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deripaska_montenegro

By John Helmer, Moscow

A decade ago, before the Annie-get-your-gun ladies got control of US policy in Ukraine, their Hopalong Cassidy predecessors were in charge. Back then, the menfolk tried an identical combination of bribery and democracy-funding, the point of which was to make sure Serbians lost their right to go to their own beach – that is to say, Montenegro. If the children reading would go to bed immediately, it would be possible to reveal how the unconventional sexual orientation of Annie and Hoppy usually leads to such jolly, if not gay American combinations – bribery, democracy, and beaches.

The war between Moscow, Washington, and Brussels over Montenegro went to the wire on May 21, 2006, when 55.5% of Montenegrin voters approved their secession from Serbia, and applied for recognition, first as an independent state, then as a candidate member of the European Union (EU). Russian policy opposed the breakaway, backed the union with Serbia – rump of the former Yugoslavia – and offered Montenegrins a Russian cash-and-carry alternative to EU grants and conditions. The validity of the super-majority required for the US-EU option to carry was just 0.5% of the 419,236 votes cast – 2,096. In Podgorica, the country’s capital and site of the Podgorica Aluminium Combine (KAP), the US-EU vote came to 53.2%, not enough for the European option to prevail.
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eu_fear

By John Helmer, Moscow

Ukrainian voters are now united in only one thing – their fear. Countrywide, two out of three say they are afraid of military conflict with outside forces. One in two say they are more afraid of internal conflict and civil war. Almost that many say their biggest anxieties are non-payment of pensions, loss of jobs and wages.

The latest poll of Ukrainian voters has been a cooperative, nationwide effort by four polling organizations, led by the Centre for Social and Marketing Research (SOCIS) and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS). A sample of 6,200 has been gathered in individual face-to-face interviews, covering all regions except Crimea. The statistical error has been reduced from 2% in the smaller telephone polls of January and February to 0.8% in the new results. The polling was undertaken between March 14 and 19, and thus reflects the first reaction of the majority of Ukrainians to the Crimean referendum and its secession. The results were published in Ukrainian on March 26, and can be read here.
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obama_cocq

By John Helmer, Moscow

President Barack Obama has done something no president of the US has done in public, outside of wartime, for more than a century. He has attempted to issue a personal insult to another country and its president by belittling both.

At the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam on Monday, in front of Rembrandt’s “The Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq”, also known as “The Night Watch”, the White House arranged a photo opportunity. Obama spoke of the painting behind as “the most impressive backdrop I’ve had for a press conference”; claimed he had studied the Dutch Masters in school; thanked the locals for their hospitality, and moved on to a meeting with the Dutch Prime Minister while the media were dispersed. There was no press conference.
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force_majeure

By John Helmer, Moscow

A year ago the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) reported that through the statistics collected by its 60 associated central banks, total bank lending to Russia had jumped by $25 billion in the January quarter. That was the largest quarterly increase of Russian lending and borrowing in BIS records. It was also a sign of the growing integration between Russia and the economies of the rest of the world.

This year, the US Government has decided to put a stop to that, and declared war on Russian individuals and Russian corporations. In part, this has been done by issuing transaction ban and asset freeze orders of designated individuals and institutions; in part, by legislating the authority for the US President to attack the economic means of any individual of Russian nationality or association; and in part, by advertising in the Financial Times and The Economist the intention to attack the entire Russian economy until capitulation.
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us_sanctions

By John Helmer, Moscow

In 1487, when Edmund Duke of Edinburgh, aka the Black Adder, wanted to strike fear into the English royal court, and also the Spaniards, he called his valet to dress him in his Russian codpiece.

Do I need to tell the young girls and boys in charge of war in Washington, DC, just how big the Russian codpiece was back then? Are they so mesmerized by its size today they believe the law is on their side when they try to strike back? If so, girls and boys, you have an unsavoury surprise coming – and I’m not referring to what will happen if the codpiece comes off.
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petro_in

By John Helmer, Moscow

The assets of Petro Poroshenko, frontrunner in the Ukrainian presidential election called for May 25, are facing growing pressure in Crimea and mainland Russia.

If US and French Government proposals now in discussion in Brussels expand anti-Russian sanctions to strike at the offshore assets of Russian oligarchs, Poroshenko is likely to be targeted for retaliation, and lose the Bogdan auto assembly and sales outlets in Crimea; the Sevmorverf shipyard in Sevastopol; Roshen confectionery plants in Lipetsk; and roughly half the Roshen group’s trading revenues. The Crimean assets are relatively small in value. The Lipetsk assets have been estimated by Roshen to have cost more than $100 million. About $80 million, half the Roshen group’s annual sale revenues, is accounted for by Poroshenko’s exports to Russia.
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gay_sanction

By John Helmer, Moscow

President Barack Obama issued an order yesterday imposing sanctions against seven Russians whom he and his government blame for the crisis in Ukraine. At the bottom of the Obama list at Number 7 is State Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina (left), chairman of the Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs. She and the other six Russians are accused in the White House declaration of responsibility for “the deployment of Russian military forces in the Crimea region of Ukraine” and for policies which “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets.”

The sanctions against Mizulina are explicitly identified in the March 17 order as blocking “all property and interests in property that are in the United States”; barring entry to the US; and banning engagement with US citizens in “any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit” of Mizulina.
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curtains_mechel

By John Helmer, Moscow

Alfa Bank, owned by Mikhail Fridman, has issued an unexpected loan repayment demand from Mechel, controlled by Igor Zyuzin (left), for $150 million. That’s chicken-feed in Mechel’s debt pile of almost $10 billion. But with dozens of trade creditors in the arbitrazh courts demanding their invoices be paid; a collapsing share price; and nothing of value left to mortgage or to meet margin calls, Zyuzin is on the edge of bankruptcy. So why has Fridman issued his ultimatum? Since two out of every three dollars Zyuzin owes are under state bank control, Fridman’s notice appears to be a call on the banks, and on the government behind, to get rid of Zyuzin altogether and redistribute Mechel’s steelmaking and coal-mining assets. It isn’t likely Fridman, who abandoned the mining and metal lines of business after the 2008 crisis, is acting alone.

The Alfa Bank demand was issued during a meeting last Thursday, March 13, with government ministers and bankers to discuss Mechel’s financial position. Mechel and Alfa sources confirm that the meeting, chaired by Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, was told that Mechel was in violation of its loan covenants and that Alfa demanded pre-payment within 24 hours.
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editorial cartoon: mothersday, moederdag

By John Helmer, Moscow

In most legal codes there is no concept of a legal vacuum, since lawyers, judges and experts on jurisprudence everywhere believe that for every act some law or other must apply. In English and American law, for example, it is inconceivable – to lawyers, judges, politicians and policemen – that the law ceases to have application. It is possible, they admit, that there are situations which are so novel in fact, or so unprecedented, the statutes, regulations, and decided case law haven’t caught up with the realities. But catch up the legislators and judges do. These aren’t vacuums, so much as gaps which are invariably plugged.

What happens if a government or a legislature, acting beyond its authority, gets a court to rule in violation of its constitution? That isn’t a vacuum. It is double-barrelled unlawfulness or illegality. But since the fingers on the trigger didn’t have the authority to pull, the outcome is what the lawyers call a legal nullity. It doesn’t require challenge or appeal. It is void from the start. For examples in international law of what the doctrine of nullity means, read on. For an interpretation of a legal vacuum by the Russian Constitutional Court, click here.
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brain_money

By John Helmer, Moscow

Majorities of voters in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine believe there is no candidate running for the presidential election planned for May 25, whom they trust with a vote to represent their interests. With two months still to go, the outcome of the poll is therefore already decided – it will be regarded by southern and eastern Ukrainians as a forced choice; an illegitimate result; and an outcome which cannot be relied on to protect the interests of the southerners and easterners.

According to voter polling by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, there are still large blocs of undecided voters or refuseniks in the south and east who may be persuaded to vote. The appointments of the steelmill oligarchs, Sergei Taruta and Igor Kolomoisky, as governors of the Donetsk and Dniepropetrovsk regions has been interpreted as an attempt by officials in Kiev to achieve this with cash and promises of job and pension benefits. But new poll evidence suggests that no amount of money can buy votes for the US-approved candidates — Vitali Klitschko, Petro Poroshenko, or Oleg Tyagnibok. The same can be said for the Russian-approved candidacy of Yulia Tymoshenko.
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