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By John Helmer, Moscow

The US Navy has announced that it has called back its frigate, USS Taylor, from the Souda Bay repair dock in Crete, and ordered her into the Black Sea from April 22. The Navy announcement says the mission is a routine one “consistent with the Montreux Convention and International Law. Taylor’s mission is to reassure NATO allies of the U.S. Navy’s commitment to strengthen and improve interoperability while working toward mutual goals in the region.”
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magic_pinchuk

By John Helmer, Moscow

Victor Pinchuk is either the greatest of patriots among the oligarchs of eastern Ukraine for having promoted an alliance with the European Union and the US presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. Or else he’s made a colossal miscalculation, sacrificing his Interpipe steel combine for no market benefit, not even relief for debts of more than $1.3 billion.

He’s not the only eastern Ukrainian oligarch to suffer from the transition government’s agreements with Brussels and Washington last month. The European Union’s Ukrainian trade assistance programme, released on March 11, refused to extend benefits to the major mining and metals businesses to the east of Kiev; for the details, click here. Likewise, the programme of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which followed on March 27, has introduced devaluation of the hryvnia, gas and electricity price increases to “full cost recovery”, a hike in state rail tariffs, and a stop to rigged state procurement for steel products: these measures all inflate the cost line of the oligarch balance-sheets at the same time as closure of the Russian market and lack of alternative markets have already depressed their revenue line.
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gunboat_duck

By John Helmer, Moscow

On Thursday President Vladimir Putin described NATO missile batteries aimed at Russia’s Black Sea coastline as threatening the nuclear defences of southwestern Russia. It was the first time the president or Russian defence officials have put Crimea into Russian strategic survival doctrine. US Navy deployment in the Black Sea of ships armed with Aegis missiles is one of the concrete threats Putin was referring to. This has made the current Black Sea cruise of the USS Donald Cook, an Aegis-armed destroyer, of special importance. It is the reason a Russian military aircraft buzzed the Cook as it steamed towards Constanta port, in Romania.

It is also the reason why, as Putin was speaking in Moscow, the Cook pulled away from the Constanta dock, setting a course to the southeast from Constanta towards Georgia and Turkey, and not a northward course towards Odessa. In that Ukrainian port, public demonstrations against a port call by the Cook have been under way for several days.
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evraz_transparency

By John Helmer, Moscow

The Evraz group, controlled by Roman Abramovich and Alexander Abramov, is listed on the main board of the London Stock Exchange (LSE). It is also the second most indebted steelmaker in Russia, with a current debt of about $6.5 billion, and a loss on its 2013 balance-sheet of $572 million.

This parlous condition is obliging Abramovich and Abramov to get rid of as many of their lossmaking steelmills as they can, and avoid defaulting on their bank loan covenants. Because the duo miscalculated when they paid premium prices for their foreign assets, the writedowns to the current value of their purchases are inflicting big numbers on the loss line of the Evraz financial reports, eliminating shareholder dividends, and cutting market capitalization. At the moment, the market values Evraz at £1.3 billion ($2.2 billion) – that’s to say, one-third of what Evraz owes its banks. The market capitalization has been dwindling steadily since February 2012 when it was £6.9 billion. Among Russian steelmakers only Igor Zyuzin, owner of the Mechel group, has generated more debt, and destroyed more asset value.
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ukrussy_riot

By John Helmer, Moscow

The Easter holidays have come early for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) User-Generated Content Hub (UGC) in London. That’s the BBC’s centre for expertise whose purpose is to make sure that published images, still and moving, soundtracks, and other documentary film material, are authentic, and mean what the Corporation says they mean in its broadcasts. The UGC was also off work a little more than a year ago, when in a series of broadcasts by Moscow correspondent Steven Rosenberg (lower left), the BBC produced false text, fabricated images, and invented, mashup soundtrack of the Pussy Riot group.

On that occasion – actually, seven months later, after this report exposed what had happened – the BBC opened an investigation, concluding that text had been “incorrect”; “misleading impression” had occurred; “errors” were made. “Any suggestion that the BBC fabricated or staged any footage is absolutely untrue,” the BBC correction declared. “We are taking steps to ensure the errors are not repeated.” Except during school midterms and on religious holidays.
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romania_deripaska

By John Helmer, Moscow

The Oradea alumina refinery is a property of Oleg Deripaska’s in Romania. Deripaska (centre image) is the chief executive and controlling shareholder of United Company Rusal, the Russian aluminium monopoly. Deripaska bought Oradea in 2000 over the unanimous objections of the senior management of Rusal in Moscow at the time. The company’s experts warned that Oradea would be too costly to operate, and of insufficient benefit to Rusal for its alumina needs to warrant the expense.

Since then the asset has all but disappeared from the balance-sheets of Deripaska’s holdings. His ownership of the plant is almost invisible in Romania itself. But the refinery is still there, shuttered and unsellable.
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punch

By John Helmer, Moscow

The Australian Government has decided not to exclude President Vladimir Putin from the summit meeting of the G-20 heads of government scheduled for Brisbane in November. The move to withdraw the entry ban, first declared on March 19, is too late to prevent the restoration of Australia’s $200 million beef export trade to Russia. According to importers in Moscow, the orders for that meat are now going to several South American countries. Imports of pork, veal and turkey from the US, banned by Russia for more than a year, have been revived.
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magic_alscon

By John Helmer, Moscow

United Company Rusal, the state aluminium monopoly run by Oleg Deripaska, is selling the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (Alscon). Only the Rusal announcement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEx) doesn’t put a name to the asset. Rusal is also not accepting that the Nigerian courts have already decided the Alscon asset isn’t Rusal’s property to dispose of.

The decision to sell Alscon was reported to the exchange on April 8. The notice explains that the Jersey subsidiary of Rusal, RTI Limited, has hired Renaissance Securities to provide “financial advisory services in respect of a potential sale of shares of a subsidiary(ies) of the Company.” The services are to cost “up to USD10 million (including a fixed success fee of USD3 million and an incentive fee of up to USD7 million) for the entire term of the Mandate Letter, including any extended period of the term.”
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usc_trotsenko

By John Helmer, Moscow

From the affairs of the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), once chaired by Igor Sechin and run by his protégé Roman Trotsenko, much of significance flows, if not a great many new ships. And if it weren’t for the significance of those two names, not much would follow from the case of Ilya Novoselsky, until recently chief lawyer for USC, and now under arrest in St. Petersburg on charges of abuse of authority and fraud.

For the time being and for that reason, he is incommunicado. So too is Trotsenko (image below). Rosneft, which Sechin has headed since 2011, confirms that “at the moment Trotsenko leads Rosneft Overseas SA.” This entity is registered in Switzerland and maintains an office in Geneva. Trotsenko and a Swiss lawyer named Daniel Richard are the signatories; Richard’s daytime job is at the Geneva law firm of Python & Peter.
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sinking_feeling

By John Helmer, Moscow

Anne Applebaum is one of the advocates of war against Russia to the last Ukrainian – and to the last Pole, too.

Until very recently, she proposed reinforcing Poland’s borders with fresh North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces. On March 20, the Washington Post gave her a platform to declare: “we need to re-imagine NATO, to move its forces from Germany to the alliance’s eastern borders.” There are currently about 40,000 US forces in Germany, 21,500 UK troops, and 160,000 in the German Army. Assuming Applebaum means to leave the Bundeswehr to stay put and not repeat a former mistake, altogether, Applebaum proposes to redeploy to the NATO side of Russia’s frontier, 61,500 men.
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