By Lucy Komisar
John Helmer, a journalist in Moscow since 1989, has published a brilliant comic graphic-text primer about Russia, its outside enemies and corrupt insiders. In just over 100 pages of comment and vivid cartoons you will learn the stories of the major deep state inventions of most of the last decade or so: faked stories about Navalny, the Skripals, the downing of the MH17 in Ukraine, media propagandists, esp Russophobes Anne Applebaum and Canadian deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland. Also Russian inside-dealing including Putin’s gifts to some bigtime oligarchs. No surprise that Helmer got a death threat after that one.
Helmer builds on the tradition of political cartoonists like the famous 19th-century American Thomas Nast and French painter/sculptor Honoré Daumier. The drawings were by Russian artists, first Alexei Rezvanov, then Vladimir Kulakov, Alexander Novikov and currently Richard Kochetov.
Real photos of heads are imposed like a collage on drawn bodies and settings. The pictures are to make you laugh and then work out why the joke isn’t funny, because it’s the truth.
The book is sometimes surreal, starting with satire, moving to comic, which was a tradition in Soviet times. You will not find a more concise and diverting deep dive into the Russia story, fakery and corruption by its friends and enemies, by oligarchs, journalists and politicians.
Helmer is hardly a defender of the corrupt side of the Russian system. One purpose is “how now to show the shenanigans of the Russian oligarchs instantly recognizable to the English-reading audience. If their coal mines exploded killing dozens of miners, their factories emptied poisonous water and gas into the neighboring towns, or their cash flow disappeared into Cyprus and the Caribbean…then the sounds these crimes made should be a recognizable English onomatope, not its Russian counterpart…For me to report the noise the oligarchs made on their rise or fall, or as they boasted, cheated and lied, then metamorphosis by cartoon presented itself as a safe method for getting out the truth in laughter camouflage.”
He also takes the big Russia stories Americans and European know about and with the easy dosage of cartoons mercilessly slams the fake accounts in the western press. Helmer is Australian, but that’s irrelevant to his work.
“Instant death-dealing nerve agent Novichok got into Alexei Navalny’s underpants on the morning of August 20,2020 in Tomsk, Siberia.”
Except Helmer walks it back to Navalny’s assistants’ assertion it was a cup of tea at the airport, then a water bottle which his staff carried in their backpacks though cars, trains, airports and ambulances. No evidence of Novichok there, so the underpants were added in Germany. Berlin doctors treating him published clinical evidence that nothing in his blood was Novichok.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which revealed it was summoned to Germany before Navalny fell ill, reported no Novichok.
Berlin clinical data revealed Navalny had pancreatitis, diabetes, liver failure, staphylococcal infection, mild heart attack, no Novichok symptoms. And he’d been overdosing on anti-depressants. So you can now dismiss the deep state/media disinformation!
Other “victims” of a Novichok plot, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, have been kept out of sight by the British at RAF Fairford, an air base operated by the UK and US. Yulia and the base were visible in a Reuters film in May 2018, two months after the alleged poisoning. All the evidence of what happened to them has not been presented by them but by MI6, the intelligence service and the state-finance propaganda outfit Bellingcat which feeds British media.
Salisbury District Hospital administrator Cara Charles-Barks reported Novichok in Skripals’ blood made a day before Porton Down added it/claimed it detected it. (Charles-Barks got a British Empire medal for her service. So did Nicolas Gent at Porton Down, who reversed his statement that no Skripal blood samples were received at Porton Down before that announcement.)
Not reported, the Pentagon gave contracts for the British to test Novichok for several years before 2018. Test results of their blood samples were never released. PM Theresa May lied when she told parliament “only Russia had the technical means” to use Novichok in England.
The Downing of the MH17
That is the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in July 2014 in eastern Ukraine. Its 298 passengers and crew were killed. A team of Dutch prosecutors and police with representatives of Ukraine, Australia, Belgium and Malaysia gathered evidence. It was conducted by Hendrik Steenhuis, formerly a state tax inspector. Every word he said at trial was read from a typed script.
Helmer says that their “secret” documents, records of meetings, reports from Dutch military intelligence showing the case were falsified, principally by the Ukrainians, leaked a month before the trial.
The only evidence was from the Security Service of Ukraine. It was said that US satellite evidence backed it up but was “missing,” the prosecutors declared. After a year of court hearings, the Americans revealed it never existed.
The judge accepted thousands of telephone taps as valid but not evidence from prosecutors’ files expressing doubt they were genuine.
Prosecutor Ward Ferdinandusse said the Ukrainian evidence showed “the direct participation of the Russian Federation in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.” The judge ruled the Ukrainian evidence had to be kept secret.
Was this setting the Ukraine stage for the West’s next Cold War move? Helmer reports that NATO was planning an invasion of Donbas before Germany vetoed it.
Chrystia Freeland and her Nazi grandfather
Freeland, a former journalist, became a Canadian MP, trade minister, foreign minister, now deputy prime minister. She would like the top job.
She kept the story of Grandpa Michael Chomiak secret, but in January 2017 it was exposed that he trained as a Nazi spy against fellow Galicians and spent World War II working to liquidate Jews, Poles and Russians in western Ukraine and southern Poland.
Our Nazis: Post war, Grandpa was hidden by the Canadian government on an Alberta province farm in country’s west. When Ukrainians from Galicia vandalized Polish graves, Freeland, instead of saying Grandpa was a Nazi and I’m so sorry, defended them in a meeting with Poland’s foreign minister.
There are some subtleties in Freeland trying to increase the power of Galicians today to wage war against Russia in the east. After a teenager on a murder spree in Canada revealed his identification with Freeland’s Galician cause, she was removed as foreign minister, but named a deputy prime minister. Instead of it being a political graveyard, she has built up the job.
The U.S. and Putin
Putin sought amical relations with Washington until the U.S.-supported coup against an elected government in Ukraine in 2014.
Then came Christopher Steele. But that fake story has been well dissected in the U.S.
The Russian Rogues – from every faction, for and against Putin.
Each story too long to include, but there are url links in the book to follow the dirty details. Alexei Kudrin , the U.S. choice to run the country, facilitated the oligarchs moving a trillion-dollars of capital abroad and destroying citizens’ equality.
The partners: Oleg Deripaska who “stole a billion dollars from Chernoy (his first patron) and forced him out of Russia.”
Gennady Timchenko, an oil trader, named Putin’s crony by anonymous U.S. officials. Sergei Frank who runs a shipping business and was deemed dishonest in UK court
German Gref, “a candidate to rule Russia when and if the other side pulls off its regime change.” Though he has been “Putin’s crony for running the state’s Sberbank” for 14 years.
Sergei Pugachev, “the Russian bank robber and adjudicated perjurer on the run from the courts of Russia, the UK and Switzerland.”
Igor Shuvalov who has “spent his entire career discreetly giving away state assets and state bank loans …first on the command of Yeltsin, then of Putin, then of Medvedev, and still of Putin today..”
Igor Zyuzin, whose steel mills and coal business break all environmental rules and owes more money to state banks than any other oligarch.
Media, ie propaganda
The West had the upper hand in Russia during the time of Boris Yeltsin and the Clinton family. But nowadays on the Ukraine and the Syria fronts, Russian force is prevailing. Helmer says the assault on Russia by western journalists is a sign of “U.S. and Anglo-European collapse and Russian revival.”
He notes that “Bloomberg media company invented a special arithmetic for making a lie attributed to a blind source appear to be the truth. Bloomberg reporters call this source a person “familiar with the matter.” So of course do all the rabble of the corporate media. That “familiar” person gets around.
He recalls how in February 2021, Bloomberg admitted in a Moscow court that it had lied about Rosneft, the Russian oil and gas company. It apologized and paid a $170.25 penalty, yes decimal in the right place. It promised to be truthful in the future.
He calls Reuters, owned by the Thomson Corp (Canada) and based in Canada and the U.S., “a state propaganda agency.” Evidence? That started long ago. He points out that during WWI, Reuters was secretly acquired by the British government. During the Cold War, it got secret payments and directions for what it should report. And now? It has a special “Enterprise Unit,” with its own journalists and a budget off the main news agency’s books, based in New York and targeting the Russian government and corporations. About Russia but not in Moscow?
The Financial Times: Japanese publisher Nikkei bought the FT of London which was making a loss. New editor, Russophobe Roula Khalaf is really Roula Khalaf Razzouk, from a politically and financially powerful Lebanese family which has supplied four Lebanese prime ministers and built significant wealth over almost a century.
Introducing herself in January 2020, she declared, “This week we saw Vladimir Putin cement his hold on Russia.” Helmer points out, “This wasn’t news, it wasn’t true.” The FT reported that a proposed constitutional reform would give more power to parliament and the advisory State Council and limit presidents to two terms. Quite the power grab.
Less known to western audiences is Derk Sauer, a Dutchman who, Helmer says, in 1992 started the Moscow Times with CIA money, then shifted to Mikhail Khodorkhovsky’s coffers, then some other oligarchs, now gets money from the Dutch Foreign Ministry. I wrote about him for The Nation in my review of the Russophobic film “Khodorkovsky.”
Helmer tells some more about particular fake journalists, but the best is saved for Catherine Belton, employed in Reuters’ anti-Russian “Enterprise Unit” and author of Putin’s People, which was sued in London for its libelous fabrications.
She lost, and publisher Harper Collins had to change the defamatory text which attacked people she claimed were “linked to Putin” for which they admitted she had no evidence. But, hey, that’s pretty standard in the Western press. Have you seen any walk-backs in “Putin’s People” reviews? No, I thought not! Assume she’s still fabricating for Reuters.
Think tank propagandists
Another favorite is the American fabulist Anne Applebaum and her Polish husband, Radoslaw Sikorski. Helmer calls them Sicklebaum.
First, he suggests Sikorski was a crook who in once instance proposed to a Polish coal oligarch he could boost his profits by banning Russian coal. How? He says Sikorski plotted with Jan Kulczyk, the owner of Polish coal mines and electricity plants to use European Union sanctions against Russia to stop imports of rival, low-cost Russian coal into the Polish market.
A clandestine tape-recording of a conversation between Sikorski, then Poland’s foreign minister, and Kulczyk, one of Poland’s wealthiest businessmen, revealed that Sikorski, one of the most outspoken advocates of economic war against Russia, was war profiteering for himself and his friends.
It was only one of the tape recordings that leaked into the Polish press from conversations he had with confidants over several years. In one of the tapes, just after the Crimea’s accession to Russia after the 2014 Maiden coup, Sikorski privately attacked the whole basis of his public policy, and added a racial slur to his contempt for President Barack Obama. “You know that the Polish-U.S. alliance isn’t worth anything. It is downright harmful, because it creates a false sense of security … Complete bullshit. We’ll get in conflict with the Germans, Russians, and we’ll think that everything is super, because we gave the Americans a blow job. Losers. Complete losers [murzynskosc – literally, dark-skinned slaves]”
The result: Sicklebaum was booted out of Poland. Helmers says, “Sikorski was “frightened” of fresh disclosures, the Polish media speculated – but not because they were a Russian “infowar” plot.
The Washington Post in 2015 reported Sikorski’s loss of his ministry and speaker’s posts and cited anonymous authority [a colleague of “familiar”] that “Russia was behind the recordings and is maneuvering to exert greater control in the region.” Reuters and the New York Times ran the same line.
It was a useful diversion. “Applebaum reacted not by denying the veracity of the tapes, but by claiming their release “stinks of Russian infowar tactic.” Sikorski tried and failed to win election as secretary general of NATO and foreign minister of the European Union. But don’t worry, in 2016 the for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) made him a distinguished statesman with the Brzezinski Institute on Geostrategy, lying, corruption and racist attacks on Obama no impediment. Helmer notes that such think tanks, funded by governments and arms manufacturers, are fronts.
Helmer has some critical words for Putin, especially his making large subsidized state loans to oligarch-owned companies, such as $2.4bil to U.S. Evraz, a steelmaker owned by Alexander Abramov and Roman Abramovich, so they could spend them on mills in the U.S. and Canada and not default to the foreign banks which loaned them the money to buy the mills. [Sounds like the no-interest loans to banks by the U.S. Federal Reserve.] They cut the output of their Russian steel mills, laying off workers.
Being a journalist can be dangerous – corruption fighters have been killed in the U.S., Europe and Russia. Helmer escaped the threat narrowly with this story: “Hong Kong Exchange executives and the Hong Kong stock market regulator appear to be cracking and splitting under the strain of a phantom share listing and sale for United Company Rusal, Russia’s aluminium monopoly and one of the world’s leading producers of bauxite, alumina and primary aluminium.
This cartoon suggested that the Rusal share sale was an insider deal between the Kremlin, the underwriters and someone in China who was having trouble with the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Ordinance.
Helmer wrote: “Four hours later, the individual in the Porky Pig costume of the illustration was identified to Moscow police by a gang of gunmen as having given them the order to ambush and kill me outside my office.”
He adds, “The comic book that’s complete has no sequel, because the villain has been finished off. In reality this isn’t true.”
You will not find such a quick, heavily documented and fascinating read about Russia and the deep state of the last decade as in John Helmer’s Comic Book.
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