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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.  

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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.”

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Thousands of years after spies were invented, and thirty years before the digital computer, there was SIGABA (lead image), an electric motor-powered mechanical apparatus for ciphering and protecting one’s communications from being intercepted or overheard by one’s enemies.

Invented by two employees of the US National Security Agency, secretly patented in 1944 but not declassified until 2001, its name was assigned by the US Army which used it throughout World War II. The Germans called it the American Big Machine, but they couldn’t break its rotor system for coding . The Germans had their own version of the electric-motor cipher machine called Enigma,  but it was broken by the Poles and British. Whether the Soviets had broken SIGABA or Enigma  isn’t known for sure; probably not. What is certain is that they were more successful at using spies instead of machines.

So it comes as a surprise that last week in Germany, President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump agreed, in front of their respective foreign ministers, to form a working group of their subordinates to devise a scheme for protecting them both from the most modern machines for cracking ciphers. That’s to say, machines operated by their enemies. The working group won’t be allowed to share details of the machines they currently use on each other.

How pointless the working-group agreement will be was revealed unexpectedly for the Russians,  halfway  into their talks, when the president’s wife, Melania Trump, knocked on the meeting-room door, and came in to make sure her husband hadn’t been cracked by Putin. She suggested it was time for Trump to leave.

This break-in is unprecedented in the history of more than two centuries of American-Russian state negotiations.  Unreported by most US media, but corroborated by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Melania Trump cracked her husband’s code in front of America’s enemies.  This is what Putin meant when he told the press that at the meeting with Trump, he had discovered “Mr Trump’s television image is very different from the real person.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

If your enemy is waging economic war on you, it’s prudent to camouflage how well your farms and factories are doing. Better the attacker thinks you’re on your last legs, and are too exhausted to fight back.  A new report on the Russian economy, published by Jon Hellevig, reveals the folly in the enemy’s calculation.  

Who is the audience for this message? US and NATO warfighters against Russia can summon up more will if they think Russia is in retreat than if they must calculate the cost in their own blood and treasure if the Russians strike back.  That’s Russian policy on the Syrian front, where professional soldiers are in charge.   On the home front, where the civilians call the shots,  Hellevig’s message looks like an encouragement for fight-back – the economic policymaker’s equivalent of a no-fly zone for the US and European Union.  It’s also a challenge to the Kremlin policy of appeasement. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Not since the German government arranged for Vladimir Lenin to return to Russia, crossing German territory in a sealed train on April 16, 1917, has a foreign state at war with Russia done something as revolutionary as the US Senate did on June 15, 2017.  That is when, by a vote of 98 to 2, the senators  began the process of attacking the Russian oligarchs. They are the men who have dominated the Russian economy for more than twenty years, concentrating more national wealth in their  hands than can be found in any other major state in the world today. 

Unremarked by the senators themselves;  unreported by the American press;  and unnoticed, almost, in Russia, the new measure —  if adopted by the full Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump —  will target the oligarchs’ lines of credit to international banks; the brokers,  repositories and clearinghouses of  their shares and bonds; their trade with the US and Europe; their US companies, bank accounts, boats on the high seas and homes abroad. If targeting the oligarchs is followed by formal sanctions, the aim will be to destroy their power at home and abroad. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation hasn’t contemplated this much. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Two men, Dmitrij Harder and Andrey Ryjenko, have been convicted in parallel proceedings in a US court and a UK court of arranging and receiving bribes in business transactions with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

After several postponements over a year, Harder will be sentenced in US District Court in Philadelphia on July 18. On June 20, in the Central Criminal Court in London, Ryjenko was sent to prison for six years. A Crown prosecutor claimed: “Andrey Ryjenko repeatedly abused his position of power within a publicly-funded bank by accepting corrupt payments.”  She added that without the US prosecution of Harder, his guilty plea, and agreement to cooperate in testifying against  Ryjenko, there would have been no case. “This conviction was made possible through effective cross-border partnerships between a number of jurisdictions, including the United States.”

The UK lawyers who represented Ryjenko, barrister Jeffrey Chapman QC and solicitor Jessica Skinns of Bindmans, refuse to answer questions about the case, and will not release the evidence they presented in court.  But lawyers who have reviewed the case in the UK and US say there was a loophole in the law on which the prosecution of both men has been based. US lawyers admit they didn’t know of it when they were arguing their case in Philadelphia a year ago that the charges against Harder should be dropped.

Court testimony in London and statements from the EBRD also reveal there has  been a cover-up of intelligence agency involvement in the two cases, and political intervention in the longstanding conflict between the US government and other governments on the EBRD board and the bank management over how much, or how little money the bank should lend to and invest in Russia. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Since the 14th century it’s been said that if you take a pitcher to the well too often, it will eventually come back broken. When it comes to the market in Russian avant-garde art, taking the same picture to the well twice may be once too often.  (more…)