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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In the great game of who will sell gas to Europe, and in the American game of stopping Russia from doing so, Turkey has now declared its stake in the outcome by erecting a paper barrier across the Mediterranean Sea from the Turkish coast to the Libyan coast, and preparing to move armed forces into position to enforce it. This is both a bluff and a dare.

The paper was signed in Istanbul on November 27 between the Turkish Government and the Government of National Accord (GNA), one of the sides in the Libyan civil war. Read their memorandum of understanding and the new Turkish map of the Mediterranean here.  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan followed this week with two extras.  On Monday he said: “Greek Cypriots, Egypt, Greece, and Israel cannot establish a natural gas transmission line without Turkey’s consent.” Then on Tuesday: “If Libya were to make a request, we would send a sufficient number of troops. After the signing of the security agreement, there is no hurdle.”

Never mind that at the moment the GNA is losing the Libyan war. The Turkish bluff will not work against Russia, which is backing the GNA’s more powerful rival, the Libyan National Army (LNA).  Nor is Turkey aiming at Russia; both have a common interest in preserving their new export pipeline for gas, TurkStream,   to southern Europe through Turkey, and in beating the competition.

The Turkish dare is aimed at the US, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, challenging them to try their own navies and air forces at pushing the Turks back inside their land border;  drill for gas on the seabed Turkey is claiming;  and run pipelines through the barrier with which the Turks aim to stop them. For the time being, Erdogan is calculating the Americans, Greeks, Cypriots and Egyptians won’t dare to land a punch.  So far he’s right.

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

“We told you so”. In  another case of the Russian General Staff telling the Kremlin that arming the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan puts strategic Russian interests at risk, Turkey has signed a plan to extend its control of the seabed southward across the Mediterranean to the Libyan coastline.

The Turkish counterparty, the Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al-Sarraj, is also being supplied with Turkish arms, vehicles, drones, and ordnance. Notwithstanding, the GNA doesn’t control much of the shore and even less of the hinterland of Libya. Against the GNA, the Russian military, the Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin are backing the rival Libyan faction, the Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar.  This isn’t new. Right now, Haftar controls much more of Libya, including coastline, than al-Sarraj.

The new Russian problem is that Turkish deployment of the S-400 missile system may be used to enforce the new Turkish territorial claim. This directly threatens Cyprus, Greece and Egypt.  The first two have sought and signed agreements to become US protectorates; the third is seeking protection from both the US and Russia, a game which Cairene regimes have been playing unsuccessfully since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s time. The reason for Egypt’s strategic failure is that it is up against Israel, an enemy unlike the Turks. Israel shoots first; the Turks bluff.

Ever since the death of Yevgeny Primakov, the last civilian in Moscow to distinguish publicly in Russian strategy between adversaries who fight and adversaries who bluff, no one dares to call the Turkish bluff.  The closest the Russian Foreign Ministry has come was the declaration  on November 28 by Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokesman. She said the Turks change their positions “by the hour. What could raise questions in Russia regarding the implementation of agreements signed by Turkey or what could raise questions in Turkey with regard to Russia can change within several hours.”

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

English plane spotters and bird watchers have discovered the location of the Skripals in Gloucestershire. An hour and a half’s drive north of their well-known home in Salisbury, Sergei and Yulia Skripal have been hidden inside an airbase operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) for long-range B-52 and B-2 bombers armed with nuclear weapons targeted on Russia.

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

A British Ministry of Defence document, issued on March 12 but unnoticed since then, reports  the ministry has searched its files and records of the blood sampling and testing for Novichok in the blood of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, but “failed to locate any information that provides the exact time that the samples were collected.” The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is the parent organization for the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), the UK’s chemical warfare centre at Porton Down. Porton Down, as the laboratory is usually known, is the source of British evidence that Novichok was detected in the bloodstreams of the two Skripals. 

Two officials of the DSTL laboratory testified on oath in the London Court of Protection in March of 2018,  one identifying himself to the court as a “Porton Down Chemical and Biological Analyst” and the other, a “Porton Down Scientific Adviser”. According to the court record published  on March 22, 2018, “blood samples from Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were analysed and the findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent.” The presiding judge, Justice David Williams, ruled that “tests carried out by Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down concluded that they had been exposed to a nerve agent.”

National Health Service (NHS) hospital manuals, English nursing sources and biochemists all say it is impossible for patient blood samples to lack precise date and time data.  The Skripal samples with these data are therefore missing, while the samples analyzed by Porton Down aren’t provably from the Skripals at all.

If the Defence Ministry is telling the truth, its admission that it “failed to locate” the required  blood specimen logs means there is no legal chain of custody for the evidence the British Government has publicly alleged, identifying a Russian nerve agent called Novichok,  and Russian military personnel and the Kremlin as responsible for attacking the Skripals in Salisbury on March 4, 2018. Without this chain of custody, no British court can lawfully admit the prosecution’s evidence to support the government charges in the Skripal case. The Wiltshire coroner’s inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess, also alleged to have resulted from a Russian Novichok attack, will be unable, lawfully, to admit the alleged evidence.

If the ministry is lying in its March 12, 2019, document, this demonstrates the collapse of the British government’s Novichok narrative into evidence of a political frame-up.

The MOD official, who signed the document as Mrs S. Gardiner, head of the ministry’s Information Rights Team, was asked to clarify her report. She has refused to reply.

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

It was Richard Nixon (lead image, left) who famously connected his election defeat with the notion he had been victimized by other people’s boots, particularly the press.  “You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” Nixon had lost the vote for California governor in November 1962. He was lying then; watch him do it.   He went on lying — sore loser was what Nixon remained after winning the presidency twice and then losing it in mid-1974.

Boris Yeltsin (centre) has kicked the bucket, so he can’t improve on his last official speech when he managed, his incapacitation obvious, to make his resignation in favour of Vladimir Putin appear to be unforced. That lie was issued on December 31, 1999. Twenty years later, his son-in-law, Valentin Yumashev (right), is attempting to step into the old man’s shoes in a public interview  with Vladimir Pozner, a journalist who has tried to show he is in the winning shoes himself by wearing brightly coloured socks. The interview was staged by the Yeltsin Centre, a state and oligarch-financed entity which Yumashev, with the remainder of the Yeltsin family, also runs

By a second 20th anniversary coincidence, Pyotr Aven, a Yeltsin-era minister of trade and Alfa Group banker who has left Russia for the UK, has given an equally long interview in which he publicly admits to mistakes during Yeltsin’s rule – the policy mistakes of others, not the personal ones of himself.  His interviewer wore sneakers without socks. Between them, fewer lies were re-issued than Yumashev and Pozner attempted. The intentions differ.

Yumashev’s message for Russians – also for the regime-changers in Washington to whom his father-in-law was deeply indebted – is that the Yeltsin family and its old factotum,  Anatoly Chubais, aim to run a candidate in the Putin succession race and recover the power they think they deserve.  Aven’s message is that he and the Alfa Group won’t pay for it.  

But Aven is also implying something more subtle than Yumashev and Pozner disclose. It is that he and Mikhail Fridman of the Alfa Group expect the Putin succession will not be friendly towards either the oligarchs close to the Kremlin, or to the dominant privately owned businesses of the country. To them – whether they wear military, security or other uniforms Aven doesn’t hint — Aven is saying the Alfa Group asks either to be bought out, or if the new Kremlin won’t do that, to be allowed to live and let live.

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

If the price of crude oil is stable or rising, the money spent on Russian art works at the semi-annual sales of the London art auction houses usually follows suit.

In June, when the last Russian Art Week was held, the price of oil was experiencing a seesaw between $71 and $63 per barrel.  Last week the oil price was moving up from $59 to $65. Allowing a lag in the time art buyers need to count the cash flowing into their bank accounts, the latest round of bidding should have come close to the June result. The actual outcome is that last week’s grand total came to £35.36 million; this compares to £35.93 million in June, and to £35.02 million in November of 2018.

US sanctions don’t have a direct impact because the biggest Russian art buyers in the London market aren’t the individuals targeted by the US Treasury. Instead, some are grand larcenists who launder the money they have stolen from their Russian banks and businesses, and who have been given safe haven to decorate their walls, girlfriends, and gardens by the British Government.  Click to follow their story.  

The domestic Russian art market is also showing resistance to Russia hating abroad. The latest measurement, based on reporting from Russian art dealers, shows the indexes for paintings and graphics bottomed out last year, and have been slowly improving this year.   

Diversification of genres for sale is also drawing fresh demand because of the low base effect — the prices are starting in the bargain basement. William MacDougall, co-director of the third-ranked London house, observes: “Our contemporary Russian Art Auction (over $1.3 million) on Monday was the first specialist auction for that sector in a decade (June 2008 was also ours). Its success has raised hopes that that area of the market is finally reviving. In this auction round the middle was stronger than the top.  We have also been seeing stronger demand for Contemporary in the last two auctions, albeit from a low base, hence our specialist auction.”

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Nobody learned to write a simple narrative better than Georges Simenon, with the result that over a lifetime of 86 years he drew 550 million paid-up readers, not counting millions more of library and other loaners. He rewarded himself with a well-known fortune banked in Switzerland, and carefully counted numbers of orgasms with thousands of willing women. It’s unclear whether the latter were also Simenon’s readers. He admits he preferred to pay the women in cash for the five minutes he says he averaged spending himself on them. 

Simenon was also much too busy to develop convictions himself about the wars, judicial and extra-judicial killings, and politics through which he and his readers lived. They don’t even serve as backdrops, soundtracks, or motivations for his characters or their stories. “I’m not interested in politics,” he wrote in his diary in 1960 when he was fifty-seven. “But still I’m intrigued by a problem posed by politics: that of sincerity and insincerity.” Simenon’s uniqueness was to narrate the investigation and pursuit of killing and killers with almost no judgement implied by himself, or his policeman for that matter, of the truth. Truth, Simenon’s works illustrate, doesn’t have the same sale value as sincerity, at least not in the book market. Noone quite as insincere and deceptive as Simenon has been quite as readable.

In the real world that’s called false consciousness; in government operations it goes by other names – propaganda, active measures, disinformation. It’s what official narratives lacking in truth are full of. Like the one the US Government and its media tell every day about the killing and lying crimes Russians allegedly commit. On Simenon’s anniversary, it’s worth pausing to contemplate the method for selling such narratives successfully, over and over.

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Every year for fifteen years now, Bruce Misamore, David Godfrey, and Steven Theede have been paid millions of dollars in lawyer and manager salaries, bonuses, and travel expenses by the men who weren’t in Russian jail with Mikhail Khodorkovsky (lead image, left);  and then when he got out, by Khodorkovsky too. The objective of them all was to sue the Russian Government for the convictions and penalties for tax evasion, fraud, asset stripping, money laundering, corruption  and thuggery on which the Yukos oil company thrived until Khodorkovsky was arrested in October 2003 and the oil company subsequently bankrupted, nationalized, and then reprivatized as Rosneft.

After years of court cases in the US and Europe, the original Yukos group won a compensation award of $50 billion for loss of their oil assets, foregone oil income and interest. This was a record amount, but it’s a figment — an amount that will never be paid by the Russian Government nor collected by Khodorkovsky and his men. Their attempts to seize Russian state assets in France, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe and hold them hostage for the money have also come to nought.

At the same time, the Yukos group have been aiming to dig up the real money they figured they had a better chance of taking and spending. This was almost $2 billion Khodorkovsky had concealed abroad behind trusts and front companies in The Netherlands, Isle of Man, Cyprus, Gibraltar, and other hiding places. After more than thirty court cases over almost fifteen years, Khodorkovsky has now taken as much of the readies as he can, along with his comrades Mikhail Brudno and Leonid Nevzlin in Israel. Altogether, about $1.2 billion.  

That has left Misamore, Godfrey and Theede in California, Texas, and Hawaii feeling short-changed. So Godfrey and Theede decided to take what they could from Misamore.

Last month, just six days after Godfrey was judged in a London court to be a liar and a dishonest schemer, Misamore launched a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court. He’s now accusing Godfrey and Theede, and two of their lawyer friends, of helping themselves to what he thinks of as his share of the Yukos loot. The amount Misamore is trying to recover is $13.5 million.

For that amount, and at the risk of spending a third of it on legal fees, Misamore is signalling not only Godfrey and Theede, but also Khodorkovsky himself, that he’s willing to tell all he knows. This is the first time in a court of law outside Russia that the truth about Khodorkovsky may be revealed by one of his most trusted Americans.  

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Slaughtering sheep, goats and chickens with the idea of checking their innards to tell the fortunes of human beings started with the ancient Babylonians, peaked in ancient Rome, and despite the best efforts of the Catholic popes, it was still going strong in medieval England. The killing was called casting the haruspices.  

Foie gras and chopped liver are still fashionable in London and New York where Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the guilty Russian oil robber, spends his money trying to improve his reputation and fortune, and run as the Anglo-American candidate for the succession to President Vladimir Putin.  Journalists believe Khodorkovsky’s haruspices; the Royal Courts of Justice don’t.  Positively liverish is what becomes of the Khodorkovsky narrative when exposed to cross-examination, the truth test, and the penalty for perjury.  

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The operational chief of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is a British officer whose combat role in Syria between 2016 and 2018 the OSCE is attempting to conceal.

Mark Etherington, a British Army paratrooper, was “working on Syria”, according to the OSCE’s appointment notice a year ago. In May of this year Etherington told the Kyiv Post he was “in Syria.”

The OSCE claims its mission adheres to the “principles of impartiality and transparency”. So Etherington was asked yesterday to clarify if he had performed combat advisory and military intelligence roles in Syria, and whether he is still associated with British forces. He and the OSCE spokesmen are refusing to say.   

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