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By John Helmer, Moscow

President Vladimir Putin is the bee’s knees. There’s noone to beat him, electionwise. But when it comes to feeding Russians the genuine article, Putin’s promise is a honey trap. Naturally, we are talking only of the business of Russian beekeeping, honey production and trade.

Eighteen months after Putin listened to a Kemerovo region beekeeper complain that adulterated and counterfeit honey products imported from abroad were driving genuine Russian honey out of the market, the president said he would order the government to investigate. The study which followed early this year has confirmed the economic damage adulteration is doing to the Russian bee business, and proposed to combat it with tighter regulations and more comprehensive testing.  But the packers and retailers of fake honey have successfully lobbied Putin to sit on his hands. Nothing has happened – except that Russian production of honey is now falling. .

“The share of Russian natural honey on the domestic market used to be 94%,” says Arnold Butov, president of the Russian National Union of Beekeepers (RNSP). “ But this is decreasing. Some organizations and enterprises make honey with additives to increase the weight and sweetness of the product, making it easier to pour. These products are becoming more popular among consumers, and retailers prefer them to natural honey. We tried to appeal to the responsible governmental organizations, but were ignored. Someone there is lobbying the interests of retailers. The Bashkiria Republic government supports its honey producers very well. That can’t be said about the federal government, where control of honey production is very weak. We are writing a letter to President Putin in order to demonstrate the problems, and we hope that before 2021, when Apimondia, the international federation of beekeepers’ associations, is scheduled to convene at Ufa, in Bashkiria, some of these problems will be solved.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to repatriate Russian capital from offshore havens, and to force the well-known Russian oligarchs to return their cash and assets to Russia, took a leap forward on Tuesday afternoon in Nice, France. That is when French police arrested Suleiman Kerimov (lead image), and refused to accept that the diplomatic passport he was carrying, issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry in Kerimov’s capacity as a senator of the Federation Council for Dagestan, provided him with the immunity Kerimov protested that it did. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

December approaches, opening the last stretch of the presidential election campaign that  concludes in sixteen weeks’ time, on March 18.

What to watch for as President Vladimir Putin holds his December meetings with the oligarchs who rule Russia’s future, and the voters who will be the victims of it?  As the Russian Orthodox Church has warned, beware the ruler who is pragmatic, and the 16th century Italian, Niccolo Machiavelli – Satan’s finger, according to holy sermons —  who teaches rulers not simply to lower moral standards, but to abolish them entirely.

Not for the Church can the presidential election be a Machiavellian choice between greater and lesser evils, between means justifying ends, between material prosperity and spiritual poverty.  “The devil is not a fairy tale,” a recent Church homily argued, “he is a brilliant strategist and psychologist, and he is supremely real. The arguments of Machiavelli [are] his most successful deception to date… Machiavelli was the inventor of hypocrisy, since he was the inventor of propaganda. He was the first philosopher who wanted to change the world by propaganda.”

Propaganda cannot be the method, the Russian Church preaches; nor hypocrisy the presidential election outcome. However, between propaganda and hypocrisy, that’s what half the Russian electorate thinks is the choice. According to the Levada Centre poll  released this week, 42% of voters say the election outcome will make no difference to their lives; 45% believe it might; 13% are uncertain and so distrustful of the pollster they won’t say anything.

So how close, or how far from Machiavelli’s model ruler, is Putin the frontrunner, and what does the president himself think of Machiavelli? (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Russian state bank VTB has corroborated its role in managing a complicated set of loans, insider transfers and repurchase agreements for Oleg Deripaska’s aluminium and electricity holding, EN+, which issued global depositary receipts on the London Stock Exchange last week. Since the listing, the Russian group has lost $140 million in market capitalization. An international banker in London commented that the listing “breaks new ground, not to say exchange rules, for a share that isn’t a share and for a free float that isn’t either.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Last week, the first week in the life of Russia’s EN+ Group on the London Stock Exchange, Oleg Deripaska (lead images), control shareholder and chief executive, took $500 million in cash for himself, then triggered a $112 million loss for the other shareholders led by the Russian state bank, VTB.  

This followed an investigation by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) of EN+’s application to list and trade global depositary receipts (GDRs) instead of ordinary shares,  which Deripaska will not be listing at all.  Approval for the listing on the London exchange was given on condition that Deripaska published a series of investment warnings and liability disclaimers at the head of the EN+ prospectus, which was issued on November 3. In capital letters, investors were warned: INVESTMENT IN THE GDRS [of EN+] INVOLVES A HIGH DEGREE OF RISK. PROSPECTIVE INVESTORS SHOULD READ THE ENTIRE PROSPECTUS, PARTICULARLY, THE SECTION HEADED ‘‘RISK FACTORS’’, WHEN CONSIDERING AN INVESTMENT IN THE COMPANY.”

London sources say the market took this warning so seriously, there is almost no investor  demand for the shares. Sold to a group of insiders at $14 before trading commenced last week, the issue of 112.1 million shares fell towards $12.80 before price support was observed. At a current price of $13 per GDR (equals one ordinary share) $112.1 million in market capitalization has already been lost. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

It’s possible Donald Trump meant the little he has said about who was responsible for the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014.  If he did, he didn’t mean it for long.  If he didn’t mean what he said, with the retrospect of two years that comes as no surprise.

On MH17 there’s now no difference between former President Barack Obama, defeated presidential rival Hillary Clinton, and Trump.  Trump has done nothing to answer with the evidence at the disposal of the incumbent president what the US Government knows about who and what shot down the aircraft, killing all 298 people aboard. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

A new group of US lawyers has advertised its services for suing the Russian state bank Sberbank, claiming they will earn large cash settlements for families of those killed when the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The law firm is known as Motley Rice, headquartered in South Carolina, and the lawyer leading the advertisement to sue is Michael Elsner (lead image, top).

Motley Rice claims to be a specialist in aircraft crash cases and aviation liability, and two other lawyers in the firm, Mary Schiavo and James Brauchle, have advertised their expertise on the MH17 case in the US press. But they are keeping their pitch for a US court attack on Sberbank secret. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Stealing diamonds is a common crime. Stealing diamond mines is not unheard of, particularly  in Africa. But the Grib diamond mine in the Arkhangelsk region of Russia is the only diamond mine to have been stolen four times in just twenty years. This is a record in the history of the diamond world, and one which four well-known Russian men and one lady can be proud of, quietly.

Alisher Usmanov (lead image, in frame), Vagit Alekperov (under fedora hat), and Vadim Belyaev (kepi) were the culprits until August of this year,  when Elvira Nabiullina, Governor of the Central Bank of Russia,  and Andrei Kostin, chief executive of the VTB state bank , joined in the getaway. The value of the loot is now $1.45 billion. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Russia’s criminal prosecution authorities have expressed their appreciation for the indictments published in Washington on Monday of the alleged US criminals Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, and the admitted criminal, George Papadopoulos.

The Russians have also requested cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and special prosecutor Robert Mueller III to identify three Russian criminals who are suspected, according to the US court papers,  of the crimes of pretending to be a niece of President Vladimir Putin; of inventing their acquaintance with the Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko;  and of fabricating a Foreign Ministry invitation to Donald Trump to make an official visit to Russia during run-up to the presidential election of 2016.

Sources familiar with the thinking of Yury Chaika, Russia’s Prosecutor-General, acknowledge that under Russian law, pretending without obtaining money or other material gain, is more difficult to prosecute in a Russian court than in a US court. “Hustling, as you call it in America,” said one of the sources, “is an immoral practice. In Russian it’s called lying, but we don’t have enough jails for Russians who do it, nor clinics for those who allow themselves to be deceived. But America is a rich country with more jails.  If Mr Papadopoulos is to be imprisoned for inventing stories, we aren’t sure if his Russian accomplices will suffer the same fate under our constitution and criminal code. We request the names from the FBI which collected them, so that our police can follow up.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Medovukha, Russia’s fermented honey drink known in English as mead, is at least one thousand years old. If it’s what the Greeks meant by ambrosia, the nectar of the gods, then it is as ancient as wine, Dionysos’s tipple. Whether Rurik the Viking* brought mead with him to ancient Rus, or whether it was there already, is uncertain. What is sure is that after a revival of the Russian taste for medovukha multiplied consumption between 2011 and 2015 by sixteen times, the Finance Ministry in Moscow decided this year to tax it into extinction, destroying its own excise revenue from the drink at the same time.

In April President Vladimir Putin publicly called this “not very fair”, and promised to do something to relieve the mead brewers. He hasn’t.

There’s no Viking, no oligarch to defend mead. Gennady Timchenko, the president’s crony according to the US Treasury sanctions list, is an investor in wine.  So is LUKoil owner, Vagit Alekperov.  Oleg Deripaska’s agricultural business produces tea and cider. Vladimir Yevtushenkov is also a cider man.  Vasily Anisimov sells Putinka; he’s the oligarch for vodka.

The wife of Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev owns a vineyard. Boris Titov, the ombudsman for Russian small business, owns Abrau-Durso, the only Russian winemaker listed on the stock exchange. This year, Titov’s company has been setting a share price record so Titov has been growing richer than he’s ever been.  Mead is too small a business for Titov to care for a slice of it. (more…)