An interesting coincidence


July 30, 2014 by AK

The permanent court of arbitration in the Hague has ruled that Russia is to pay $50 billion in damages in the Yukos case. The company that gobbled up most of Yukos’ assets is Rosneft but the defendant in the case is Russia, which owns about 70% of Rosneft stock.

This puts the current market value of Russia’s share of Rosneft at slightly less than $47 billion, (un)surprisingly close to the $50-billion award. Note that this assumes a share price (1 GDR stands for one share) of $6.30 while Rosneft’s IPO price in 2006 was $7.55. At that level, the state’s share would be worth $56 billion so the Hague judgment world still make up 90% of it.

As a side note, BP owns 19.75% in Rosneft and the Russian government had planned to sell down to 50% plus one share, privatizing over 19% of the company.

Updated July 31. Bloomberg has noted the obvious, too, but I think I beat them to it.

Russian media’s brief happy hour


July 29, 2014 by AK

Plenty of other evidence has been submitted to the court of public opinion since the Flight MH17 disaster, but early on, there were two facts that made it clear enough to me which side was directly responsible. For now, I’m leaving out the distinction between the separatists and the Russians, and the issue of preemptive responsibility for any harm caused by the fighting.

About an hour after the crash, and probably earlier, several Russian media sites, including RIA Novosti and MK, reported that a Ukrainian military transport turboprop, an An-26, had been shot down by the rebels. Strelkov-Girkin’s Facebook account – hastily and unconvincingly repudiated later – claimed the same, adding “also possibly a Su”. A picture of what later turned out to be smoke from the MH17 was attached to one of the media reports. There were no downed Ans or Sus that evening, it soon turned out.

The second fact is the LifeNews team arriving at the scene of the crash a quarter of an hour after the fact. I have little doubt they were invited by the separatists to film what they thought was debris from a Ukrainian military plane. Russian state TV has a weakness for such gloating reports.

A few days later, the Russian defense ministry came forward with a bunch of unconvincing theories and “28 questions” to Ukraine. When I see a long list of “questions to” someone – rather than “theses against something” – I expect to look up at the interrogator and recognize a conspiracy theorist or a propagandist. I’ve seen so-called “guilters” offering 100 (or 200, or 300) “questions to Amanda Knox”, and the principal argument of 9/11 truthers is a list of “suspicious facts”. The “if you’re innocent, how can you explain this” approach is a near-certain sign of a bad-faith debater.

Three links on Donbass


July 20, 2014 by AK

The Panic in Red Square by Tom Nichols:

The only question, really, is how far Putin wants to go toward a trade war, economic collapse, further status as a pariah, maybe even open war, only in order to save face.

Bodies from Malaysia Airlines Crash Left In Deserted Train Station by Max Seddon. The title gives the gist. The pictures are grim.

News from the front: reports that separatists have received orders from Moscow to shell Luhansk, ostensibly to blame resulting civilian deaths on the Ukrainian military. Hard to believe it, but the respected journalist Oleg Kashin, now out of Russia, has tweeted the same.

Draw your own conclusions


July 17, 2014 by AK

CNN reports:

A Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, crashed Thursday in eastern Ukraine.

Now consider this:

- The separatists seized a Ukrainian air defense base late in June. A Buk missile system has been photographed in a separatist-controlled area. The caption explains that this is a Buk captured by DNR special forces and used to shoot down a Ukrainian plane. (More photos.)

- The DNR/LNR forces downed several Ukrainian military aircraft in June and July. The Ukrainian army has not shot at any aircraft, apparently because DNR/LNR have none.

- Minutes after the 777 crash, the DNR “defense minister” Strelkov announced that his fighters had just shot down another An-26 and a second plane, apparently a Su. The tweet has since been deleted but multiple copies exist.

- News of the crash was broken by the Russian news agency Interfax, which said from the start the plane had been shot down – how did they know? LifeNews journos were at the crash site suspiciously swiftly. Which side let them know? What did they expect to find? Here’s their original footage, later deleted from their channel. Stomach-turning.


To Luhansk, sans culottes


July 15, 2014 by AK

Last week, a senior official of the St. Petersburg city government was seen in the city center with a briefcase, in a business suit but without trousers, muttering “Lugansk, Lugansk”. Within minutes, he was picked up by an ambulance and driven to a hospital, where doctors reportedly detected a strong smell of alcohol and burns on his “front extremities.”

So richly delightful… Although Major Kovalev had once pursued his Nose nearby, I sense Muscovite phantoms: Ivan Bezdomny‘s underworn anabasis and Stepan Likhodeyev‘s magical transport to Yalta (to Crimea, yes indeed).

But best of all perhaps, consider Popov’s Dream, also known as The Dream of Councillor Popov, by one of my favorite poets, A.K. Tolstoy (a count but no relation). The protagonist, a relatively high-ranking civil servant, has a dream in which he appears at a reception hosted by a government minister fully clothed but without pants (“pantaloons”). He is detained, accused of plotting to overthrow the government, and urged to disclose the names of fellow conspirators. He starts blurting out names of innocent people, to his own horror, and does not stop until he wakes up. Leo Tolstoy loved the poem.

Curiously, the trouserless Petersburg bureaucrat’s official rank is “state councilor of the Russian Federation, First Class.”

Valeria Novodvorskaya, 1950-2014


July 12, 2014 by AK

Valeria Novodvorskaya, the great Soviet dissident and Russian freedom fighter, died today in Moscow. She was tried several times under the Soviet regime and imprisoned in mental hospitals as were other implacable opponents of the system. She had been outspoken in her criticism of Putin – since 1999, not 2003 or 2007 or 2012 like many others – and did not mince words. Some “reasonable” people wrote her off as a crazy old lady. Unfortunately, most of her criticisms have proved valid. She shouldn’t have gone so early.

Same old projection and denial


July 10, 2014 by AK

A half-sentence from Nabokov’s The Gift in my inelegant translation:

…his only published work was a letter to the editor of an Odessa newspaper in which he angrily repudiated any connection to an unsavory namesake, who turned out later to be his relative, then his double, and finally, himself – as if an inexorable law of droplet attraction and fusion had been at work there.

When Valery Seleznev, a Duma deputy from Zhirinovsky’s LDPR party, got news of his son’s arrest on US hacking charges, he first said it could not have been his son, who had “nothing to do with computer technologies.” Then he added that his son had “an education in humanities” and could not be a hacker for this reason. Finally, he slipped into the old, well-worn groove and accused America of kidnapping his son from the Maldives.

I’m not out to make fun of Valery Seleznev, who lost his right hand as a young man but rose to become a successful entrepreneur and manager – well before he was elected to the Duma in 2007. His son was injured in the 2011 Marrakech bombing so Seleznev’s concern over his health is not mere theatrics. For all his alleged wrongdoing, Roman V. Seleznev seems to have skills and talents not expected from the overprivileged children of Russia’s political elite, and did not have a cushy job with a state-controlled company.

But once you’re in a pack, you’re expected to howl like the other wolves. Join the LDPR, get into the Duma, vote for draconian laws, and the rest will follow: Seleznev père’s America-bashing mantras are mandatory for Duma deputies. To some degree, they are evidence of projection: it is Russia that kidnapped opposition organizer Leonid Razvozzhaev in Kyiv in 2013 and Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko in Donbass earlier this summer.

Flirting with the corporate state II


July 9, 2014 by AK

The Moscow sex ad mag, Flirt, keeps educating its readership on fine points of international politics. “Who needs WW3?” asks the cover of Issue 69, the answer hidden from view on pp. 2-3 but probably some variation of “AmeriKKKa”. The latest issue cuts thought to the heart of current affairs with “Project Anti-Russia: did the Holodomor really happen?”

The answer takes a whole double spread, a lot of revenue lost. But if that’s the price of the magazine’s continued existence – in the land of Yelena Mizulina – I wouldn’t be so surprised.

The good old boys


July 6, 2014 by AK

Last Friday, when pro-Russian separatists had started leaving Slavyansk, news came out that a new “acting Prime Minister” had been appointed in the “Luhansk People’s Republic”. The new “PM”, Marat Bashirov, is a Russian citizen, a Moscow resident, and formerly a senior government and public relations manager with Viktor Vekselberg’s Renova group.

Currently, the PMs of both the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” are Russian nationals with extensive PR/GR experience. Alexander Boroday, Bashirov’s Donetsk counterpart, was the go-to go-between for the corporate raider Konstantin Malofeev, his direct line to the Kremlin. Bashirov’s mission is to help build a “union” of Donetsk and Luhansk – but is it? My guess it’s some or all of the three:

  • To liaise with the Center, which trusts Boroday and Bashirov more than Strelkov or the locals.
  • To feed the media during a siege or retreat.
  • To clean up traces, destroy documents and bodies, plant false evidence of Ukrainian atrocities if retreat is inevitable.
A liquidation team with a focus on damage control?

“Condition… prevents the serving of sentence”


July 5, 2014 by AK

The triplegic man sentenced in January 2014 to six years in a labor camp has been approved for release by a court in Kostroma. The camp administration argued it was unable to provide adequate care to the inmate, supporting his lawyers’ request for release. However the prosecution can still appeal this decision within ten days so Topekhin remains in the prison hospital at the moment.

Anna Karetnikova, a Moscow human rights advocate, and Svetlana Sidorkina, Topekhin’s lawyer, deserve huge credit for this. The camp officials understandably did not want an invalid on the premises: their Moscow bosses would have them responsible if he died or if his plight made it onto Russian TV or into non-Russian media. The provincial court showed more decency than the Moscow judge and the Moscow City Court, which refused to suspend the sentence but reduced the term to four years – not much further from a death sentence than six.


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