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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

It was the 412th of Francois de la Rochefoucauld’s maxims that doesn’t stand the test of either time or money. “Whatever degree of disgrace we may have brought upon ourselves,” he said, “it is always within our power to re-establish our reputation.”

For years Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven, the controllers of Alfa Bank of Moscow and  LetterOne Holding in London, have been trying but not succeeding. This week they scored a success, but not quite of the kind they, or La Rochefoucauld, meant.

High Court judge Sir Mark Warby ruled that claims made about their corrupt closeness to President Vladimir Putin, prepared by Christopher Steele for use by the Democratic National Committee against the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, had been “hearsay, some of it opinion, and much of it based on unverifiable information from unidentified sources”; “data [which] are inaccurate or misleading as a matter of fact”. When fabricating his claims Steele  “evidently did not ask for any details of the hearsay information”. Later, when under cross-examination in court, Steele admitted that “a key element of [his] allegation was contradicted by information readily available on the internet.”

Most of Steele’s shoddy fabrications were acceptable in British law. This, Justice Warby ruled, was because they were provided through the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) to an unnamed “senior UK government national security official”, and to the FBI for “the purpose of safeguarding national security”; and because the “US and UK are the world’s leading English-speaking democracies, with a wealth of closely integrated interests… co-operation between the US and UK on matters of security is a vital part of our nation’s security arrangements.”

Complaining that Steele had changed his story from his initial witness statement to his second witness statement, and then in the witness box, Warby concluded that he preferred Fridman for truthfulness. “There is nothing that casts doubt on Mr Fridman’s evidence on this issue.” That  was the allegation the Alfa group had traded favours with President Putin, and that they had bribed him with “large amounts of illicit cash…in the 1990s when he was Deputy Mayor of St Petersburg.” This, the judge ruled, was not only a fabrication but was also unlawful.

In compensation, Warby awarded £18,000 each to Fridman and Aven, for a total of £36,000.

“I accept,” the judge qualified his award, “that the claimants have suffered distress as a result of the disclosures complained of, though the majority of the distress they have been caused will inevitably have flowed from media publications for which Orbis is not responsible in law: the Buzzfeed Article and others. My assessment is that each of the claimants is a robust character, not given to undue self-pity. Mr Tomlinson [barrister for Fridman and Aven] was right to ask for only ‘modest’ damages for distress.”

Modest for Fridman; ruinous for Steele. High Court experts estimate the combination of fees and costs for the barristers and solicitors required for the court claim by the Alfa group would have come to between £500,000 and £600,000; that’s roughly sixteen times the compensation awarded. The penalty is concomitantly higher for Steele and his Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., the firm he has run since his official espionage employment ended at MI6. According to the compay’s last financial account, there isn’t enough money to pay the legal bills. Steele’s business is bust.  

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Pavel Volchkov is an exceptional voice among the Russian scientists now dealing with the corona virus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The current Covid-19 policy administrators in Moscow are of the same academic generation but they have trained as doctors;  Volchkov is a geneticist. They have spent their formative careers inside Russian institutions;  Volchkov spent more than ten years in the US, at the University of Chicago then at Harvard.  

He has not suffered from the inferiority complex which has been the precondition for success in the US careers of Konstantin (Keith) Gessen and other Russian graduates from Harvard.   Volchkov’s analysis of the US science market and his reasons for returning to  his Russian laboratory are described here.

“There’s always someone in America,” Volchkov says, “who can find better funding than you. There’s always someone better than you. And Russia is only at the stage of the emergence of something more or less wealthy and constructive than the use and trade of natural resources. Even the janitor has already realized, and not just the economists in the government, that it is time to create high-tech companies that can make a product that is not related to natural resources. This was also one of the drivers of my move [back to Russia]. I saw that the situation with science has improved slightly. Of course, when I returned to Russia, everything was different. But ten years in America hardens you. These are difficult years. You break yourself, rebuild yourself, become flexible, purposeful. If you don’t, you are lost. If I hadn’t gone there, I wouldn’t have become what I am now.”

No repatriating Russian is as clear-eyed on what has been left behind in the US – and what lies ahead for Russia.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The ruling issued on July 3 by Dutch district court judge Hendrik Steenhuis (lead image, right) requires the Russian defendant, Lieutenant-Colonel Oleg Pulatov (centre), to prove his innocence with evidence prepared by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). By the standard announced a month earlier by the Russian Foreign Ministry, this is a fundamental violation of Pulatov’s legal rights, making a guilty verdict inevitable.   

Russian and international lawyers believe the defence lawyers should walk out. “In the conditions which the Dutch court has set,” comments Canadian Christopher Black, a veteran litigator in international war crimes trials, “this is now nothing more than the Ukrainian civil war fought by the Kiev regime with lawyers instead of soldiers. It’s a show trial. Nothing more than propaganda. No legal right for the accused is served by having his lawyers present. Since the defendants have refused to appear in person – three of them disputing the Dutch jurisdiction — the defence lawyers should withdraw.”

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The presiding judge in the trial of the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 announced on Friday afternoon that he will not allow the evidence of Major-General Igor Konashenkov and other Russian Defence Ministry officers on the Ukrainian Army’s possession of the BUK missile alleged to be the weapon which shot down the aircraft, killing all 298 people on board.

Judge Hendrik Steenhuis declared that the Russian evidence revealed so far of the parts of the missile is limited to the manufacture of the weapon in Russia in 1986, and delivery of the weapon to a Ukrainian Army unit between December 1986 and early 1987. Steenhuis refused to allow  Russian military intelligence to reveal where the missile was located between 1987 and July 17, 2014, when the Dutch prosecution claims the missile was fired by a Russian military crew at MH17.

“The defence wishes to interview these witnesses in order to establish the evidential value and credibility of the parts of the missile administration supplied by Russia,” Steenhuis announced. He refused to identify Russian Army generals Igor Konashenkov, the Defence Ministry spokesman,  and Nikolai Parshin, head of the Ministry’s Missile and Artillery Directorate, whose detailed briefing on the missile parts, their origin,  and their deployment in the Ukrainian Army was broadcast from the Defence Ministry in Moscow on September 18, 2018. “The court finds that the relevant records relate to the years 1986 and 1987. In that light, the court does not see how interviewing this witness [Gen. Konashenkov]  can contribute to the question of where a specific missile mentioned in that record is located in the year 2014. For that reason alone the court is of the opinion that interviewing this witness cannot be of importance for any decision to be taken in the criminal case of the accused. The request is therefore rejected.”

Steenhuis repeated to the letter the prosecution’s argument,  presented in court on June 23,    that the Russian evidence should not be allowed in the trial. The judge has opted to accept the Ukrainian Government’s claim that the missile was not in the Ukrainian Army’s inventory in 2014.

Steenhuis did not explain why he accepts the Ukrainian Army version; rejects all Russian Army evidence in advance of its presentation to the court; and will allow no further evidence or witnesses to explain how, according to the Dutch prosecution story,  the Ukrainian Army missile found its way from a Ukrainian Army base to a Russian Army base, before being sent back across the border into Ukraine to attack MH17.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The plot to rid the British Government of the man who combined more domestic and foreign policy-making powers than any British official in peacetime was not a clandestine Kremlin operation directed by President Vladimir Putin.

But the sacking of Sir Mark Sedwill, the grammar school head-boy who became Cabinet Secretary and National Security Advisor under Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018, removes the plotter-in-chief of the Skripal affair, the Novichok plot, and the campaign of British info-warfare against Moscow over the past two years.  

The man who defeated Sedwill, Dominic Cummings, chief adviser of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is the only official in the prime ministry to have operated under cover in Russia. What  Cummings’s cover was has never been publicly revealed from his counter-intelligence vetting.  The rise of Cummings has also not been reported by the NATO propaganda unit Bellingcat and the Murdoch press to have been a clandestine Kremlin operation.

Between the two plots, Sedwill’s and Cummings’s, the outcome is now a small space in which the British will reflect on how far Sedwill, and co-conspirator Sir Alex Younger, chief of MI6, took  Anglo-Russian policy past Germany and France to the one promoted in Washington by John Bolton.  Sedwill’s term as supremo has run almost exactly parallel to Bolton’s. Sedwill’s removal would have been as swift as Bolton’s sacking last September if not for the corona virus pandemic. That was not a clandestine Chinese plot.

Younger, Sedwill’s old classmate at St. Andrews University, has now been in the secret intelligence service post for six years; that’s longer than any of his predecessors for the past half-century. If Younger follows Sedwill out the door, the cranny between the plots will be a little wider.  

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Nothing like this has been said before by a leader of the Hellenes, Greek or Cypriot.

“If we consider a solution through militarisation,” Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades (lead image, right) announced last week. “This will be the end of Cypriot Hellenism, which I do not want.”  What Anastasiades meant was that he does not want Cyprus to defend itself, its land, airspace, territorial waters, and sea lanes,  by military means.

A Cypriot president who swears off military defence “of the independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus” is violating his oath of office; he is betraying the Cyprus Constitution.  A veteran of Cypriot presidential politics comments that Anastasiades is making the calculation that his best chance for winning a third term of office is submission to Turkey first, and submission to the US, the European Union, and Israel to limit Turkish military expansion in and around the island.   

This is a strategy of buying time for himself, the source said, and riches for his associates. “He will be very happy to see Cyprus as a satrapy of Turkey provided he and his associates become the sultan’s satraps.” 

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Dutch state prosecutors told the court in the trial of the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines MH17 that Major-General of the Russian Army Igor Konashenkov should not be allowed as a witness for the defence. To justify this in a hearing last Friday, the prosecutors revealed an illegal trick exposing the evidence in the case as a fit-up by the Ukrainian government’s military and security agencies.

Dismissing almost all the defence applications to the court for new evidence and witnesses, prosecutor Ferdinandusse* (lead image, right) said: “We do not see any reasonable grounds for accusing the prosecution of not being objective” (June 26 hearing,  Min 9:17).

The trick the prosecution has asked the court to accept is that apart from the Ukrainian government’s say-so, there is no chain of custody for the evidence of the weapon alleged to have been fired by the accused to destroy the aircraft and kill its occupants on July 17, 2014. If the Russian government says the Ukrainian government is lying, planting the evidence and   fabricating the chain of custody, the prosecution has told the court to ignore the Russians – believe the Ukrainians. Presented in court last Friday, this chain of custody argument has transformed the trial into a Ukrainian war operation conducted by Dutch proxies, and mercenaries.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

One of the most prominent generals in the Russian Army is to be called to testify in the Dutch government’s trial of the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 when district court judge Hendrik Steenhuis rules next week on whether to accept or refuse his evidence as a  witness for the defence.

According to the request filed in court this week, the evidence is of the Ukrainian Army’s fingerprints on the BUK missile which Dutch prosecutors allege was the weapon used to destroy the aircraft on July 17, 2014, killing 298 passengers and crew.

Without proof of the weapon, the Dutch prosecution has no case against the four soldiers  — three Russians, one Ukrainian —  accused of deploying the missile and preparing the attack against the aircraft. If Ukrainian Army fingerprints are verified on the weapon when the crime was committed, the Dutch case, and the worldwide media campaign against Russia, collapse.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov (lead image), the spokesman for the Defence Ministry in Moscow,   has been called to testify. If Judge Steenhuis refuses to allow him,  in a ruling promised for July 3, the trial will cease to follow Dutch law, and become a Dutch Government propaganda show.  

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

For a brief moment in the presentation this week of the defence case against the Dutch government’s indictment of Oleg Pulatov for murder in the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, the Dutch lawyer Boudewijn Van Eijck almost said there was no case to answer, and the indictment should be dismissed immediately for lack of evidence that is legal under Dutch law.

“The indictment is superficial when it comes to actual facts which the defendant is accused of,” Van Eijck (lead image, 2nd from left) said (June 22, Min 21:19). “It is not clear at this stage of this very question whether the actions would actually amount to a crime even if they could be proved.”

Van Eijck also warned the presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis (right) that he is on trial himself – that he should not continue the trial on the prosecution’s evidence, ignoring the defence requests for fresh investigation and new witnesses,  “in order to make sure that this case never has to be reviewed on appeal” (June 22, Min 42:35).  

The next day, Sabine ten Doessschate (1st left), the junior defence lawyer, summed up the defence case by undercutting her leader. She apologised to the Dutch press and to families of those killed on MH17 for presenting what she called “conspiracy theories”. “All of the topics which we have talked about,” ten Doesschate concluded on June 23, “for all of these we have asked ourselves, on the basis of what we have read, can we really say this is what really happened; and this is not the other thing which happened. And our answer is no. On the basis of the file we have at this moment it is impossible for us to say either one… this means we don’t have all the answers. Investigation of topics like these can give hard facts which can give the answer to the question, how was MH17 brought down. If we were not to ask in detail for investigation, we would not be able to look at ourselves in the mirror. This is the least that can be expected of us” (June 23, Min 2:53:19).

The Dutch defence lawyers have wound up defending themselves. Judge Steenhuis, who looks in a different mirror, has promised to issue his rulings on July 3.

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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The Dutch Government has devised an evidence-proof scheme for ensuring the trial of the Russian government for the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 will end in a conviction.

This scheme will work without evidence to prove that the four men accused of the crime of shooting down the aircraft, killing the 298 passengers and crew on board on July 17, 2014, intended to kill; or even intended to fire the missile which allegedly brought MH17 down.

The Dutch scheme is evidence-proof because no evidence will be needed, not from US satellite photographs which are missing; nor NATO airborne tracking which shows no missile; nor Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) evidence which has proved to have been fabricated, and in the case of Ukrainian witnesses for the prosecution, threatened, tortured or bribed.  

The scheme is also evidence-proof because the Dutch Prime Minister has told the Dutch Minister of Justice to order the state prosecutors to tell the state-appointed judge that he must convict the Russians if he finds as proven that MH17 crashed to the ground in eastern Ukraine; that everyone on board was killed; and that the four soldiers accused – three Russians and one Ukrainian – were on the ground fighting.

International war crimes lawyers are calling this a legal travesty. It was presented in court near Amsterdam by Dutch state prosecutor Thijs Berger on June 10. It has gone unnoticed in the mainstream western media. Russian reporters following the trial have missed it. The scheme was first reported in English and Russian by a NATO propaganda unit on June 12.

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