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By John Helmer, Moscow

Among the famous cautionary tales of a century and a half ago, the one about Augustus, the boy who refused to eat his parent’s soup for supper, is meant to inculcate obedience, with death as the alternative. This August for Russia readers you can have a third variant that’s both – do what you’re told, then die. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

In a ruling of Russia’s Constitutional Court, issued on July 18, fifteen out of sixteen judges ruled that a state of lawlessness now prevails in the country, in which the constitutional rights of citizens to have courts adjudicate government decisions, with evidence and reasoning, have been abolished. 

The court ruling came in the dismissal of an appeal by 20 members of the St. Petersburg legislative assembly and citizen organizations against the transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral from state property to the Russian Orthodox Church.  Led by the court chairman Judge Valery Zorkin,   the court has ruled “the complaint does not meet the acceptance criteria applicable to such appeals to the Constitutional Court”. There was no elaboration of the criteria or legal reasoning.   

Just one judge dissented. In a lengthy opinion, Judge Yury Danilov called the actions of the Church, the city government, and district courts in St. Petersburg unconstitutional and unlawful because they failed to produce and review evidence of how the cathedral transfer had been decided.  Danilov also attacked Zorkin and the other judges for violating the court’s own statutory rules because he said they had considered no evidence; evaluated no legal arguments; and given no reasons for their decision. The lower courts had acted prejudicially, Danilov wrote. The majority of the Constitutional Court had acted “prematurely”.

The ruling by Russia’s highest court cannot be appealed. It follows by six months the disclosure by President Vladimir Putin that he operates a special telephone line to Zorkin in which the court’s opinions are discussed in advance. According to Putin:  “As Mr Zorkin can tell you… I call him maybe not every day but fairly often to ask what he thinks about some regulation that is going to be adopted by legislators or the Government.”

This week,  a Kremlin spokesman was asked to say if the president had spoken to Zorkin about the St. Isaac’s Cathedral case. The spokesman replied he has “no information about that.”    

Zorkin met Putin on December 16, and then again on March 14.  Zorkin’s spokesman at the court, Marina Mavrina, refuses to say if the two of them have discussed the St. Isaacs case. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

President Vladimir Putin doesn’t know how to talk to Americans. He thinks forbearance is the trick.

The advisors Putin listens to, like Dmitry Peskov the mouthpiece and Alexei Kudrin the wannabe premier, know even less. Peskov thinks giving large sums of money to a Hollywood hack is the trick. Kudrin thinks taking big promissory notes from oligarchs is the trick.

None of them has read the greatest American comic writer of the 20th century, James Thurber. His tale, “The Tiger Who Would Be King” (lead image), first appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1927,   and turns 90 years old in September. Not knowing it is a handicap Putin shares.  The military junta now in charge in Washington – click for more about them — also haven’t read the tale. That’s because they lack the sangfroid and irony required by Thurber’s sense of humour.  The reason President Donald Trump hasn’t is because he can’t — he is witless.

Thurber’s moral is: “You can’t very well be king of beasts if there aren’t any.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Dixy is the Russian supermarket chain which is proving that the secret to selling groceries across the country at an annual loss of billions of roubles is, er, TOP SECRET.  

This makes Dixy unusual because it is the only one of Russia’s top supermarket chains losing money. It is also the only one  whose shares are traded daily on the stock market with the legal duty to explain to shareholders why it is operating in the red.  

Dixy is controlled by the cigarette oligarch Igor Kesaev, who is chairman of Dixy’s board of directors.  He and his men have presided over loss-making at Dixy at the same time as the rival foreign and Russian-owned supermarkets are all reporting fresh profits for the half-year just ended, and profit growth for last year, too.  Kesaev has also been purging his senior management, as if they, not he, are to blame.  

Kesaev’s riches – Forbes puts him down this month as worth $2.4 billion – have produced a reputation for succeeding in business, not failing. His reputation is  controversial because it is widely reported that he has benefitted from the administrative resources and personal backing of high-ranking officers of the former KGB, the present FSB, and the Russian Orthodox Church.   Whether this is true, exaggerated, or untrue,  the secretiveness of Dixy’s financial reports doesn’t help to clarify.  

Bank and stock brokerage analysts, who follow Dixy’s rivals carefully and promote their shares, are fearful enough of Kesaev and his friends not to ask questions about his 10-year record in the company.  TOP SECRET inside Dixy has turned, accordingly, into a plummeting share price – down by 55% since March 2015. Kesaev’s stake in Dixy has lost Rb147 billion ($2.5 billion). This is the minimum estimated loss of his stock value, because the full size of Kesaev’s shareholding in Dixy is also, er, TOP SECRET. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Jared Kushner’s title is Director of the Office of American Innovation at the White House, a new function for the old one of overseeing everything in the US Government for the benefit of the incumbent president. He’s also ranked Senior Advisor to the President, and by marriage he is son-in-law to President Donald Trump. 

Stupidity isn’t a crime; it’s a life sentence. Not so for power. Supposing everything Kushner has written in his presentation to the US Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday is true, then one conclusion from a half-dozen bits of evidence he testifies to is obvious – Kushner is unfit to rule, and so are the Russians whom he mentions. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Igor Zyuzin (lead image) is the first Russian oligarch to face prosecution for polluting the air around his factories. The announcement of criminal charges last week comes as Chelyabinsk regional and city officials escalate a war against lobbying by well-known names around President Vladimir Putin to save Mechel, Zyuzin’s coal and steel group,  from the multibillion rouble cost of installing the clean-air controls required by Russian law.  

(more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is delaying a decision on Botswana by the Fund’s executive board and shareholders as IMF staff are discreetly encouraging the Botswana Government to reject a breach of contract claim by Norilsk Nickel.

The leading Russian mining company, and the world’s largest nickel producer, is suing in London, Botswana and South Africa after the Botswana government put its state mine holding BCL into bankruptcy last October,  halting payment of $277.2 million which Botswana, BCL Investments (BCLI) and the BCL Ltd. holding company  agreed to pay since their first contract of sale and purchase was signed with the Russians in 2014. The Norilsk Nickel default claim is one of the largest liabilities facing the Botswana state budget. The default is also casting a shadow over future foreign investment in the country, and the government’s credit rating for foreign loans.

An IMF team was in Gaborone, the Botswana capital, in May for a fact-finding mission and consultation with government officials, the first the IMF has held in the country since December 2015.  The IMF requested and received briefings on the Norilsk Nickel case from government officials and also from the provisional liquidator, Nigel Dixon-Warren of the KPMG accounting firm. He was appointed last October by the Gaborone High Court to supervise liquidation, sale of assets, and debt recovery from the bankrupt BCL group of companies. 

On June 15, the court ordered a six-month extension of time for negotiations — BCL went into final windup, while BCLI and Tati Nickel were kept in provisional liquidation for the dealmakers.  According to a courtroom source, the extra time is for the government “to determine whether we can deal with those companies at the shareholding and creditor compromise level”. In short, for Dixon-Warren to strike a price for the nickel and copper reserves and mining assets which BCL owns in order to satisfy BCL’s creditors and cover BCL’s liabilities.

Anne-Marie Gulde-Wolf, who supervises Botswana at IMF headquarters in Washington,   said after the IMF staff returned from Gaborone on May 16, that she was planning to finalize the Botswana report and submit it to the board for decisions planned for June. Gulde-Wolf was asked what the IMF was doing in the dispute between Botswana and Russia. “I have asked the mission chief for Botswana, Mr. Enrique Gelbard to look into the matter,” she replied. “He will be in touch should there be anything we can share. “

Asked to clarify why no report was submitted to the IMF board during last month and no decisions voted on IMF policy towards Botswana, Gulde-Wolf, Gelbard, and the IMF spokesman for Africa,  Lucie Mboto Fouda, now refuse to say.

In Moscow, a source close to Norilsk Nickel said the company “has welcomed a statement by the Botswana government that it plans to resolve the issue with Norilsk Nickel. We look forward to the arrangements the government intends to make.” To date, the IMF had made no contact with the company either in Gaborone in May, or since then. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Never in the field of American conflict with Russia has so much wool pulled over the eyes been owed to so few sheep.  That was during the losing presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. Now, in the investigations of President Donald Trump and his family, it’s a case of so many sheep producing so little wool. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

“In war”, Thucydides lectured the Hellenes 2,400 years ago, “opportunity waits for no man.”

Last Thursday evening, when President Donald Trump was prepping for negotiations with President Vladimir Putin, the Hellenes gave the two of them an object lesson in how the weak may defeat an attack of apparently overwhelming force. Their opportunity was to say Οχι – that’s Greek for no.

That took Recep Tayyip Erdogan (lead image, right), the omnipotent  ruler of Turkey,  the US and British governments, and Espen Barth Eide (left),  the United Nations (UN) negotiator representing their alliance, by surprise.  The deceit of his schemes exposed, Eide’s name is dishonoured, his career is kaput. (more…)

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Podcast with John Helmer, hosted by Tom O’Brien and broadcast on From Alpha To Omega

Click to listen.    

If you missed William Faulkner’s original story, and want to understand the Trump double entendres, click to open the plot notes.   Better, read the book. To those who complain this stuff is unreadable even after two or three tries, Faulkner’s advice was: “Read it four times.”