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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled unanimously today in Luxembourg that acts of the European Union are lawful without the requirement for evidence meeting any standard of proof or truthfulness.  A press release will do. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Russian economic recovery went sharply into reverse in February, according to the latest report from Rosstat, the federal state statistics service.  But voter approval for President Vladimir Putin remains super-stable at a level unknown in Europe or the rest the world.

So if you are bent on fighting Russia, as the generals now in charge of US policy in Washington say and do, what opportunity is there for toppling Putin before the presidential election due in March 2018? One veteran of high-level Russian policy in Europe predicts: “The trouble for Putin will come when the World Cup starts in June of next year. But that’s after he is elected in March.  Noone realizes, not yet, how much trouble the football competition will cause, with thousands of visa-free foreign agitators in the country calling themselves fans, and half a billion people watching on TV.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

On Tuesday December 6, Rex Tillerson, then chief executive of ExxonMobil oil company, met then President-elect Donald Trump in New York, and was offered the post of US Secretary of State. God was watching on high and acted faster than Tillerson could. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

There is a Fiona Hill on each side of the Atlantic.

One is joint chief of staff for Prime Minister Theresa May in London. The other Fiona Hill (lead image, right) is also British. She was appointed this month to be senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council (NSC) in Washington. Between 2006 and 2009 Hill was the Russia desk officer on the National Intelligence Council under President George Bush, then President Barack Obama.  

The White House announced Hill’s appointment by an anonymous leak to Foreign Policy magazine on March 2. The leaker claimed Hill had been selected at least a fortnight earlier by the NSC’s chief of staff Keith Kellogg, a retired Army lieutenant-general,   before Michael Flynn was forced to resign as the National Security Advisor on February 13;  and before Lieutenant-General H.R. McMaster was put in Flynn’s place on February 17.  The announcement of Hill sandbagged her position, but Hill was nervous about confirming it.  “Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment,” Foreign Policy reported.  (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Optimists believe that in time the truth always wins out.  Skeptics believe men and women are liars by nature, so machines are necessary to catch them out. Pessimists believe that by the time that happens  it will be too late to make a practical difference. Politics, the pessimists add, is about gain, not about truth. So is journalism.

Here are two stories about the difference between Australia and Canada in the way in which lying by ministers of state has been caught out recently on the subject of the civil war in Ukraine.  Australia and Canada are former British colonies, whose head of state is still the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. They are also parliamentary democracies, and members of US treaty alliances which encourage them to fight in US wars in exchange for US protection if they are attacked. That’s the political practice, if not quite the truth. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Since Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s version, expressed mortal surprise that his best friend Brutus would put in the knife, there have been no end of political surprises at whose hand turns out to be on the assassin’s knife.  In the case of the hit in January on then-Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, it is clear to the Canadian foreign policy establishment, members acknowledge, that it was Chrystia Freeland’s hand. Before, she was a junior trade minister; after, she took Dion’s portfolio as foreign minister.

Eight weeks later, it’s becoming clear to Canadian sources that the hand on the knife that is now sticking in Freeland is not the Russian one she is reporting to the Canadian press. That is sticking into her full frontally, and it is less than mortal. Her screams for help have brought a great many screamers to her side.

It’s the knife in Freeland’s back that is more lethal. That, it is now revealed in Ottawa, is coming from a quiet group of foreign policy advisors around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They aren’t motivated by revenge on Dion’s behalf as much as concern for their Canada — the policy-making and money-making apparatus on which their future livelihoods depend. In that Canada they don’t want Freeland to remain foreign minister or become prime minister. For one thing, they say, she’s a liar and cannot be trusted by anyone. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Russian fertilizer oligarch Andrei Guriev (lead image) lives in less than seclusion in London in the largest house of that city except for the Queen’s residence at Buckingham Palace. In 2015 the running costs of Guriev’s establishment were large but stable. But it occurred to him that the prospects of war between Russia and the US were so serious, he ought to take more cash out of his London-listed Russian phosphate producer Phosagro, which had been running at a loss the year before. So Guriev arranged for a dividend payout of 80% of the 2015 profit of Rb36.4 billion – that was Rb29 billion (about $470 million).  The percentage grab was a Russian oligarch record.

Guriev runs  a family business. He is deputy chairman of the 8-man board; his son Andrei Junior is chief executive; his wife Yevgenia Gurieva holds a 4.82% shareholding in her own name; and through Cyprus companies the Gurievs own another 45.5%. Or they did until recently, when Guriev arranged the sale of 4.5% of his shares for the purpose, he declared to the stock market, of buying 2.7% from another shareholder.

Noone in Russia or the London market knows why Guriev did such a thing, or why it made commercial sense to do so – unless Guriev was doing what a market source says he has always done. “Maybe he’s the trustee and nominee shareholder for someone else, and selling for that shareholder, not for himself.”   Guriev’s supporters in the market claim the deal was intended to improve the liquidity and share value of the company. But the result was the opposite — in the time Guriev took for his back-to-back deal between January and March, the Phosagro share price fell 15%. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

This is not a story about the past, nor about blaming the crimes of the fathers and grandfathers on their sons and daughters, or granddaughters.  

This is a story of the moment when the crimes of the past and the criminal intent today turn out to be  the same thing: Russian-hating today is a race crime, just as Jew-hating and Pole-hating were crimes,  and still are. No Canadian foreign minister or member of parliament, no Canadian Mountie, no Dudley Do-Right should be culpable of such crimes. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Australian Government refuses to declare the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 a terrorist act, and is withholding state payments of $75,000 to each of the families of the 38 Australian nationals or residents killed when the plane was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

The Australian Attorney-General, George Brandis, has written to advise Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (lead image, left; right image, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko) there is insufficient evidence of what and who caused the MH17 crash to meet the Australian statutory test of a terrorist act.  Because the Attorney-General’s legal opinion flatly contradicts Turnbull’s public opinions, Brandis’s advice is top-secret; he refuses to answer questions about the analysis of the MH17 incident which he and his subordinates, along with Australian intelligence agencies and the Australian Federal Police,  have been conducting for more than two years.

In public Turnbull said on Monday:  “Vladimir Putin’s Russia is subject to international sanctions, to which Australia is a part, because of his conduct in shooting down the MH17 airliner in which 38 Australians were killed. Let’s not forget that. That was a shocking international crime.”

On Wednesday Turnbull was asked to explain why, after so long, the Prime Minister, on the advice of the Attorney-General, refuses to designate the MH17 incident as criminal terrorism according to the provisions of the Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas Act. Turnbull replied through a spokesman that he is still investigating. “The criminal investigation of MH17 is ongoing. The outcomes of this investigation could be relevant in determining whether this incident should be declared for the purposes of the Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas Payment scheme.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Alrosa, the largest diamond miner in the world, and a public shareholding company listed on the Moscow Stock Exchange, has replaced its chief executive, Andrei Zharkov (lead image, left) , twelve months before his contract was due to expire.  On Monday the company refused to announce the change, or explain the reason. It refused even to disclose that Zharkov’s contract, which commenced on April 23, 2015, is for a three-year term ending in 2018. Nor has the company confirmed that Zharkov’s replacement is Sergei Ivanov Junior (right side, 1st) the 37-year old son of former Kremlin chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov (right side, 3rd).  

The official announcement of the switch was made by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, when he called Ivanov Junior into his office on Monday afternoon. Medvedev told Ivanov “the Alrosa company is the world’s largest [in diamond mining] and has backbone value for our country, in particular for development of the Far East. Therefore, I would ask you to concentrate on this.  It is necessary to work actively according to all production and economic programs with the [federal] Government, with the Ministry of Finance, to build up a fully fledged relationship with the regional authorities because the company has unconditional value for the Republic of Sakha-Yakutia. You should put all these factors into the set of your priorities as the company’s chief executive.”

Even after the ceremony at the prime ministry and the signing of the government’s appointment paper for Ivanov, Alrosa management was in denial. By the next day the company website had not removed Zharkov from the chief executive’s page; there was no mention of Ivanov. According to Alrosa spokesman Andrei Ryabinnikov, speaking on Monday afternoon: “we do not comment on the details of the employment agreement with Mr. Zharkov. We report all new appointments in the company in special press releases.”

Sources close to Alrosa in Moscow and in diamond trade centres abroad believe Zharkov’s abrupt ouster was the outcome of a power play between former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, an economic advisor to the Kremlin, and Yury Trutnev, the deputy prime minister in charge of the Russian Far East.  For many years the dominant state official on the Alrosa board, Kudrin was defeated.  Trutnev, victorious, leaked first word of Zharkov’s replacement by Ivanov on February 27.

The sources also reveal that Zharkov, a long-time protégé of Kudrin and subordinate of the current finance minister Anton Siluanov (lead image, right centre) was removed for pushing too hard the share sell-off and cash collection schemes of the Finance Ministry, also touted by Kudrin.  The Sakha republic, where most of Alrosa’s mines are based, and which holds 25% of the company’s shares, opposed Zharkov, and got Trutnev to agree. Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin then decided that the man they could trust to satisfy the locals, but remain under their thumb, was Ivanov Junior.

 “This is piratization by the state,” explains a London source. “It makes nonsense of the privatization of Alrosa shares, of the 34% free float, of the governance rules of the company. It is simply state companies reverting to form – that’s Soviet form but with less control than in the Soviet days.  It’s now a gang of men wearing state uniforms feathering their nests.”   State piratization is so sensitive that noone inside Alrosa, and almost noone in the Russian diamond industry, will admit what is happening. (more…)