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By John Helmer, Moscow

Paying bribes to your enemies to switch sides and become your friends is as old as monkeys and men (and women).  As gang and warfighting strategies have evolved, corruption with money was always to be preferred to force with arms because corruption is much cheaper, and the results more predictable, at least in the short run.

A new book on corruption in the former Soviet states of Central Asia provides a handy reckoner of the colossal sums of money which have been exchanged to sustain the ruling regimes, or to change them.  Alexander Cooley’s  and John Heathershaw’s “Dictators Without Borders, Power and Money  in Central Asia”, just published  by Yale University Press, is also an encyclopedia of palaces owned in the UK, France and the US by the rulers of the Central Asian states and their hangers-on; the names and fates of the principal opposition leaders in exile from those states; a dossier of renditions, arrests, and assassinations carried out by the Uzbek and Tajik security services abroad; and case studies of the billion-dollar larcenies of the Kazakh and Kyrgyz bankers, Mukhtar Ablyazov and Maxim Bakiyev;  of the Uzbek heiress Gulnara Karimova; and of the Tajikistan Aluminium Company (Talco) controlled by the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

The new book is also a valuable balancer on the side of independent research and antidote for the propaganda to be found from US and UK Government-funded think-tanks such as the Carnegie Endowment,   Brookings Institution, Freedom House, and Chatham House. (more…)

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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…)