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By John Helmer, Moscow

The outflow of private and corporate capital from Russia is accelerating.

Pressured by the cutoff of incoming investment and bank loans, the closure of Russian depositor bank accounts in Europe, and the threat of asset confiscation in the UK – all ordered by US sanctions with  threats of more to come — the loss of domestic investment funds continues, undeterred,  to squeeze the Russian economy. That is exactly the US war aim.

In the history of warfare against Russia, defending by retreating has been tried before, though this isn’t what Russian capital is doing this time. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

President Vladimir Putin has announced a change of Russian policy in Syria after disclosing it to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  when they met in Paris on November 11. Netanyahu has reported in Israel that what Putin said was “very important”.

With Netanyahu, Putin was not accompanied by Russian officials and the interpreter was an Israeli. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the meeting was a “short talk”, but  gave no other detail. The Kremlin website did not report it at all. The Kremlin press office refuses to clarify why Putin and Netanyahu met with only Netanyahu’s interpreter present. (more…)

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By Marios Evriviades*, Athens

Can a man gasping for breath as he is is forcibly suffocated with a plastic bag over his head,   articulate his survival problem multisyllabically with a medicalized request to which he invited his killers to consent? “I’m suffocating… Take this bag off my head, I’m claustrophobic”. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

In medieval sheep-herding practice it was customary to hang a bell around a single sheep in the flock to alert the shepherd to where they were heading. The shepherd used to castrate the bellwether ram first, so his bell didn’t ring needlessly. Doubts about his leadership of the flock are natural. Bellwethers in our time are still considered, sardonically, to be sheep who lead the shepherd. Are there Russian bellwethers now, and what are their bells telling? (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Australian head of state, a retired army general, has told an Australian reporter that when he was placed next to President Vladimir Putin (lead image, centre) during the centenary World War I armistice ceremonies in Paris on Sunday, he was sorry protocol disallowed his striking the Russian president .

“It was an uncomfortable position to be in,” Sir Peter Cosgrove (lead image, right),  the Australian Governor-General, led a reporter for Sydney and Melbourne newspapers to publish. “But then, someone had to sit there,   and it was not the time or place for shirtfronting.” Shirtfronting is an Australian football term for a violent charge into the chest of an opponent; it’s outlawed by the  rules of the game. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Sisto Malaspina was killed on Friday outside his Pellegrinis coffee bar in Melbourne, Australia. The police are calling it a terrorist incident related to the war in Syria.

More than fifty years ago, Sisto taught me why nobody in Italy, or in the rest of the world, could make espresso and long black coffee as he could. His secret, he said, was to ask the coffee-drinker what taste between bitter and sweet, strong or weak, he wanted, and then brew it. 

(more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The end of the Soviet Union, and the election in 1991, then re-election in 1996 of Boris Yeltsin as President of the Russian Federation, are usually depicted in Russia as a kind of election defeat for the Communist Party as well as of leftwing, socialist or communist policy.  Yeltsin’s destruction of the Russian parliament, elected in 1990, by artillery and special forces units loyal to the Kremlin, wasn’t  electoral. The constitution Yeltsin then drafted wasn’t an electoral mandate either: it was preceded by Yeltsin’s dismissal of the Constitutional Court and followed by a rigged and fraudulent vote to enact  the document.  

For a commentary in Vzglyad  last week to describe the political outcomes of the 1991-93 period as “the rejection by our country of the Communist ideology” is fake history. Just how feeble the fake is in current political terms is revealed by the efforts of the principal anti-communist elements in the country to make themselves appear to be representative, even comprehensive politically under the President, Vladimir Putin, and Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The President’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced on the eve of yesterday’s elections in the US that “there is no need to delude ourselves hoping that they will somehow clarify things [how Russian-US ties will develop]. So far, there is no definite trend towards normalizing relations.”   This morning, Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house, said: “The outcome of the elections is in line with the main forecasts. Naturally, both [parties] will try to present the outcome as their victory. But I’m afraid that the US political system will be among losers, becoming even more misbalanced and unpredictable, up to attempts to launch the impeachment procedure.” 

Both officials were speaking mistakenly. The lessons for Russian policy during the two-year campaign just starting for the presidential election of 2020 are clearer than the Kremlin dares to acknowledge because it wishes to avoid a public Russian debate on the choices required. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

What better occasion can there be for a fresh assessment of Vladimir Lenin than  the November day when the Russian Government claims to be celebrating the expulsion of the Poles from Moscow in 1612, although most Russians regard the date as the anniversary – the 101st this year – of the start of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917.

Tariq Ali, a prolific, veteran socialist based in London, has published a book entitled “The Dilemmas of Lenin”. The dilemmas Lenin solved a century ago are spelled out in Ali’s subtitle – terrorism, war, empire, love, revolution. Explicating Lenin’s solutions to those, Ali declares, is necessary to help “those who will come after: the gateway to the future can only be unlocked by the past.”

With one eye on the future and the other on the past, Ali has entirely missed the present. In his attempt to resuscitate Lenin, Ali has fixedly refused to consider Russia now, when the country faces as determined, armed and numerous an encirclement of hostile forces as threatened in Lenin’s time, or since. He has thus missed the particular combination of terrorism, imperial intervention, economic and propaganda war, and revolution which started inside the Russian federation in 1991, and continues in the Ukraine and Syria. Ali’s reason for this blindsidedness is that he has joined the Anglo-American forces in their hatred of Vladimir Putin. Putin, according to Ali, is to be condemned for his antagonism towards Lenin, and his embrace of Stalin. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

How many angels can dance on a pin has been an issue of dispute among churchmen for several hundred years. If their livings depended on the credulity of believers, the question would not have lasted as long.

Even without divine intervention, the Russian Orthodox Church is a permanent motion machine in which the houses of worship, clergy, hierarchy, their state-subsidized assets and tax-free incomes,  grow robustly while the number of Russian church attenders and believers is dwindling below the 2% mark. The more the merrier for the fewer the merriest.

This is a paradox which the Russian Constitution instructs the political leadership of the country to be indifferent to. That’s because the Constitution insists  “the Russian Federation is a secular state” (Article 14),  and  “everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with other any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to them” (Article 28). 

Naturally, Ukrainians don’t enjoy the benefits of the Russian Constitution unless they move across the border voluntarily, or because they have been obliged to flee for refuge from the war which the US launched with a coup d’etat in Kiev in February of 2014.  If the Ukrainians were fortunate enough to be protected by the Russian Constitution, there would be no problem for their priests to propose any religious belief they like, and appoint anyone to run their churches as they wish. But since they are foreigners without such a constitution, how is it possible that the Russian Church hierarchy, the Patriarch and Holy Synod, insist they have no such freedom at all — at least not the freedom to declare themselves independent of the authority of the Moscow Church and autocephalous, their churches headed by themselves?

Why did Putin instruct the Kremlin to announce at a meeting of his Security Council on October 12 that he and his prime minister,  foreign minister, defense minister,  and intelligence chiefs, “exchanged views on the position of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine after the Constantinople Patriarchate’s Synod had decided to launch the process of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church, revoking the Synodal Letter of the year 1686, which granted the right through oikonomia [management] to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev, and the statement on re-establishing the Stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Kiev.”

Why then on October 18 did Putin declare  his personal “sympathies” on autocephaly  are with the Russian Church leadership in rejecting  the breakaway by  the Church leadership in Constantinople  and Kiev;  although at the same time Putin added his constitutional duty is “to ensure the opportunity for every person to express their position”?

In theological discourse there may be ample room on the heads of pins for angels to dance. In Russian politics the reason for Putin’s and the Security Council’s position on autocephaly is that they were being shifty.

They were also provoked into the October 12 “exchange of views” by a policy shift in Washington.  On September 13, the State Department said its policy was that “the United States is a staunch supporter of religious freedom, including the freedom of members of religious groups to govern their religion according to their tenets. We therefore believe any decision on [Ukrainian] autocephaly is an internal church matter.”  On September 25, the policy had changed.

According to a statement issued by the State Department spokesman,   “the United States strongly supports religious freedom, including the freedom of members of groups to govern their religion according to their beliefs and practice their faiths freely without government interference. The United States respects the ability of Ukraine’s Orthodox religious leaders and followers to pursue autocephaly according to their beliefs. We respect the Ecumenical Patriarch [of Constantinople] as a voice of religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue.” (more…)