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Translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In official testimony to the European Parliament last week, the European Union Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson, attacked Russia for “exacerbating the tight [supply] balance” and thus causing “the rising prices”.

Responding to allegations against Gazprom, Simson promised an investigation. “We are looking into this claim, through our competition angles…. Better response to any type of speculation and market manipulations is another area where I believe we should assess our options for action.”

Simson is an Estonian politician who has made a public career of drawing votes from Russian-speaking Estonians. She has failed in efforts to replace her party’s leader and former prime minister, Edgar Savisaar.

Simson is a wealthy politician. The current report to the European Union (EU) of Simson’s financial interests,  dated this past January, is a near-total blank,  except for three apartments she owns  in Tallinn, plus a garage, in which she and her family do not live themselves; they live elsewhere, but not with her former husband,  Priit Simson. He is a journalist at an Estonian daily newspaper; he specializes in the study of what he calls “extremist movements in the Russian-speaking population in Estonia.”   

For an expert Russian response to Simson’s report to the EU, Vzglyad, the online Moscow analytical newspaper, published this piece by Olga Samofalova yesterday. Read on.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

On the subject of Russia and the Russians, American exceptionalism pops up in the most unexpected places.

Take the case of a new book from the Russia-warfighting publisher Random House of New York fetchingly sub-titled “In which four Russians give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life”. The Guardian, lead Russia-warfighter in London, managed to review the book as “a delight”, but it avoided mentioning the word “Russia” even once.  The New York Times, perpetrator of every propaganda line the Russiagate plotters and Kremlin regime changers want to see in print, managed  the word “Russian” three times in its review of the new book,  but consigned it to the 19th century, safely locked up by reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s “classic lectures on Russian literature, first delivered at Cornell.”

Now forest rangers may refer to the particular tree in the wood on which their dogs choose to urinate.  But in the history of modern Russian literature the place in upstate New York where Nabokov was paid to deliver himself of his opinions before he fled to Switzerland for life is quite unexceptional — except to the New York Times. In the upstate New York forest, Nabokov’s Cornell tree is just one hour’s driving south of the tree at Syracuse where the author George Saunders (lead image) has produced his book on the four Russian guides to life. No dog, no tree in Saunders’ title, but plenty of relieving liquid – “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain”.

What makes Saunders the master in the “master class” is spelled out in the reviews. His lectures to undergraduates on creative fiction are “top-ranked”; another book of his won a Pulitzer prize for fiction; also a Booker prize; he’s been on a best-seller list; there is a “rack of National Magazine Awards”; and he has been given a “genius grant” by the MacArthur Foundation. In short, this is a master situated squarely in the American marketplace, and advantageously at that. Russia is his latest selling-point, a barker’s come-on.  

About that place and its people far away, Saunders claims on page 6 to know nothing – “I’m not a critic or a literary historian or an expert on Russian literature or any of that.” At the same time – actually two pages earlier, on page 4 – Saunders had already declared he knows quite enough. The lessons from Russia he selected for his story-telling are “resistance literature, written by progressive reformers in a repressive culture under constant threat of censorship, in a time when a writer’s politics could lead to exile, imprisonment, and execution”.

Phew! That relieves Saunders of the Russian pain in his pants as he approached his exceptional upstate New York tree.  But he’s gotten too close — too many dogs, too much liquid in the roots, a gust of wind, and the tree is keeling over. Look out! Timberrr! Exceptionalist American fiction writer has been topped by log of Russian truth.  

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

A stitch in time saves nine. That’s what police and prosecutors used to say when they were in hot pursuit of criminals. Hot pursuit used to mean no waiting.  

However, the Metropolitan Police (lead image, left) took three years before announcing that Denis Sergeyev (alias Sergei Fedotov), a Russian military intelligence officer (right), is the third suspect in the alleged Novichok attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal. That took place on March 4, 2018, allegedly. Six months later, the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) formally announced their indictments of two men, Alexander Petrov (Alexander Mishkin)  and Ruslan Boshirov (Anatoly Chepiga), on September 5,  2018. The police acted simultaneously with the prosecutors; their timing also coincided with the announcement to parliament by Prime Minister Theresa May.

The police evidence, declared May, “has enabled the independent Crown Prosecution Service to conclude they have a sufficient basis on which to bring charges against these two men for the attack in Salisbury.”  

“We have obtained a European Arrest Warrant and will shortly issue an Interpol red notice,” May added in her speech to the House of Commons.

Sue Hemming, head of the CPS, announced at the same time: “A realistic prospect of conviction means the CPS is satisfied on an objective assessment that the evidence can be used in court and that an objective, impartial and reasonable jury hearing the case, properly directed and acting in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict these two individuals of the charges… We will not be applying to Russia for the extradition of these men as the Russian constitution does not permit extradition of its own nationals… We have, however, obtained a European Arrest Warrant which means that if either man travels to a country where an EAW is valid, they will be arrested and face extradition on these charges for which there is no statute of limitations.”

Hemming said nothing about an Interpol Red Notice; Interpol confirms none was issued for either Russian.   

Fast forward – no, wait, make that slow-motion forward, until September 21, 2021, when Dean Haydon, a deputy assistant commissioner at the Met, announced he is charging Sergeyev (Fedotov) with the same attempted murder by Novichok.  The police had delayed for three years. The CPS for longer. In fact, as the CPS has now officially admitted, it hasn’t charged the third man with anything, yet.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

German clinical evidence of Alexei Navalny’s chronic use of lithium and benzodiazepine drugs before his sensational collapse last year is being withheld and covered up by the Berlin doctors who obtained the evidence from testing a sample of Navalny’s hair.

The significance of the hair testing was identified this month by an expert toxicologist employed by the British government.  “[It] would be interesting,” he said, requesting his name not be released, “to see the hair test as this will reflect only the drugs given up to six days and more earlier in Russia.”

Dr Kai-Uwe Eckardt, the head of the team of German doctors treating Navalny in Berlin’s Charité University Hospital, reported publicly last December that “a hair sample obtained on day 4 confirmed the presence of several of the compounds detected in blood and urine.” Day-4 in Berlin meant August 24, four days after Navalny alleges he was poisoned in Tomsk by Novichok on orders of the Kremlin. Navalny’s allegation was endorsed by the German, British and US governments on the evidence, they said at the time, of Navalny’s tests in Germany.

This allegation was repeated last week at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.  According to an October 5 statement by a group of OPCW member governments,  “it is now more than a year since Mr Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent whilst travelling in Russia. The OPCW Technical Secretariat confirmed, following a Technical Assistance Visit to Germany, that Mr Navalny was exposed to a nerve agent from the Novichok group. This is a matter of grave concern.”

Led by Germany, the UK and US, the governments also charged that “the Russian Federation has not yet provided a credible explanation of the incident that took place on its soil.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded two days later, on October 7,  charging the accusers of “inconsistencies, contradictions, misinformation, shady developments that have yet to be clarified, insinuations at the highest political level and outright lies professed by the West… a provocation, crudely planned and coarsely executed by the special services of some Western countries.” 

The significance of the hair sample testing by the German doctors  is that the results corroborate lithium and benzodiazepine drug use in Navalny’s blood and urine found on his arrival in Berlin.

An independent British toxicologist adds that the levels of the drugs in the hair testing would also confirm Navalny’s dependence on these drugs in Russia, well before he arrived in Tomsk and long before the Novichok “incident” alleged at OPCW last week. “Without seeing the actual hair analysis report, we are guessing which specific drugs and compounds were common to the blood and urine and hair. The hair ones are all pre-attack compounds. If ‘several’ drugs were in the hair, as the Berlin report says, then Navalny would be described as a chronic abuser. That,  plus his multiple bacterial infections the Berlin report also identifies,  would make the trained professional clinician looking at the data believe that the patient was a down-at-heel street person with a serious drug problem and mental health issues.”

Medical psychiatrists and toxicologists acknowledge that the “cocktail” combination of drugs Navalny had been taking before he collapsed on August 20 may explain his subsequent symptoms and the cause of his collapse. Lithium, according to the British government  toxicologist reporting last week, “would not be detected by normal drug screening and must have been indicated for some reason to cause them [the Charité hospital doctors] to carry out as a special, targeted test. It would be interesting to know why it was tested for and the blood concentration – were the Russians treating [Navalny] for a bipolar disorder?”

Eckardt was asked to explain his reason for testing Navalny for  lithium and benzodiazepines. He was also asked what specific compounds were detected in the Day-4 hair sample testing he directed. Eckardt refused to answer, or to provide what OPCW called last week “a credible explanation”.

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By Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, Boston*
  @bears_with

George Bernard Shaw once said if you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh otherwise they’ll kill you.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

When it came to ingratiating American presidents, no Russian leader tried harder than Mikhail Gorbachev followed by Boris Yeltsin. Vladimir Putin did his best to match their examples with Bill Clinton.   Putin was slow to learn, slower to anger. That began in 2008 when Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, broke a promise after taking a bribe to allow the Kremlin to buy the Opel car division in Germany from General Motors.  

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Investigations by US government officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), of Christopher Steele’s (lead image, right) Russiagate dossier have identified Catherine Belton (left) as one of the targets for his fabrications. Belton was herself investigated as one of the journalists Steele recruited to plant his allegations of Russian interference days before the 2016 presidential election.

In her book Putin’s People, Belton repeats many of Steele’s allegations but she does not cite him or his consulting company Orbis as her source. Belton adds at the end of the book: “I’ll always be grateful to Chris [Steele] for his moral support.” After Belton’s book appeared in April 2020, Steele admitted to lawyers engaged in a London High Court lawsuit against him that Belton is “a friend, yes, she’s a friend”.

Fresh evidence revealed in the indictment issued by the US Department of Justice on September 16, shows that the FBI has concluded Steele was lying when he and  his American accomplices  planted false allegations of Russian election interference through several named intermediaries, including a Russian bank and Russian émigrés in the US,. The New York Times and The Atlantic were identified in last month’s US court papers as willing outlets for the fabrications. Earlier litigation by the Alfa Bank group in the US has identified five New York Times reporters and David Corn of Mother Jones as collaborators in the scheme.

Belton’s name, tagged with the note “London meeting”, has also surfaced in meeting notes taken at the State Department on October 11, 2016, when Steele met with Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland and a deputy, Kathleen Kavalec.  Kavalec’s meeting notes, partially declassified, reveal that Steele’s allegations of Russian election interference followed a briefing of the same allegations at the FBI a month earlier, on September 19, 2016,  by Michael Sussmann, a lawyer working in secret for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  Sussmann is now charged with lying then to the FBI.

The Justice Department’s indictment says Sussmann was one of the plotters with Steele and others, including journalists, university academics, and IT experts in publishing false stories of Russian election interference; their plot aimed at hurting the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, by making it appear he was in cahoots with the Kremlin to hurt the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.

“In or about late October 2016 – approximately one week before the 2016 U.S. Presidential election – multiple media outlets reported that U.S. government authorities had received and were investigating allegations concerning a purported secret channel of communications between the Trump Organization, owned by Donald J. Trump, and a particular Russian bank (‘Russian Bank-I’).”

The Kavalec notebook also reveals that Steele claimed there were “3 distinct channels” for this Russian operation “run by Kremlin, not FSB, Ivanov, Peskov, Putin.”  In addition to accusing Alfa Bank as the first channel “Alfa-Trump-Kremlin-comms”, Steele told Nuland that Serge Millian, a Russian émigré businessman in the US, was the second; Carter Page, a wannabe Trump campaign adviser, was the third.

In the sequence of Kavalec’s notes. Steele told Nuland there were “hackers out of R[ussia] – acting in US – [payments out of the state] pension fund Miami consulate payments – implants. Operations Paige [sic], Millian (émigrés?), Manafort.”  Steele then mentioned the London meeting with Belton whom he identified as “FT [Financial Times]”.  

Reporting by Belton in the Financial Times followed days after her meeting was mentioned by Steele to Nuland.  In  Belton’s published report, she named Serge Millian as the channel Steele had alleged at State and the FBI. “Now, “ Belton claimed on November 1, one week before Election Day,  “the US administration has formally accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the US electoral process through the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email servers, Mr Millian’s activities — and his ties to the Republican presidential nominee — are coming under increasing scrutiny.” Belton did not identify her sources for her allegations against Millian. She implied, however, that they were US intelligence agents and the FBI.  “Mr Millian came on to the FBI’s radar”, Belton reported. “The FBI probe was part of a wake-up call for US intelligence over suspicions that Russia was activating networks long thought defunct after the end of the cold war.”

Millian avoided Belton for an interview and she reported. “He declined repeated requests for an interview and left the US for Asia on a business trip in early October.” Two weeks before, Steele had told Nuland, according to Kavalec’s transcript, Millian was “now in China.”

According to Belton, Millian had been a real estate broker for Trump, selling Trump organisation properties to Russians. Steele had told Nuland “real estate entities used for massive set of purchases by Russians. Set up espionage network in FL[orida] – to buy a lot of properties for POTUS [Trump’s] businesses through a R[ussian] brokage. 100’s of real estate transactions.”

Two months ago, on July 28, Belton was exposed as a liar and fabricator of her source material by her British publisher, HarperCollins.  Settling the High Court case brought against them both by Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven of Alfa Bank, the publisher said there was “no significant evidence” for Belton’s allegations of KGB connections in the early careers of Fridman and Aven; and that she had failed to check her claims with Fridman and Aven before publishing them. The publisher agreed to delete Belton’s allegations from the book.

The terms of that settlement, and the ongoing High Court case in London, have stopped Macmillan, the US publisher of the book, from issuing the paperback edition, according to industry sources.

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By Liane Theuerkauf, Munich, with introduction & illustrations by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

On September 22, 2021, Dame Heather Hallett, the coroner appointed by the British government to conduct an inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess, held a second hearing in court in London.  Sturgess died in Salisbury District Hospital on July 8, 2018, from what Hallett has already announced to be Novichok poisoning from a Russian military attack.

The full transcript of what Hallett said can be read here.  Analysis of the proceedings recommended skepticism towards the veracity and intentions of Hallett and the lawyers testifying in court. Read for more detail.   

Hallett has proposed putting an end to the proceeding under the Coroners and Justice Act of 2009 and the British legal rules which apply to an inquest in a coronial court. These require a jury, in addition to the coroner, when “the death was caused by a notifiable accident, poisoning or disease”. The rules also require that evidence should be presented and witnesses testify in open court for cross-examination by lawyers and for public accountability. Instead of this, Hallett decided last month that a public inquiry will be substituted in which she alone will decide what evidence and witnesses to take in secret, and what secrets to keep out of the public record.

Hallett and the lawyers for the British government and police say this inquiry isn’t likely to open for another two years. In the meantime, the police say they will be assembling the evidence which they believe may be open to public scrutiny, and the evidence which may not. After three years of investigation of the Sturgess case, and also of the cases of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, allegedly poisoned by Novichok fifteen weeks before Sturgess;  and following police announcements of criminal indictments of three Russian military intelligence agents, this new police effort is code-named Operation VERBASCO.

In the meantime, Hallett’s statements and those of Michael Mansfield, Sturgess’s advocate in court, invite a series of questions. Not a single policeman, prosecutor, pathologist, lawyer, member of parliament, or forensic expert in the United Kingdom has thought to ask them, at least not yet and not in public. To anticipate and to assist them, therefore, read Hallett’s statements in italics; the questions follow in bold.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

There’s a lot to be afraid of in life. Mine has been dominated by the fear of suffocating to death.

Compared to that, verbal insults, the headmaster’s cane, my father’s screaming, army camp, police on horses, Harvard University, the doorman at Fortnum’s, bad reviews, Russian gunmen, Georgian gunmen, and threats by lawyers amount to less. When they strike, they generate an equal or greater mass of energy to fight back. But when suffocation comes on, all I am able to do is to gasp for air, and prepare for the worst.

The problem with the fear of suffocating is that it leads to three other fears – the fear of dentists working in my mouth; the fear of being gagged by robbers; and the fear of laughing.

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

When China was an empire in 1792, the emperor Ch’ieng Lung told the British ambassador to take his gifts and bribes back to London, along with this message for the British king: “we have never valued ingenious articles, nor do we have the slightest need of your country’s manufactures. You, O King, ought, looking upwards, to carry out our wishes, and for ever obey our edict, so that we both enjoy the blessings of peace…Do not say you have not been forewarned.”

When Russia was an empire in 1773, the empress Catherine the Great was persuaded by bribes to purchase from Wedgwood & Bentley, the Staffordshire porcelain manufacturer, the largest order of dinner and table plates in the history of British pottery.  After haggling over the price for the 944 pieces, the tsarina paid Wedgwood’s invoice at today’s equivalent of £4 million – the largest price ever charged and paid for such things until that time. Wedgwood lost money on the deal, though. That was because the bribery and costs of production and delivery turned out to be greater than Catherine’s payment. The way the bribes worked, Wedgwood told the British ambassador in St Petersburg and his wife to make gifts of expensive samples he had sent them, keeping some for themselves as commission. The ambassador’s wife wrote back: “Her Imperial Majesty has kept all the Vases and the Dejeuné [sic — luncheon plates] you sent me, as samples, and they were very much liked.”

There are political lessons in this – especially if you read them while eating your dinner off a paper plate or out of a cardboard box.

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