’ [Putin’s speech].  Ultimately, the ideology of liberalism, inferiority complex, and corruption which dominate the oligarch-backed elite in Moscow has played a major role.”

This is a reference to the role Putin invited the oil and minerals oligarch Roman Abramovich to play in the negotiations of March-April 2022 in Istanbul; in the negotiations with the Ukrainian delegation, Abramovich was Putin’s personal delegate and he outranked the official Russian negotiators.    There was strong domestic military and political opposition to this at the time in Moscow; there remains suspicion of an attempt to repeat by Putin’s Kremlin staff, represented by Peskov, even now.

“He [Putin] cannot be so influenced still as to think the war against Russia via the Kiev regime will stop under the conditions he laid out, nor can he think there are any terms which the US and NATO can be trusted by the Russians to sign. That’s why the Russian Foreign Ministry tabled the terms of a non-aggression and security in Europe requiring the roll-back of NATO’s borders to 1997. That was in December 2021. To think anyone on the other side is trustworthy, or capable of agreement, after all Putin recounted of US aggression, lying, double-dealing,  and Ukrainian Nazism, is impossible.”

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Wine, and the money to spend on drinking it, are growing at an unprecedented pace in Russia. For a country at war in Europe this has not happened in modern times, and probably not since the ancient Roman emperors and medieval English kings arranged for their city fountains to flow with wine in celebration of military victories and coronations.

The surge in wine consumption signals the growing confidence of Russian consumers in their future. A parallel surge in wine imports since April is also a signal that the Russian Finance Ministry aims to raise taxes on this good cheer.

In 2023, 320 million litres of still and fortified wine were imported to Russia, which was 4.4% more than in 2022, according to a study by the large Moscow importer, distributor, and retailer, the Luding group.   According to other market reports, by the end of last year the  largest supermarket groups had increased their imports of wine by 7% compared to the year before. The X5 group, for example, which operates the Pyaterochka and Perekrestok stores, reported an 18% annual increase; the Magnit chain was up 83%.

This year the rate of increase in wine imports has been accelerating.  Through April, the Russian Customs figures show a 20% rate of increase in the volume of wine imports compared to the first four months of 2023. The most noticeable surge was observed in April, when twice as much wine was imported as a year ago.

Part of the reason is that the Russian war economy is now generating significantly faster growth in consumer income than the rate of inflation. Adjusted for that, real wages grew 0.3% between March 2022 and March 2023. This is after a prolonged decline in real wages between 2013 and 2021.   In the first quarter of this year, January through March, real disposable income – a slightly different metric measured by the state statistics agency Rosstat — jumped 5.8% compared to the year before. This was a relative slowdown compared to the last quarter of 2023, when real disposable income was up 7% year on year.  Rosstat is reporting also that real wages grew by a record 13.3% in May 2023. The agency’s measurement reflected the jump in war-related civilian sector wages and in payments to military personnel. Pensions, by contrast, were shrinking slightly in real terms.

The government is now estimating the full-year 2023 rate of real income growth at 5.4%; in 2024 at 2.8%, and next year at 2.8%.  Consumer demand is predicted to rise in step.

Despite Russian casualties at the front already running ahead of the ten-year Soviet Afghanistan War,  the Russian war economy, and the impact of the NATO sanctions war, are paying a large domestic dividend – and not only at the wine shop.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

June 12 marks the anniversary of Boris Yeltsin’s election as President of Russia.

It is no moment for celebration.

The government which he led successfully over the attempted putsch of last August and through the disintegration of the Soviet Union now lacks credible authority in the Russian federation and among its people.

There is no agreement on a constitution to hold the federation together, or to divide the power granted by Russian votes for
president and parliament.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

As the Ukraine’s peak summer electricity season approaches, the list of the Russian General Staff’s Electric War targets is shrinking. This is because almost all the Ukrainian electricity generating plants have been stopped. What remains for destruction are the connecting lines and distribution grids for the Ukraine’s imported electricity from Poland and other European Union neighbours. The microwave and cell telephone towers, and the diesel fuel stocks which are powering the back-up generating sets are next.

 “There’s no keeping the Ukrainian cell network up any more than there is keeping up the electrical grid,” comments a close military observer.  “The General Staff have set the flow of Ukrainian refugees west  as inversely proportional to the flow of data and electrons over Ukrainian airwaves and transmission lines. We can expect that relationship to be set to highly inverse before the summer is out. What calculations have been made regarding things further west are just beginning to become evident.”

The Electric War is now accelerating faster to the Polish border than the Russian army advance along the line east of the Dnieper River.  

In the very long history of siege warfare, there has never been a case of letting the enemy’s civilian population run safely away from his castles and cities until the fortifications and army which remain must choose between surrender and destruction.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

A newly released national poll reveals that Russian public support for the Army and for President Vladimir Putin is growing. At the same time, the proportion of Russians in favour of expanded military operations is rising at the expense of those who favour negotiations. The  outcomes for negotiations acceptable to the Russians who support them are rapidly shrinking, too.

This Russian conviction is strengthening in the face of the battlefield casualty rate which, unusually, Putin acknowledged this week to be ten thousand a month.

Putin’s told a press conference on June 5 : “our losses, especially as concerns irreparable losses, unfortunately, then they are several times less than on the Ukrainian side. If we talk about approximate irretrievable losses, then the ratio is the same: one to about five… According to our calculations, the Ukrainian army loses 50,000 people per month as sanitary and irretrievable losses both, although their irretrievable and sanitary losses are approximately 50/50.”  

Since the Russian rate of casualty survival for troops at the front is substantially better than the Ukrainian rate because of superior evacuation, front-line and rear medical care, Putin’s numbers suggest that the Russian killed-in-action (KIA) number is at least 3,000 per month.

According to a nationwide survey by face-to-face interview in Russian homes between May 23 and 29,   the Levada Centre in Moscow, an independent polling organisation, reports: “Half of the respondents believe it is necessary to move on to peace negotiations — 43% are in favour of continuing military operations, their share has been growing in recent months. However, the majority is not ready to make concessions regarding Ukraine and this share is growing. Russians consider the exchange of prisoners of war and a ceasefire to be acceptable conditions for signing a peace agreement, while the return of new regions and Ukraine’s accession to NATO are completely unacceptable. If there was an opportunity to go back in time and cancel the start of Special Military Operation, slightly more than a third of respondents would reverse this decision — their share has decreased slightly in recent months.”

This also means that Ukrainian missile, artillery, and drone attacks on civilians, refinery and other targets on Russian territory are having no impact on the nationwide commitment to the war and its strategic objectives. On the contrary, threats by NATO leaders to intensify these attacks and extend their range into Russia are increasing public Russian support for lifting Kremlin  restrictions on the General Staff’s operational  plans for finishing the war at and over the Polish border.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Right now the Russian Electric War campaign in the Ukraine is targeting the last operating power generation plants and the transmission lines from the European Union replacing electricity which the Ukrainians can no longer generate for themselves. Microwave and mobile  telephone towers are being struck so that the country’s cell network is collapsing in parallel with the electricity network.

“This is Russian deep battle”, a US military source comments, “being fought in fact by the General Staff while its operations continue to be restricted in Moscow for political reasons. Soon the impact will be impossible to cover up. For now, we know how bad it’s getting by the lack of discussion about how bad it’s getting.”

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

It was the English writer G.K. Chesterton who remarked that “compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.”

In the current war against Russian grain, less than half a loaf is what the European Union (EU) will get from its announcement last Thursday, May 30, of a prohibitive new import duty of €95 per tonne of cereals in order to ban Russian (and Belarusian) grain from entering the European market. Imports of oilseeds and derived products, as well as beet-pulp pellets and dried peas,  have also been barred.

In its official announcement,  the EU declared trade protection for the EU’s grain producers to be the main reason for the new sanction, not the Ukraine war.  France leads the EU grain producers, followed by Germany and Poland.

“The EU’s imports of grain products from Russia have significantly increased since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022,” the EU announcement said. “While the Russian Federation remains a relatively small supplier of those products to the EU market, it is a leading world-wide producer and exporter of those products. Given its current volumes of exports to the world, the Russian Federation could reorient significant volumes of supplies of those products to the EU, causing a sudden inflow from its large existing stocks, thereby disrupting the EU market.”  

For “disrupting the EU market”, read commercial threat to French, German and Polish growers.

The EU statement added “there is evidence that the Russian Federation is currently illegally appropriating large volumes of such products in territories of Ukraine, which it illegally occupies, and routing them to its export markets as allegedly Russian products. These measures will therefore prevent the EU market from being destabilised, halt Russian exports of illegally appropriated grain produced in the territories of Ukraine and prevent Russia from using revenues from exports to the EU to fund its war of aggression against Ukraine.”

In 2023 Russia exported 4.2 million tonnes of cereals and related agricultural products to the EU worth €1.3 billion. In volume, there had been a surge of 56% in Russian grain shipments to the EU from 2022 to 2023.  Notwithstanding, the proportion of Russian grain in the European market has remained less than 1%.  

The Kiev regime – currently barred from exporting its dumping-price grain to Poland and other neighbouring EU states  – has been complaining that Russian grain should not have an advantage in the market. The Defense Ministry in Kiev and the state-funded think tank of the Kiev School of Economics are the sources of the Russian grain theft allegation, which was first broadcast by CNN in March 2022.  US satellite and other intelligence was then used by CNN to repeat the Ukrainian allegation in May 2022. Just before, Reuters, the US propaganda agency based in New York, repeated the allegation, adding “the Kremlin denied Ukraine’s allegations, saying it did not know where the information was coming from.”  

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) repeated the allegation with additional state-supplied intelligence in June 2022, but the propaganda organ acknowledged that an uncounted tonnage of the allegedly stolen grain had come from Donetsk and Lugansk, after they had seceded from the Ukraine but before they changed their status from people’s republics to Russian regions.

The BBC also claimed that “part of the grain that ended up in these territories directly belongs to the Ukrainian state. These are the grain of state-owned enterprises and strategic reserves in case, for example, of a war that has actually begun.”  

After the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General’s office took over supervision of grain shipments from the Ukraine and Russia through the Black Sea in what was called the Black Sea Grain Initiative Joint Coordination Centre in the third quarter of 2022,  the grain theft narrative from Kiev stopped.

With Russian grain harvests running at record levels of 158 million tonnes in 2022 and 143 million tonnes in 2023, the volume of exports to the EU amounts to less than 1% of the harvest;  less than 3% of total exports.

This harvest boom has made Russia the western world’s leading grain producer;  globally, it comes third after China and India.  The Russian farm success has also been forcing down global grain prices. This, according to a western grain broker, amounts to “Russian wheat strangling global market.”     “Rising Russian exports,” the broker adds, “increasingly aggressive [lower] Black Sea export pricing, surplus global stocks, waning international demand and the prospect of another massive crop in Russia this year drive global wheat values to their lowest level since the second half of 2020.” Strangling the global profits of wheat exporters in competition with Russia is what this means – Australia, Canada, France and the US. In short, the Ukraine war allies.

At the weekly Moscow briefing which followed the EU announcement in Moscow on May 30,  Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova attacked the EU for hypocrisy in reducing market supplies and raising prices when it has been claiming its priority has been food security for the neediest grain-consuming states. “When the West begins to talk about prohibitive duties on Russian grain, I advise them to reconsider their own statements about food security, which they were insisting on two years ago,” Zakharova said. “From their point of view, everything was at stake in order to feed the countries in need. Are the same people, or is it their twins at the microphones, who are now saying exactly the opposite?”

“The Westerners lied two years ago. They had no interest in global food security. They just wanted to help fill the pockets of the major global players – mostly American, Anglo-Saxon companies – who were engaged in resale and made a huge fortune on margin. They used the situation of the moment, the political crisis in Europe, the world, and the situation in Ukraine in order to create opportunities for enrichment. It wasn’t just illegal. It was bloodthirsty. Now they’ve moved on to the next phase…The Westerners want to squeeze out Russia from everywhere. They hoped that our country end up destroying  its agriculture by joining the WTO and playing by their rules. That didn’t happen. Agriculture has been restored and feeds the world, fulfilling the capabilities of the Russian Federation and its natural wealth, responding to the call and obvious needs of various countries.”

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