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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Two Swiss bankers for fugitive Russian bank robber Sergei Pugachev have been convicted for the second time in Switzerland of violations of Switzerland’s money-laundering law and regulations.

Pugachev is a major source reported by Catherine Belton for the April 2020 book, Putin’s People. She and the Reuters special “enterprise unit” in New York which employs her, have not reported the evidence or the convictions in the Swiss case.

The Swiss court has attempted to keep the identities of the two bankers and their bank secret. The 38-page text of the judgement against them was dated by the court on May 31, 2021,  but   not issued until July 27. It was not published until October 1.  It has not been discovered by the press until now.  

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

James Cook (lead image, right), the Royal Navy captain celebrated in British empire history for his 18th century voyages of discovery in the Pacific, was going mad with syphilis when he underestimated the combat skill of the Hawaiians on February 14, 1779,  and was killed in a skirmish on the beach.

He was then dismembered, cooked, partially eaten, and some of his choicest parts wrapped and delivered to his crew on board the HMS Resolution.  

Cook had navigated and mapped the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific coasts of Siberia and North America, and the Hawaiian islands, preparing them for military operations,  colonial occupation, annexation, partition, plantation, etc.   

In today’s NATO war against Russia, the British Navy has been practising cut-and-run on the Black Sea off the Crimean coast. British special forces have been spotted on operations in Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltic states.  So far, they haven’t been caught or come to Cook’s sticky end.  

The most famous Russian singer of his time, Vladimir Vysotsky (left), composed a song in 1976 entitled “Why Did the Aborigines eat Cook?” In the song, Vysotsky mistook the Hawaiian islanders  for the indigenous Australians. But the moral of the song isn’t anthropological – it is a  joke, and a warning.  Introducing the song, Vysotsky said Cook’s tale is what happens to people who “grab at other people’s waists”.  

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

When the US-led putsch in Kiev started the Ukrainian civil war in 2014, most Russians have believed the risk of war with the US and NATO was small. In the past two years, however, there has been a significant change in Russian thinking.  

Asked to say if an armed conflict with the US and NATO is “possible” this year, one in four (25%) Russians across the country, interviewed in their homes by the Levada Centre between December 16 and 22, said yes. This is a jump from 14% in 2020, and from 10% in 2017, the low point in this series of polls Levada has been conducting since 2015.  

The new poll was released on Monday and has not yet been published in English. Three days earlier, however, Levada released the responses of its nationwide sample to the question asked in the same interview — what are the major fears Russians have for the future.   World war was ranked second after fear for the illness of family members; it came well ahead of Russians’ fear of abuse of power and political repression, poverty, robbery, loss of savings, unemployment or growing old. Fear of illness in the family is now acknowledged by 82%; fear of world war by 56%. The Russian apprehension of war has almost doubled since 2003.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The current generation of Russian leaders was educated to believe that imperialist and capitalist systems like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the United States make  rational and predictable calculations of their self-interest; and that they can count the costs and casualties of warmaking; especially when nuclear weapons are launched with mutually assured destruction of the adversaries.

But Russian leaders find it difficult to accept that the current US leadership, especially Secretary of State Antony Blinken (lead image) and his Under Secretary, Victoria Nuland, are Russia-hating racists committed to a policy of genocide against the Russian state and against Russians wherever they are located in the territories of the old Russian Empire or the Soviet Union, especially in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

“The culture of diplomacy and compromise is all but lost”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov conceded last week.   “The US line in the international arena is dictated by the awareness of its own exceptionalism. This is not even denied.” “Foaming at the mouth” is as close as Lavrov came to characterising Blinken in person. The new sanctions threat, he added, is “a nervous breakdown of sorts. In the endless assertion of their own greatness, these people have reached a psychological state that is difficult to comprehend.”

American exceptionalism is the diplomatic Russian term for American racism’s plan for  liquidating the Russian ethnic group, language, culture, and resources in the Ukraine.  

Since Russia’s defeat of the German attempt to do this between 1941 and 1945, and then the defeat of the US-NATO plan to mobilize the surviving Ukrainian allies of the Wehrmacht, the genocide plan keeps reappearing in Kiev and Washington (in London too, though not in Berlin). That it would do so, reanimated and rearmed after the independence of Ukraine was declared in 1991, was certain. The US-led putsch in Kiev in February 2014 then revived the genocidal plan in most of its older German particulars.

This genocide is not the crime of genocide as the US criminal code defines and prosecutes it when Americans commit the crime.  That is because in 1987 the US Congress changed the universal definition of genocide, adopted by all members of the United Nations (UN) in 1948, opening for Americans two very large loopholes. The senator who drafted these and put them into law was Joseph Biden.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Banging the table isn’t what a superpower does unless it’s super no more.  But for a superpower which doesn’t realise its own weakness, a banging war with Russia is no piece of cake.

Right now, just days from the Russian deadline announced last week for the US and NATO to deliver their written proposals for stopping short of war in Europe,  the media blitz,  propaganda and cyber warfare are obscuring the fundamental reality on the ground along the Ukraine front. Simply put, if the war will be what US State Department officials Antony Blinken and Victoria Nuland and Canadian officials Chrystia Freeland and Justin Trudeau say they will fight for in the Donbass, then the Ukraine regime of Vladimir Zelensky will be defeated, and his Ukraine will cease to be a state. This is a recipe the cook won’t survive to taste.

The Americans and Canadians may think the leftover from this defeat will be tasty enough. That would be the Galician region, between Lvov in western Ukraine and Cracow in southern Poland, which the German Army ruled between 1941 and 1943, before running away from the Red Army.

They may also be calculating that the new US sanctions they are threatening against Russia will be so crippling that the outcome of the war will be preferable to the situation now – that outcome would be an independent Catholic, Ukrainian-speaking Galicia in its Nazi borders; the disappearance of Orthodox Christian, Russian-speaking Donbass into the Russian federation; Russia quarantined financially from the western world for the foreseeable future.

Is this the we-can’t-lose calculation of Blinken, Nuland and Freeland – the three Ukrainians* who have captured the warmaking policy of both states of North America?

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

What will be written on the US Government’s piece of paper since the Russian Government already knows – its intelligence services know, the Solar Winds hackers know  – what was not written on the papers which Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was reading at the Geneva talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Monday?

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, announced on Thursday evening the US should now produce on paper its proposals for reducing the risk of war. Or else, Lavrov also told Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, the US will have war with Russia. Enough “arrogance of the highest degree”, and “foaming at the mouth”, Lavrov told Blinken. That “the Secretary of State of a serious state  [солидного государства] declares such things” is –  Lavrov left the expletive unsaid.

“We hope that the promises made now in Geneva and Brussels will be fulfilled. They concerned the fact that the United States and NATO would put their proposals ‘on paper’. We have clearly and repeatedly explained to them that we need to have an article-by-article reaction to our documents. If some position is not suitable, let them explain why and write ‘on paper’. If it is suitable with amendments, then they should also be done in writing. If they want to exclude or add something – a similar request. We gave our thoughts in writing a month ago. There was plenty of time in Washington and Brussels. Both of them promised that they would put their reaction ‘on paper’.”

Lavrov was waving the American piece of paper to remind that the piece of paper which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain displayed on September 30, 1938 (lead image), on his return from talks with German Chancellor Adolph Hitler, contained the line expressing “the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again”. That turned out to be false – Hitler didn’t mean it; Chamberlain wasn’t sure but wanted his electorate to believe it, plus time to prepare.

Lavrov is announcing that Russia today knows the US intention is to go to war; and that Russia is prepared and is already on war footing on all fronts.

That Sherman told Ryabkov on Monday “the United States and Russia agree that a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought” is just as false, Lavrov has now declared —  unless what follows is Sherman’s paper. On that paper there must be “legal guarantees of non-expansion of NATO to the East, legal guarantees of non-deployment of shock [nuclear] weapons in our neighbouring territories that pose a threat to Russia’s security, and in principle, the return of the configuration of the European security architecture to 1997,  when the Russia-NATO Founding Act was signed. On its basis, the Russia-NATO Council was subsequently created. These are three key requirements. The rest of the proposals depend on how the conversation goes on these three initiatives.”

Lavrov’s declaration also dismissed as empty the attempts to intervene in the Russia-US negotiations  by Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general now approaching the end of his term; and  Josep Borrell, the Europe Union foreign minister from Spain. Stoltenberg, Lavrov said, was “shaking the air”. Borell had been “emotional and not very polite”.

Lavrov’s spokesman, Maria Zakharova, followed at her briefing on Thursday by remarking: “It seems that there are two J. Borrells: one is the one who speaks, and the second is the one who writes. Or one J.Borrell, who speaks, but other people write for him. Both in style, and in language, and in the expressions used, these texts do not belong to one person. It’s obvious.”

The only interlocutor left in Europe Lavrov identified as serious is France. Germany went unmentioned; the British were not to be believed, Lavrov commented; the US Senate is  suffering from a “nervous breakdown… a psychological point that’s difficult to explain.”

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

When it comes to understanding the Geneva round of talks between the Russian and US foreign ministries on Monday, it is helpful to read; and if that is unavailing, to ask official sources in a position to know  if and when they are talkative. Actions talk louder than words, especially in war. It is intelligent to be patient and wait.

Going off half-cocked, however, is what Alexander Mercouris,  Bernhard Horstmann,  Scott Ritter,  and many others are doing. Half-cocked at the brothel door is  adolescent.  

Sergei Ryabkov (61 years old) and Wendy Sherman (72), the lead negotiators, are what newspapers call seasoned professionals. Seasoning in their cases refers to the pepper and salt in their hair – and also in their methods of speaking in private and public. Ryabkov was born in Soviet Leningrad; Sherman in a Jewish neighbourhood of Baltimore which her father, an ex-Marine then real estate broker, helped to integrate racially, a story Sherman tells in her autobiography.   Sherman’s book is not a ticket of leave for doing what Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland tell her to say, and no more.* Sherman’s instructions are less Russia hating, more catholic (as she describes her father).

Taking Sherman at her word, therefore —  from what she said in her press briefing after the talks with Ryabkov concluded —  it is possible to conclude that she repeated to Ryabkov all the Blinken-Nuland vetoes and provocations which they have advertised in advance; which the White House, the British and Polish prime ministers, and the Secretary-General of NATO (lead images, left to right) keep repeating as if their lives depend on them.  And their political lives do depend on them.

That also makes them impotent in the war they are threatening against Russia on all fronts – the Donbass, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Syria, Libya, etc.  

However, Sherman made eight points indicating that the “core security interests” which the Russian side has placed at the top of the agenda are now in negotiation with the US. Before you knock on the door, here they are. Read carefully, and watch what comes next.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The three kinds of power which decide the fate of governments are force, fraud and subversion; that’s to say, arms, money, propaganda.

For the time being – and that time is going to be slower and longer than you think — Russian policy has won in Kazakhstan with force, just as it had already fought the US and China to a draw in Kazakhstan with fraud. Russian force has replaced Kazakh fraud in the nick of time, but the swiftness and logistics of the deployment of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) peacekeepers indicate advance planning and preparation. That doesn’t mean conspiracy.

Stanislav Zas, the former Belarus general and now CSTO Secretary General, reported on Monday:  “we spent two days on the organisational procedures. Simultaneously, we were deploying the Collective Peacekeeping Forces. Yesterday [January 9], we fully completed this deployment. Over four days, Russian Aerospace Forces planes made over 108 flights. We have deployed contingents of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces in the cities of Nur-Sultan [Astana], Almaty, and Almaty Region. We have established command posts in the Military Institute of Free Troops in Almaty.”

At the same session of the CSTO’s collective security council,  the Kazakh President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, acknowledeged it had been President Vladimir  Putin’s “quick solution of the issue of sending a CSTO peacemaking contingent to Kazakhstan” which saved his government. “When the fighters learned that three cargo planes had arrived in the country’s capital [Astana, Nur-Sultan], they gave up on their plan to seize the President’s residence. This enabled us to send more forces to Almaty and recapture the city from the hands of the terrorists. To date, in accordance with the Collective Security Council’s decision, the CSTO Collective Peacekeeping Forces of 2,030 troops and 250 pieces of equipment have been deployed [at] protecting and ensuring the security of airports, military depots and other strategic facilities.”

Kazakhstan is Russia’s “bullet proof vest”, comments an engaged Kazakh source. “You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that after the Taliban took over in Afghanistan last August, plans and preparations for changes in the regional balance of security threat and of counter-force should occur. So they did. Everything that has happened – tragic as it is for the Kazakhs, and sobering for everybody – has taken a long period of time to develop.  It is also illogical to say that the decisions taken inside Kazakhstan – for example, the fuel price increase which triggered the protests at the start of the month – were taken overnight.”

As for subversion in Kazakhstan, the Japanese mouth organ in London, the Financial Times, and the rest of the Anglo-American media, claim they are winning the war for hearts and minds, and that Russian intervention is a sign of desperation, weakness, and vulnerability. This is wishful propaganda:  because arms and money always defeat propaganda, the war of words has been lost where it counts – inside Kazakhstan.

For the time being, Kazakh and Russian sources believe, there is “likely to be a positive result for the CSTO; a likely positive result for the Kremlin. But the result has also demonstrated the durability of the existing power structure in Kazakhstan. This means that the hopes of the first wave of protesters for a wholesale turnover of the government, and for a fundamental improvement in governance and living standards at the expense of the oligarchs, may have failed. It’s too soon to say.”

What happens next, the sources believe, will depend on how Russian money, and Chinese money, are deployed after the CSTO force is withdrawn   Large new credit lines from Moscow and Beijing are likely to be announced; their investment targets and their terms will indicate whether the ownership of Kazakhstan’s valuable assets in uranium, metals, fertilizers, oil, gas, grain and other agricultural commodities will change significantly. Force is protected by secrecy; money less so.

“We can’t be sure how the [Russian] military moves were anticipated, then decided,” adds the Kazakh source. Russian sources in Moscow confirm this. The sources agree that the decision-making process now underway in Moscow and Beijing to move fresh capital into Kazakhstan cannot remain comparably secret. The sources also agree that one thing is certain – the fresh capital won’t be coming from the US or Europe.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

It was seventy-nine years ago, in the month of January 1943,  that the Battle of Stalingrad ended in the defeat and capitulation of the German Sixth Army (lead image, left). It was, according to the British historian of the battle, Antony Beevor, “the most catastrophic defeat hitherto experienced in German history.” Militarily, it also started the defeat of Germany on all fronts, the end of the war, and the division of Germany and eastern Europe into Russian and American control zones.

The reversal of that outcome, and the steady expansion of the American control zone eastwards, across Germany,  then across the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet zones, to the Russian frontier,  continues today. Rewriting the story of the Battle of Stalingrad is the propaganda part of this military campaign.  

I n 2017 Bevor was awarded a British knighthood as “Military Historian and Author. For services in support of Armed Forces Professional Development”. By that year Beevor’s 493-page history, Stalingrad, was into its third paperback edition, and its cover had been changed from a photograph of Russian troops advancing to a photograph of German troops advancing.

That year too,   the British government was three years into the new US-led war against Russia in eastern Ukraine and on the Black and Baltic Seas.  

Re-reading Beevor’s history of the Stalingrad battle this month, as Anglo-American state propaganda organs continue broadcasting that Russia is about to start a new war in Europe by invading Ukraine, is a fresh  lesson of how relentless race hatred against Russians turns out to be. From this follows the second lesson of Beevor and his book:  his sympathy for the German version of race hatred against Russians, pervasive in his history book, prepares readers for a new war against Russians for what Beevor repeats a German officer as calling “a war of two world outlooks” and another calls Russian insects: “Lice are like the Russians. You kill one, ten new ones appear in its place.”  

In most countries of Europe (including Russia) race hatred is a crime. In Beevor’s case, it’s military history “in support of Armed Forces Professional Development”.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

There can be no sating the hatred for Russia and Russians which is visceral for Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State; and foams at the mouth of Victoria Nuland, the Under Secretary. They are the Blin-Needle gang.  They hate with the dedication and derangement of blood-feuding tribals.  

They can’t be stopped except by force matching their own, and by fear of defeat for themselves. For the defeat of those they recruit to fight for them, they care not a whit.  Likewise, their verbal promises and written agreements.

In this month of December 2021, the thirtieth anniversary of the revolution which replaced the Soviet Union in Moscow with Boris Yeltsin’s government,  that revolution has come to its final end because the Blin-Needle gang have gone too far.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began the month with this categorical – “gone too far”,   The month is ending on President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoricals: “Do they really think we do not see these threats? Or do they think that we will just stand idly watching threats to Russia emerge? This is the problem: we simply have no room to retreat…Is anyone unable to grasp this? This should be clear.”  

That everything is so clear is something to celebrate for the next fortnight of holidays. It’s also necessary to ensure that this very new year will be a less dangerous one for Russia, and Europe too.  Clarity of purpose, energy for action – that’s what the winter holiday is for. To this end, Russians, like the Irish and the British, have long sworn by the restorative energy of porridge for breakfast and pudding for supper. On New Year’s Eve I shall be eating Kasha gurievskaya (lead image, centre).

Guriev’s Pudding is a dessert that has a salutary history. Count Dmitry Guriev (1758-1823) was a court and cabinet factotum for Tsar Alexander I; then his finance minister when cleverer men than he was needed someone else to take the blame for increased taxes. A contemporary wrote of  Guriev that he “was never good or smart; only at that time was he young, fresh, hefty, white and blush.” As you also see (right), a hefty eater. And so Guriev has gone down in Russian history as the man who ate so much pudding his name has stuck to it. For it had happened one St. Petersburg evening that the count was visiting a subordinate for dinner, and when it came to dessert, he asked for second and third helpings. So keen he was, he asked his host for the recipe, but was politely refused. Later, he sent a message to his host’s chef, and paid him to leave his employer and move into Guriev’s kitchen. Russian history doesn’t record the names of the host or the chef – only Guriev, the pudding thief.

Here is how Russians cook Kasha gurievskaya today, and what it will look like on my table on New Year’s Eve.   After that, there will be dancing to the Grande Chaconne.

Years ago, I told the story  of that piece of music, the dance which Louis XIV, the sun king of France and creator of the splendour of Versailles, regarded as his favourite. Its composer was Marin Marais, the son of a shoemaker in a family of roofers. Here’s that story again.

Marin Marais playing the viola da gamba across his knee.  For an introduction to his music and his time, watch the film of 1991, Tous Les Matins du Monde.  

By the time Marais first came to Louis’s notice, more than a decade had passed since the king had decided never again to dance himself in the ballets staged by his court musicians and choreographers. Marais’s dances were therefore written to be played to the king, occasionally to be performed in front of him by professional dancers,  and most often to be played and danced by the music-reading public in their own homes, outside the royal court. Thus, the chaconne is intimate and personal on the one hand, stately and majestic on the other. The combination doesn’t appear again in European music or home entertainment until the waltz of the 19th century. As he sank towards his death, Louis asked more and more for the chaconne to be played to him.

It wasn’t for dancing that Peter the Great had tried for years to be received at Versailles by Louis XIV. But for as long as he lived, the French king rebuffed him. Louis died in 1715, and at the end of 1716 the Regent, who ruled France on behalf of Louis’s six-year old successor Louis XV, reluctantly agreed to Peter’s visit. The reason for the reluctance, explained the Duc de Saint-Simon, the Regent’s private advisor, was that Peter was understood to be seeking a closer alliance with France at the expense of England. The Regent, a weak man under the sway of his pro-English advisors, didn’t want to arouse England’s King George I.

Saint-Simon, who favored a Russian alliance against the English, records in great detail the visit to France of Peter in May and June of 1717. Saint-Simon lacked no sympathy for the tsar, and watched his every move in hope – he wrote much later – that he would “detach us from our servitude to England”. His observations also leave an unvarnished record of Peter’s demeanour. According to Saint-Simon, “everyone marveled at the tsar’s insatiable curiosity about everything that had any bearing on his views of government, commerce, education, police methods, etc.”

As for music, Peter was, unlike Louis, indifferent. He asked the Regent for a mug of beer to keep him going at a performance at the opera; and he left early. According to Saint-Simon, Peter “showed very little interest in objects whose beauty was confined to their value or artistry”. He records that the tsar visited gardens and factories, inspected troops and fortifications, ate a great many dinners, but danced at no balls. The only thing Saint-Simon recorded him as doing with women was an orgy on the evening of May 25. “It did not suit the tsar or his staff to restrain themselves in any way,” it was noted.

Saint-Simon’s story recounts, not only that the tsar brought his own Russian sexual partners in addition to his wife, but he set the former up in the apartment of Louis XIV’s wife, Madame de Maintenon who had moved into a convent after Louis’s death. There Peter insisted on meeting her after he had taken over her bed at Versailles (prequel of a more recent story). Peter’s story is retold here, minus the Russian politics, substance and symbol, of what happened.  Then, as now, the Russian strategy was to detach the French from their alliance with the English.  Peter’s behaviour with Louis’s widow was intended to show publicly that the English alliance was also moribund.  

It was Saint-Simon’s custom to describe physical features as clues to the character of those he observed in his years at the French court. Thus, Peter is reported as displaying “a kind of nervous tic that contorted his entire face and was most alarming; it lasted only a moment, accompanied by a most ferocious stare; then it was gone”. Saint-Simon didn’t report in what circumstances during Peter’s time in Paris the tic appeared. Nor did he speculate about its stimulus. Saint-Simon does report, though, that Peter frequently refused to sleep in the rooms prepared for him, choosing instead camp beds in closets and corridors.

Russian historians differ on whether Peter’s convulsion was more a fit and a family inheritance, than a spasm first brought on when, as a young boy, Peter witnessed his mother’s family being killed during the rebellion (in his favour) of the streltsy (musketeers). Since Peter’s personal cruelty is notorious – Saint-Simon refers only to his appetite for eating, drinking and women – the tic is usually finessed, if mentioned at all in Russian history, as an indication of the stresses on the tsar’s otherwise noble and humane spirit, struggling to contain the even more barbarous conditions around him.

The Soviets had no reason to gloss over the tic, and in the 1940s black and white film Peter I, based on Alexei Tolstoy’s scenario, the tic was made quite visible. It wasn’t hidden either in the colour productions of the 1980s. You might say that, according to Soviet ideology, the tic was a way of showing the contradiction between Peter’s benevolent goals for Russia and his autocratic cruelties in pursuing them.

When Astolphe de Custine, a Paris aristocrat declassed by the revolutionary guillotine, visited St. Petersburg in 1839, his opinion kept oscillating between “admiration [for] an immense city which has sprung from the sea at the bidding of one man”, and the price that was paid. “A taste for edifices without taste,” he concluded. The difference between Versailles and the Winter Palace (now the Hermitage), he noted, was in the thousands of livelihoods sustained by the construction of the former, and the thousands of lives lost during the building of the latter. “Whilst I, though a Frenchman, see nothing but inhuman ostentation in this achievement,” Custine wrote, “not a single protestation is raised from one end of this immense empire to the other against the orgies of absolute power.”

The idea that nowadays Peter and his city have become the symbol of western values in Russia, modernization, anti-communism, Yeltsinite reform – remember he also used to symbolize resistance to such western values as belonged to Karl XII of Sweden and Adolf Hitler – is reason perhaps for celebrating the autocrat. But after 300 years, the tic, too, persists. To ignore it is to be blind.

About St. Petersburg – today, coincidentally, as old as the Grande Chaconne – Custine expressed high hopes, though not for its buildings, nor for its rulers and their manners. “Elsewhere”, he wrote, “great cities abound with monuments raised in memory of the past. St. Petersburg, in all its magnificence and immensity, is a trophy raised by the Russians to the greatness of the future.”

After talking directly with Tsar Nicholas I and the tsarina at a ball in the Winter Palace, Custine describes the dance that climaxed the evening. It was called, he said, a polonaise. “In the palace hundreds of couples thus follow in procession, proceeding from one immense hall to another, winding through the galleries, crossing the drawing rooms, and traversing the whole building in such order or direction as the caprice of the individual who leads may dictate.” For Custine, this dance was the metaphor for Russia’s future. “It is amusing at first, but for those destined to dance it all their lives it is a species of torture.”

The Polish dance is past fashionable. Here, stepping slowly at first then lively, is the Grande Chaconne for the future.