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By Gary Busch, London*
  @bears_with

The roots of the Syrian Civil War start with conflicts over who controls Syria’s energy supplies. The war continues, especially in the Kurdish areas of the north, in a fight over water which has been growing desperately scarcer for everybody – Syrians, Kurds, Turks, Iraqis.

Achieving a final conclusion to the war will depend on those fighting it to negotiate  arrangements for the distribution of Syrian energy supplies, onshore and offshore, and ensuring adequate supplies of water in a continuously dehydrating climate. Until now, taking oil and water by force has been much the preferred option. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping that his meeting with President Vladimir Putin, scheduled for next Tuesday in Sochi, will give him the same battlefield advantages on Syrian territory which Putin conceded in their Idlib Agreement of last September. By fixing the Putin negotiation at the limit of the 5-day agreement Erdogan negotiated yesterday with US officials in Ankara, the Turkish aim is to extend the Turkish military occupation of northeastern Syria from the frontier to Highway M4, and present Putin with a fait accompli – a Turkish invasion of Syria, followed by the surrender of the Kurdish forces and of the Syrian Army, without a serious fight.

To achieve this between now and then, the US and the Turks are hoping for a Russian military retreat from the battlefield, and the abandonment of Russian protection, in the air and on the ground, of the Syrian Army’s advance to recover sovereignty for the government in Damascus. The Turkish invasion, the US has now agreed, is a NATO operation under the treaty’s collective defence Article 5;  this implies the threat of US reprisals if the Turkish advance is fought by Kurdish, Syrian and Russian forces.

“This is an incredible outcome,” President Donald Trump has declared. “We got everything we ever could have dreamed of.” Trump thinks he has Putin’s capitulation.

On paper he has already. On the battlefield he hasn’t, yet. If Putin concedes next Tuesday, then it is clear this is exactly what Putin meant when he told an Arabic-language media interview last  Monday, “we – Turkey, Iran, and Russia – work hard, shoulder to shoulder, to achieve positive results. However, it would have been impossible without support from Saudi Arabia, and we all understand that.” In point of fact, no one in the Arab world, nor in the Russian Foreign Ministry and General Staff, understands that all. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Authoritarianism in the former Soviet Union is John Heathershaw’s métier.

Heathershaw is a professor at the University of Exeter where he specializes in studying and teaching “conflict, security and development in authoritarian political environments, especially in post-Soviet Central Asia.”  Recently, he took exception to my critical reviews of books on Russia by fellow British academics – one  by Mark Galeotti, and others by Oliver Bullough, Elisabeth Schimpfossl,  and Robert Service.  He wrote to me to say so, recognizing my “journalistic work” and adding: “I’m not interested in hatchet jobs or conspiracy theories regarding people doing perfectly good research.” This is the record of what happened when the journalist asked the professor for his evidence. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Boris Dubrovsky (lead images), President Vladimir Putin’s governor of Chelyabinsk between 2014 and March 19, 2019, has long been at risk of lung disease, and he is now reported to be in a Swiss clinic for treatment. His prognosis is uncertain.

More certain it is that Dubrovsky will not be returning to Chelyabinsk. That’s not because the  city air is injurious to his health, as federal regulators and citizens’ groups have measured throughout Dubrovsky’s gubernatorial term;  but rather because Dubrovsky has been charged by the Investigative Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the criminal scheme of monopolizing road construction contracts in the Chelyabinsk region. The sum of the criminal damage for which Dubrovsky is accused currently stands at Rb20 billion ($308 million). That’s damage to the regional and federal budgets. How much money Dubrovsky has trousered for himself is not charged or reported.  

No Russian prosecution claims have been filed against Dubrovsky to the Swiss authorities. The Swiss press are now investigating the accommodations in local banks and real estate where Dubrovsky’s money may be located under his own or his son’s name. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Dominic Cummings, presently a powerful and wealthy 47-year old special advisor to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was hard at work in Moscow and Samara for three years, between 1994 and 1997. He has acknowledged himself that “I worked in Russia 1994-7 on various projects.” This was no news to the Russian authorities then or since; it is also an advertisement to British critics and media investigators in London that however much Cummings’ role in plotting the Brexit referendum and Johnson’s no-deal ultimatums have antagonized many, Cummings once, and still now, enjoys the protection and confidence of the British secret services.

The three Cummings years in Russia were a period of fierce undercover combat between MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency, and Russia’s reviving foreign and counter-intelligence services, successors to the Soviet KGB — the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service), led by Yevgeny Primakov,  and the FSB (Federal Security Service)  under Sergei Stepashin and Mikhail Barsukov.

That was also the time a junior MI6 spy named Christopher Steele was running operations in the Volga region south of Moscow, starting in Samara. When his cover was blown in the spring of 1993, Steele was evacuated to home office to train replacements. Just over a year later, after graduating slowly from Oxford, Cummings’ time started in Samara. That too came to an abrupt and unsuccessful end. Cummings himself is behind the hint published in his Wikipedia profile that he “fell foul of the KGB”.   Since then Steele has become more successful at running operations and agents in Washington;  Cummings more successful on Downing Street.

But in the mid-1990s what exactly was Cummings doing in Samara and other places in Russia, for whom was he working, what contact did he have with Steele, and why was he ordered out of Russia – these are questions  Cummings was asked to explain on Monday. He refuses to answer. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The British Government’s narrative that a Kremlin-ordered assassination plot against a former GRU agent, Sergei Skripal, in March of 2018 also caused the death of a woman, Dawn Sturgess,  three months later,  has collapsed for lack of evidence admissible in court.  

After nineteen months of investigations by hundreds of police, military personnel, forensic scientists, and secret service agents, including Skripal himself and his daughter Yulia, the Metropolitan Police have been unable to present their case for the cause of death of Dawn Sturgess to the Wiltshire and Swindon County senior coroner, David Ridley (lead image). Ridley’s court is located at 26 Endless Street, Salisbury, the town in which Skripal was allegedly attacked on March 4, 2018. Sturgess fell ill on June 30 at her companion’s home in Amesbury, nine miles from Salisbury. She died on July 8.

Because Ridley cannot rule on the cause of death according to the requirements of British law, the Government has decided to prevent an inquest from being held. Although Ridley has ordered postponements of the inquest every six months since he convened the first pre-inquest review (PIR) on July 19, 2018, he and his superiors in London decided last week that the hearing scheduled for this week should not be held at all, and that the Sturgess inquest should be delayed sine die, without a date being set.

This is tantamount to ending the legal process – without a ruling that Sturgess had been the victim of murder. That in turn casts grave legal doubt on the British police, government and press allegations of what caused Skripal’s collapse, and who was responsible.

On Friday Ridley attempted to cover up the blocking of the court process by claiming he had issued a press release announcing the inquest postponement through the Counter Terrorism unit of the Metropolitan Police in London. “I would advise you,” said Ridley’s spokesman Debra Twort, “that the Senior Coroner issued a press release advising of the postponement through Counter Terrorism. A further date has not been set.”

No such press release has been issued by the police;  Ridley and Twort have refused repeated requests to produce it. Twort has been ordered to lie to the press in order to cover up the collapse of the case of the so-called Novichok murder.

“Why won’t, or why can’t the British Government,” commented a surprised London investigative source, “support their own narrative of the Skripal case in court after so much time has elapsed for the investigation? This isn’t a matter of catching those culpable,  but of proving, at least to the satisfaction of the Coroner, that a Russian plot and a Russian-sourced nerve agent Novichok were the cause of Sturgess’s death. No inquest means no murder — no murder means no Russian plot. You’d think the British press would be all over this news.” (more…)

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By Eric Zuesse*
  @bears_with

The Netherlands Government is resisting an effort by the families of the Dutch victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 to find out why,  on July 17, 2014 – the day Flight MH17 was shot down when over the eastern Ukrainian civil war zone — this passenger aircraft had been guided by Ukraine’s air-traffic control to fly through, instead of around the war zone (as it instructed other airliners).

On October 1, 2019, now more than five years after 196 Dutch nationals were killed in that incident, the  Dutch RTL News headlined (as auto-translated into English) “Cabinet considers research into Ukraine’s role in disaster MH17”. RTL reports that “the cabinet will examine whether further research is possible on the role of Ukraine in the disaster with Flight MH17.” The cabinet was being pushed, RTL said, by “a proposal … for the investigation [which has] received the support of all Parties present in the second chamber” of the Dutch Parliament. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Joe Biden’s campaign for president, as well as his defence against charges of corrupt influence peddling and political collusion in the Ukraine, are being promoted in Washington by the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk (lead image, right) through the New York lobbyist, candidate adviser and pollster, Douglas Schoen (left).

This follows several years of attempts by Pinchuk and Schoen to buy influence with Donald Trump, first as a candidate and then as president; with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani; and with John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser in 2018 and 2019. Their attempts failed.

Pinchuk has been paying Schoen more than $40,000 every month for eight years. The amount of money is substantially greater than Biden’s son Hunter Biden was paid by Pinchuk’s Ukrainian rival Igor Kolomoisky through the oil company Burisma and Rosemont Seneca Bohai, Biden’s New York front company.

Pinchuk’s message for the Democratic candidates and US media, according to Schoen’s Fox News broadcast in August, is: “Stop killing your own, stop beating up on your own frontrunner, Joe Biden.”  

On September 26, Schoen broadcast a fresh warning to the Democrats against the impeachment of Trump. “They stand to lose the presidency and the House. They could blow it all…There’s no slam-dunk here. If [the Democrats] go forward with the impeachment inquiry…and then vote, this could be curtains for the Democrats. And for Joe Biden this is calamitous news because it precludes him getting any positive message out.”   (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Robert Service (lead images) commits the pathetic fallacy over and over.

It isn’t that his fallacies are pathetic, and so deserve to be pitied. It is that Service takes money for writing histories, purporting to be about Russia, its revolutionary leaders, and now its current leader, by projecting his own emotions on to his targets. It’s the kind of personification intended to convince readers of the hostility of his Russian targets, and Service’s wisdom in judging them for what they are; that’s to say, what deserves to be done to them (if they aren’t dead yet) by people like Service.

Service is a propagandist for Russia-hating, Kremlin-changing warfare. His output is a stream of books aimed by Pan Macmillan — now a German-owned publisher with most of its sales in the US — at American readers inveigled into wanting war with Russia.  

“I came to this project after serving as a witness in the Berezovski v. Abramovich trial in 2011-2012”, Service says by way of his oath to tell the truth at the start of his new testimony against Vladimir Putin. Service’s book, released this week, is called “Kremlin Winter: Russia and the Second Coming of Vladimir Putin.”   From the start line at the title, the assumption is Service’s war-fighting one: Putin is omnipotent in Russia – topple him so the world, as Service is paid to represent it, will be safe from global winter and other Kremlin hostilities.  

What Service doesn’t acknowledge is that he was hired by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich to testify as an expert in the High Court case against Boris Berezovsky. Service’s fee is also undisclosed; it would have been more than a vet’s (£90 per hour) but less than a neurosurgeon’s (£171). 

Berezovsky also hired a historian as his witness. Testifying in court at the time, Service warned against the other expert:  “I’m asked to give evidence here as a historian, I don’t accept anybody’s word, just because they say that something happened, without the kind of evidence to back it that does not come from the person who is saying it. So there has to be a sort of — in a perfect world, there has to be a multiplicity of sources to corroborate anything as having happened or not having happened… I would just add the reservation that the statements by big businessmen in Russia in the 1990s about what they did or did not do are riddled with cases of falsification, obfuscation and the rest of it. One has to be very, very careful about accepting anything from any of them.” The evidence for the history of Russia in the 1990s, he concluded, “is just not in yet.”  

Service’s book violates his own warning.

He also starts his book with an acknowledgement of the sources he’s “indebted to”. They include Luke Harding, a London newspaper reporter; Radosław Sikorski, ex-Polish foreign minister; Michael McFaul, ex-US Ambassador to Moscow, Catherine Ashton, ex-European Union foreign affairs commissioner; Toomas Hendrik Ilves, an ex-Estonian president; and Roderic Lyne, vice-chairman of the Chatham House think-tank.   A book on Russian politics with Russia-hating, warfighting sources like these cannot be believed. They are all in the same trench, on the other side of No-Man’s-Land.  (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In the cartoon,  Mighty Mouse was always on the defensive, repelling attacks from wicked aggressors, cats, for example, or dogs.   When the cartoon first began in 1942, the words of the theme song were also defensive:  “Mr. Trouble never hangs around, When he hears this mighty sound: ‘Here I come to save the day!’ That means that Mighty Mouse Is on the way!” After the defeat of Germany, Mighty Mouse changed his tune: he moved on to the offensive: “Here he comes, that Mighty Mouse, Coming to vanquish the foe With a mighty blow! Don’t be afraid any more ‘Cause thing won’t be like they’ve been before!” The mouse now decides who the enemy is.

In real life, in the sanctions war against Russia, the US Government has decided through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) which Russians to attack, In the process, though unreported,  the sanctions give millions of dollars’ worth of benefits to the business rivals and competitors of OFAC’s targets. The European Union, and its member governments, claim they will protect their companies from this US Government-backed asset raiding; in practice they don’t.

A new London High Court case reveals how OFAC helped an Anglo-Indian businessman named Pradip Dhamecha default on a two-year old loan and keep more than £34 million of Victor Vekselberg’s money because Vekselberg had been sanctioned by OFAC four months after the loan was signed and Dhamecha’s bank pocketed his cash. The court ruling, issued on September 12, also declares that the British Government’s policy to stop the extra-territorial reach of the US sanctions to British law and jurisdiction is worthless. “I do not consider the alleged policy is material”, declared Mark Pelling, a practicing Queen’s Counsel serving as a High Court judge.

The outcome of the case, Pelling decided, turns on the right of might; that is, Dhamecha’s right not to pay Vekselberg what he owes because the American Government might sanction Dhamecha for doing so. “Payment,” claimed the judge, heaping conditionals and subjunctives upon each other, “has been impliedly [sic] prohibited because of the probability [sic] that the relevant sanction will be imposed if [sic] it pays [Vekselberg company] the sums it  is entitled to under the contract.” (more…)