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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

About the Russiagate operation that continues in the US, Richard Sakwa (lead image), a professor at the University of Kent, has gotten one thing right and one thing wrong. The wrong turns out to be the same thing as the right.

Russiagate, he says, defining that as the narrative of Russian interference in US politics in support of Donald Trump, “is one of the most mystifying yet consequential events of our time.” At the same time, Russiagate is a propaganda and deception operation aimed at achieving the political interests of the Democratic Party, their candidates and supporters. “What if Russian actions during the 2016 were minimal and defensive, and there was no grand plot”, Sakwa asks rhetorically, not quite agreeing to answer for himself. “In that case the endless years of the Russiagate scandal, in which every scrap of evidence was portrayed as the ‘smoking gun’ before being  discredited” turn out to be “deception.. defined as the deliberate attempt on the part of leaders to mislead the public about the thrust of official thinking…  Such deceptions are now routine in US politics.”

A deception cannot be either mystifying or consequential if it’s routine. But if the Russiagate operation is routine, then the truth of the  narrative doesn’t stop the repetition, and the falsehood doesn’t matter to the public. Accordingly, the New York Times insists it will continue reporting under its headline of last week: “Why the Discredited Dossier Does Not Undercut the Russia Investigation?”.

The newspaper knows this is a successful money-making formula; indeed, it admits it is making more revenue than ever, and more profit too. “This was our best third-quarter performance in both News and total net subscription additions since the launch of the digital pay model more than a decade ago,” the company’s chief executive announced on November 1;  “and, outside of 2020, our best quarter ever for digital subscription additions.”  With 90% of the New York Times’ subscriptions now digital, the management is convinced that fake news is profitable – that clickbait works.  New York Times reporters won’t retract or apologize for lying when the lies generate bigger dividends for the shareholders, bigger bonuses for management and reporters.

Nothing new about this. What is  new is the behaviour of the alternative  media in marketing their truth of the Russiagate story.  Sakwa has made his book out of balancing what the mainstream media fakers have reported and what the alt-media reporters have to report of the truth. The audience measures, subscription numbers, and balance-sheets of the alt-media are more secret than publicly owned media companies but the marketing tactics are the same – they report the truths which make the mainstream media out to be liars; they repeat this over and over for clickbait effect.

Sakwa hasn’t interviewed a direct source for anything in his book. He appears not to know US government officials or Russian government officials, lawyers or detectives.  He acknowledges his limitation with this excuse — “the fundamental methodological problem [is] that we still do not know what really happened. Much of the relevant material remains classified.” So his book is composed of secondary-source quotes from one side or another – from liars and truth-tellers carefully balanced.

But what’s the point of Sakwa’s balance?  Do lies get less false by balancing them against the truth? Does the truth get weaker or stronger by balancing them with lies? Is the reader to be persuaded arithmetically – by the number of secondary views cited on one side or the other of the veracity line?

The answer, yes or no, to these questions is so obvious, it should be reckoned silly to ask them. But why is Sakwa selling his 555-page book for the premium price of $120; or to be less capitalistic, why should a reader pay? That’s a rhetorical question.

So why read on? To see the paradox Sakwa seems not to have spotted.  

On the one hand, as Sakwa did notice in passing, American voters don’t think the Russiagate story, or in fact anything to do with Russia, is of any importance to the way they have recently voted or will vote at presidential or congressional elections.    On the other hand, as the balance-sheet of the New York Times proves every quarter, the voters who read such newspapers will keep paying to be persuaded or deceived – and then disregard the Russian material when they vote.

Put these two parts of the paradox together, et voila! the conclusion is that Russiagate has proved to be a commercially profitable plot of the media, alt-media no less than mainstream media,  which has satisfied no one and stopped nothing from being repeated over and over.   

That’s also definition of the money shot in pornography. By that standard, Russiagate turns out to be the longest wank in American history (Sakwa’s too).

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Once upon a time, before the Blin-Noodle gang had been born; when their grandparents were still Ukrainians; and before the gang was pushing its protégés to make war on Russia from behind a shield of civilians in Donetsk and Lugansk, there was an American humourist named James Thurber. He was the 20th century successor to the other American humourist Mark Twain. There is no one to succeed those two Americans in our time.

Thurber told a story about provocations, false warnings, and what these days is called the RED LINE. Thurber’s moral was: “Get it right or let it alone. The conclusion you jump to may be your own.”

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By Liane Theuerkauf, Munich
  @bears_with

Igor Tarakanov is a Russian soldier.  

He first appeared publicly two weeks ago, on November 17, to say he had escorted a battery of Russian Army BUK missiles from Russia into Ukraine early in the month of July 2014; that was days before Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was downed and destroyed on July 17, 2014.

Tarakanov’s claim contradicts everything known for seven years and made public by the US National Intelligence Council, State Department and White House;  the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security  Service (MIVD);  the Russian Defence Ministry;  the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) headed by Dutch police; Dutch prosecutors at the murder trial which opened in Schiphol in March 2020; the presiding judge at the trial Hendrik Steenhuis, and his secret investigating judges; the Dutch lawyers defending the  Russian Army officer in the dock;  and the agency in charge of all evidence  in the prosecution’s case file,  the Ukrainian Security Service SBU.

Tarakanov is an unusual name Russians aren’t keen to have. It means cockroach. As insects go, these are very ancient – about 350 million years – very hardy, very numerous.  There is no evidence that soldier Igor Tarakanov exists – except for a publication in English by the Bellingcat group two weeks ago, and in Russian at the same time by a related publication,  The Insider.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

A High Court judge in London has ruled sharply against Catherine Belton and Rupert Murdoch’s book publisher HarperCollins dismissing their principal lines of defence against a multi-million pound case for libel by Roman Abramovich and the Russian state oil company Rosneft.

Yesterday, in two detailed examinations of Belton’s allegations of a corrupt conspiracy masterminded by President Vladimir Putin and implemented by Abramovich, Rosneft and others,   Justice Amanda Tipples (lead image) dismissed the publisher’s case that Belton had been justified in reporting opinions from named or anonymous sources.  The judge’s rulings cast doubt on the credibility of Belton’s sources, requiring lawyers for the defence to show in trial next year that Belton’s reporting proves the truth of her “statements of fact”.  This sets the stage for one of the largest and most expensive court tests of truth and faking in the Anglo-American war against Russia.

Worse for Belton and HarperCollins, Tipples ruled that their allegation that Rosneft had created a fake transaction to bribe Putin with $300 million is a statement of fact which Belton is unlikely to be able to prove in the witness box on oath and under cross-examination. Tipples dismissed Belton’s method of using sources whose “denials do not provide any antidote to the information provided by Mr Kondaurov or the anonymous source.”

“This is a big blow to the anti-Russian propaganda that’s the basis for the US and European sanctions war”, a New York attorney with multinational clients comments. “It will have a bigger impact than the recent Justice Department Russiagate indictments exposing sources connected to the secret services whose lies to the media and FBI are going to land them in jail.”

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Evgeny Dobrenko (lead image, left) is a letter-perfect demonstration of several things he appears, despite years of learning at universities from Odessa to Durham (North Carolina) and Sheffield (Yorkshire), not to have heard of.  

In the academic world, like any other business, it’s the money which does the talking, pays the piper, calls the tune.  Upward mobility it is called less musically by sociologists. That means ambition fulfilled – promotion up the professorial ranks,  rising wages,  bonuses, and holiday trips which require conformity and usually a kindly attitude towards the world in return for more of its rewards.  

Downward mobility is the reverse – ambition blocked, wages declining, unkindliness toward  those individuals, institutions and states which are blamed for the individual’s fate and resented for his obscurity.   Evgeny Dobrenko blames Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Putin.

Starting with a surname from the Russian word meaning kind,  Dobrenko has suffered grievously from them.  He started well enough, upward for a Jewish boy from  provincial Odessa   to the Russian State University of the Humanities in Moscow,  a creation of the first flush of Boris Yeltsin’s administration and of Americans arriving to dismantle the Soviet state, army, banking system, and culture. Born a decade after Stalin’s death, Dobrenko managed only two years in Moscow before moving to Durham, where the university called Duke is situated. The years flew by with fellowships promising promotion and employment at more prestigious places that didn’t materialise. Dobrenko got his taste for the feast, but not a tenured seat at the table.  As he dropped professionally  downward, he took jobs at Nottingham, then Sheffield university. It was from there Dobrenko, a US citizen, has been watching Putin from afar. Between Stalin and Putin Dobrenko has detected no difference at all.

The explanation for this is also Dobrenko’s apology for himself. “The Soviet state”, he concludes, “magnified the flaws of the Russian Middle Ages… after a short pause [Yeltsin] Russia returned with such irrevocable readiness to the same fantasies of imperial grandeur and phantom pains… The country created by Stalin did not escape this past which has remained as its present. Putin’s Russia returned… in a natural fashion to late – but still not bygone – Stalinism”.

The “phantom pains”, Dobrenko explains, include “anti-liberalism, anti-modernism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Semitism… inflicted on the country, just as any autocrat transforms his personal complexes into a national agenda (such a link can be easily traced in Putin’s Russia)”.

This is conventional Russia hating and war propaganda except for an unusual twist —    Dobrenko is the director at the University of Sheffield  of the Prokhorov Centre for the Study of Central and Eastern European Intellectual and Cultural History. Named by the Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov and created with money from Prokhorov’s Moscow foundation in 2014, the University of Sheffield didn’t announce the philanthropy then or since. University officials refused this week to disclose how much money Prokhorov paid seven years ago and continues to pay today. According to the Centre website, its “strategic priority” is to address “the ideological bases for conflict and barriers to cooperation and the bridges that have been built, and could be built, towards greater understanding and collaboration.”  

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Remember the ten plagues of Pharaonic Egypt – the Israelites capitalised and made their getaway to a happy ending. The story has turned into several blockbuster movies and tons of popcorn have been consumed watching them.   

There have been two plagues on the Russian film industry, but one is permanent, and there is no escape, no happy ending, no popcorn. This is the story of how the plague of money – from the state budget, oligarch groups, and state banks – is saving the film studios and cinemas from death by coronavirus pandemic. It’s also the story of scandal and corruption around the state financing system that is killing Russian audience demand. This is a blockbuster no Russian director, studio producer, cinema operator, or even film critic dares to present in public.

There is another scandal no one in the industry acknowledges.  This is the role of the state-directed Gazprom group which acts as import agent and cinema distributor for the Hollywood studios. Counting all films which have taken more than $5 million at the Russian box office over the past fifteen years, the US hits out-number the Russian, 532 to 172. That’s a ratio of three to one.

For the time being, the state banks now shielding the cinema chains from bankruptcy see the marketing of Hollywood films as their guarantee of getting their money back with profit.    

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Russian poets are hardly the only ones to think they are irresistible on account of what comes out of their mouths.

The two I’ve known best, Yevgeny Yevtushenko (lead image, right) of Irkutsk and Ted Hughes of Yorkshire, were irrepressible on the point, which helps account for some of the fatuities in their poems.

It’s well-known that of the ancient Latin greats, Ovid had a laughably large nose. I suppose Catullus must have been just as ugly for his inamorata, Clodia Metelli, not to fall for his compositions. So it seems the more beautiful the poetry, the uglier the poet. Byron thought himself the exception, but wasn’t. Cavafy didn’t think so, but was.

Yevtushenko, the Russian poet who was more popular in his day than any other before or since, was quite sensitive about his nose.

When he was a teenager he “discovered in my nose if not ugliness at least some obvious duckliness. For a while I almost stopped writing poetry and wasted a huge amount of time manipulating no less than two mirrors investigating the configuration of my nose with the fragile hope that this, not the best part of my face, would improve as I asked in my prayers. But, my nose tragically refused. Having lost all hope for it I began step by step to try to adjust to my own profile. It was an additional waste of time. Only when someone’s shy lips whispered three magic words to me — and you can guess what they were — did I finally forget about this nasal problem. Until this moment I live in the pleasant illusion that I am not so ugly as to have to commit suicide.”

By the time he said that in 1994, Yevtushenko, who of course had read Gogol’s story of the man whose nose ran away from him, was kidding. Yevtushenko knew very well how he attracted women. He also knew that by then it wasn’t the poems that did the trick. Also, by then he had come to the realisation there was no place for him, nose or poetry, in the Russia which had succeeded the Soviet Union. So he moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is where he was when he died aged 84 on April 1, 2017.

He was taken to Moscow for burial. Representing the state at the funeral was Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the most powerful figure in the country after the President Vladimir Putin. What Yevtushenko would have resented about that was that Putin didn’t appear in person.

For his burial Yevtushenko scored another career goal. His grave is beside Boris Pasternak’s, a writer and poet Yevtushenko thought, and said publicly, was an inferior and a mediocrity.    In the end, Russian politics has reduced the two of them to the same level in the ground – except that as he went down,  Yevtushenko demonstrated he understood Russian politics much better, and the discreditable role the Russian intelligentsia usually plays —  before the Revolution, during Stalin, during Yeltsin, nowadays.  Yevtushenko said so; Pasternak didn’t dare.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

On November 7-8, this website published a report on what the indictment of Igor Danchenko by the US Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Special Counsel John Durham didn’t mean, and what consequences it was unlikely to have.  The title was: Does the US Government really intend to make lying about Russia a crime?  The question was more than rhetorical, it was ironical.

In the days following, more evidence has been published which fills out the blanks in that report, also heaping irony upon irony.  This work provides fresh evidence about individuals;  organisations; a trail of urine from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Moscow; money trails and plots which the Danchenko indictment masks with anonymous tags, overlooks,  or conceals deliberately.

Research and detective work by Liane Theuerkauf in Munich, Stephen McIntyre and his ClimateAudit website in Canada,  Marcy Wheeler and her EmptyWheel blog in Houston,  Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller in Washington, DC, and others deserve to be expanded here and followed up. They are instructive; Aaron Maté and his Grayzone colleagues,  Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, and Jimmy Dore ignore or misrepresent this research while trying to sell you false scoops they attribute to themselves.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

British government officials. state prosecutors,  and police have lied repeatedly in announcements over the past three years that they have issued European Arrest Warrants charging three Russian military officers with attempted murder using the Novichok chemical weapon against targets in England.

The three Russians have been named in official British press releases as Alexander Petrov (also known as Alexander Mishkin); Ruslan Boshirov (Anatoly Chepiga); and Denis Sergeyev (Sergei Fedotov – lead image).

This week a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in London declared: “I can confirm that European Arrest Warrants have been issued for all three suspects.” Asked for proof, a senior CPS official refused, announcing: “We have nothing further to add.”

In The Hague, the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) administers the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) scheme and maintains the database of all EAWs requested by the UK and issued for circulation to the European states. The Eurojust spokesman, Ton van Lierop, was asked this week to confirm details of the EAWs which the British claim to have obtained for the three Russians. Van Lierop replied:  “we have not found any records of the cases mentioned.”

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

There are two kinds of lies about Russia.

Not white or black; neither the Big Lie nor the small one. Those are differences between what’s true and what’s false.

In our war-fighting world the real difference between lies is whom you tell your Russia lie to. This is according to the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the indictments they have composed against Michael Sussmann (lead image, left) and Igor Danchenko (centre).  

Their lies were told in aid of, and in hope of reward from Hillary Clinton. Among the rewards which one Russian, their Russian sub-source number 1,  told them in exchange for his lies were Clinton’s autograph and a promise “to take me off to the State Department [to handle] issues of the former USSR and then we’ll see who is looking good and who is not.”

Five years after their lies started, it is now the official position of the US Government that these conmen invented the story of Donald Trump’s Golden Showers on the bed in the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow.  In the interval, the gullibility of the government and lawlessness of the liars they engaged have demonstrated for all to see who is looking good now and who is not.

Alternatively, the five-year interval and the indictments of Sussmann and Danchenko demonstrate nothing of the sort. This is because much bigger lies about Russia remain the official policy of the US Government. They are on trial in the High Court of London where the liars are Catherine Belton (right) and Rupert Murdoch’s publishing outlet, HarperCollins.  

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