Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. October 7, 2016

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Dear Friend,

A disturbing attack took place at the Moscow Choral Synagogue on Saturday, when an armed man tried to enter, and injured a guard. He was immediately detained, and the police are investigating the attack. Despite the attack, the community successfully celebrated Rosh Hashanah, and there was no diminution in attendance of services at the synagogue. We have been in touch with Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt about the incident, and will continue to closely monitor any new developments.

I want to highlight a Foreign Policy story by Benjamin Cohen in this week’s update, about the speech delivered by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to the Ukrainian parliament, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre last week. In his remarks, President Rivlin addressed the crimes committed by Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazis. The speech received controversial reaction from some of Ukraine’s right-wing groups.

On Monday, the Kremlin suspended a joint Russia-U.S. agreement on disposal of weapons-grade plutonium, in another indication of intensified strains in bilateral relations. President Vladimir Putin said that Russia will resume the agreement only if the U.S. satisfies a number of demands, including canceling sanctions against Russia, paying compensation for the damage they caused, repealing the Magnitsky Act, and reducing U.S. military presence in several NATO countries.

The update also includes articles on the upcoming presidential elections in Moldova and parliamentary elections in Georgia. In both countries there is a great concern about Russia’s meddling in the countries’ politics. In Georgia, opposition MP Givi Targamadze’s car was blown up on Tuesday in Tbilisi, and on Sunday two men were shot and wounded at a speech by independent candidate Irakly Okruashvili, which has added to the tense pre-election atmosphere.

Pope Francis continued his historic trip to the Caucasus last week, visiting Azerbaijan and Georgia. Throughout his visit, Pope Francis underscored the importance of tolerance and peace. He praised Azerbaijan as a place of religious tolerance, and Georgia’s strong commitment to the Christian faith.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. October 7, 2016

Armed suspect wounds guard at Moscow synagogue
JTA, October 1, 2016

Russian police beefed up security around a central synagogue of Moscow following what they said was an attempted attack by an armed resident of the capital in which a security guard sustained mild injuries.

The incident occurred on Saturday at the Moscow Choral Synagogue, where the alleged attacker, carrying a canister of gasoline and a firearm, lightly wounded a security guard during a struggle, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. Police detained the suspect, who threatened to burn down the building, according to the report.

Read the full article here.

Kerry Confers With Lavrov About Syria, Ukraine, North Korea
RFE/RL, October 6, 2016

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart resumed discussions on Syria on October 5, despite a U.S. decision earlier this week to suspend direct talks with Moscow on trying to end the conflict.

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by phone about Syria, Ukraine, and North Korea. The State Department said the chat was outside the engagement that Washington put on hold just 48 hours earlier due to continued Russian bombardment of the besieged city of Aleppo.

Moldova official says Russia meddling in presidential race
AP, October 4, 2016

The speaker of Moldova's parliament accused Russia Tuesday of meddling in the country's politics ahead of a presidential election that could cement the former Soviet republic as a contender for European Union membership or further Russan control.

Parliament Speaker Andrian Candu said the government thinks "the Russians are financing political parties and leaders" and backing anti-government protests. Candu told The Associated Press that Moldova's leaders also suspect Russia of "manipulating media outlets and doing propaganda."

Azerbaijani Lawmakers Vote To Resume Relations With European Parliament
RFE/RL, September 30, 2016

Azerbaijani's parliament has passed a resolution on resuming relations with the European Parliament that have been suspended for more than a year.

The vote on September 30 by the Milli Mejlis in Baku approved a resolution saying that steps taken by the European Parliament have paved the way for a resumption of dialogue and cooperation.

Babi Yar: Why Holocaust Remembrance Still Matters
By Ronald S. Lauder
ABC Religion and Ethics, October 5, 2016

The massacre in the Babi Yar ravine on the outskirts of Kiev, 75 years ago, was a warning sign of the terrible fate that awaited the Jews in the countries occupied by Hitler's Germany.

Decades after the Nazis implemented their plan to destroy the Jews of Europe, remembering this ominous event is more important than ever.

As we look at the decades of hatred, racism and anti-Semitism that have passed, it is clear that we must constantly and consistently remind the world how dangerous it is to forget.

Read the full article here.

Israel’s President Confronts Ukrainians With Their Past
By Benjamin Cohen
Foreign Policy, September 30, 2016

Earlier this week, the president of Israel gave a speech in Kiev that discussed Ukrainians’ participation in the Holocaust. Ukrainian nationalists were not amused.

Reuven Rivlin made his remarks at a session of the Ukrainian parliament commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, when Nazi invaders slaughtered 33,771 Jews in a Kiev ravine from September 29-30, 1941. The lawmakers who invited him to speak may have expected him to dwell on the crimes committed against Ukrainian Jews by Germans. But Rivlin chose to also address the actions of Ukrainian collaborators who assisted the Nazis in mass murder.
Read the full article here.

Russia suspends nuclear agreement, ends uranium research pact with United States
Reuters, October 5, 2016

Russia further curtailed its cooperation with the United States in nuclear energy on Wednesday, suspending a research agreement and terminating one on uranium conversion, two days after the Kremlin shelved a plutonium pact with Washington.

The Russian government said that as counter-measures to the U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine, it was putting aside a nuclear and energy-related research pact with the United States.

It also said it was terminating for the same reasons an agreement between its nuclear corporation Rosatom and the U.S. Department of Energy on feasibility studies into conversion of Russian research reactors to low-enriched uranium.

Read the full article here.

Russia Warns It May Shoot Down U.S. Aircraft If They Attack Syrian Forces
RFE/RL, October 6, 2016

A Russia Defense Ministry spokesman suggested that Russian antiaircraft systems may shoot down U.S. or U.S.-led coalition aircraft if they attack Syrian forces.

The warning by Major General Igor Konashenkov was the harshest and bluntest remark to date by a Russian official about the ongoing air campaigns in Syria.

Read the full article here.

U.S. Election Cycle Offers Kremlin a Window of Opportunity in Syria
By Michael Gordon and Neil MacFarquhar
New York Times, October 5, 2016

Russia is using the waning days of the Obama administration to strengthen President Bashar al-Assad's hold on power, expand the territory he controls in Syria and constrain the options of the next American president in responding to the civil war, according to a number of American officials and Russian analysts.

The strategy of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, they say, is to move aggressively in what he sees as a prime window of opportunity - the four months between now and the 2017 presidential inauguration - when Mr. Putin calculates that the departing President Obama will be unlikely to intervene in the escalating Syrian conflict and a new American president who might consider a tougher policy will not yet be in office.

Election in Ex-Soviet Georgia Seen as Test of Stability After Violence
Voice of America, October 6, 2016 

A close parliamentary election in Georgia on Saturday is being seen as a test of stability in the ex-Soviet state after a car bombing and a shooting marred the runup to the vote.

Crisscrossed by strategically important oil and gas pipelines and traditionally buffeted between Russia and the West, a fifth of Georgian territory remains under the control of pro-Russian separatists and the economy is emerging from a deep slowdown, which has crimped living standards.

Opinion polls suggest the ruling Georgian Dream party, which is funded and controlled by the country's richest man, is likely to win. But they also show strong support for the opposition United National Movement (UNM) and suggest many voters are undecided.

Read the full article here.

Germany considering a push for EU sanctions on Russia over Syria
WSJ, October 5, 2016

Germany is considering a push for European sanctions against Russia in response to its actions in the Syria conflict, a person familiar with the German deliberations said Wednesday, signaling that Europe is seeking new ways to pressure Moscow to quell the violence there.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, the person said, is examining ways to push Moscow to change course in Syria, where Russian warplanes have supported Syrian government forces in a siege of rebel-held areas in the city of Aleppo.

Western leaders are calling the situation an increasingly grave humanitarian crisis. German and U.S. officials have said Russia is behind some of the bombardment of hospitals and other civilian installations in Aleppo.

The pontiff’s historic trip
By Elin Suleymanov
The Washington Times, October 6, 2016

As Pope Francis was concluding the trip of the Caucasus, his last stop was the capital of the predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan. In Baku, the pontiff was received with full honors and welcomed by cheering crowds representing the nation’s small Catholic flock as well as more numerous Muslim and Jewish communities.

While a papal visit to the once-Soviet Caucasus is significant in itself, visiting a modern, secular Muslim nation like Azerbaijan sends an especially profound message. Even more significant is the fact that this was already a second papal visit in Azerbaijan’s 25 years of independence: Pope John Paul II visited Baku in 2002.

Read the full article here.

Putin's Ultimatum to the Next U.S. President
By Leonid Bershidsky
Bloomberg, October 4, 2016

The next U.S. administration will inherit the worst relationship with Russia since Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire. Judging from the list of grievances that President Vladimir Putin has laid out, even a relatively Putin-friendly Donald Trump will have a hard time satisfying him.

Putin delivered his message to the future U.S. president Monday, just as the U.S. State Department announced it was suspending negotiations with Russia on a ceasefire in Syria and Russia-backed Syrian troops moved to take more ground in Aleppo. In a bill submitted to parliament, Putin threatened to end a joint U.S.-Russian disarmament program -- in which surplus weapons-grade plutonium is processed into fuel -- unless the U.S. meets certain conditions.

Cardin rips Russia, says U.S. must 'revisit' approach to Cold War rival
By Nahal Toosi
Politico, October 5, 2016

A top Senate Democrat is warning in harsh terms that Russia must face "consequences" for its actions in Syria and beyond, and that the U.S. "must revisit its overall approach" to the nuclear-armed government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The blistering statement by Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Russia specialist, underscores the growing bipartisan fury in Congress with Moscow as it tangles with the U.S. over Syria and Ukraine and allegedly meddles in America's elections.

The statement also follows the collapse of U.S.-Russian efforts to impose a cease-fire in Syria, and comes as the Obama administration considers imposing new sanctions on Russia over its role in Syria.

Kremlin Panics after Dutch Report, and It Should
By Alexei Sobchenko
Atlantic Council, October 3, 2016

The report of the Dutch-led investigation team on the shoot down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine offered a momentary glimpse into the true nature of the proverbial riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Instead of denying any Russian involvement in the death of 298 people in July 2014, a number of official spokespersons, journalists, and bloggers known for their close ties to the Kremlin reacted nervously and with contradictory responses.

Read the full article here.

The Return of Europe’s Nation-States
By Jakub Grygiel
Foreign Affairs, October 2016

Europe currently finds itself in the throes of its worst political crisis since World War II. Across the continent, traditional political parties have lost their appeal as populist, Euroskeptical movements have attracted widespread support. Hopes for European unity seem to grow dimmer by the day. The euro crisis has exposed deep fault lines between Germany and debt-ridden southern European states, including Greece and Portugal. Germany and Italy have clashed on issues such as border controls and banking regulations. And on June 23, the United Kingdom became the first country in history to vote to leave the EU—a stunning blow to the bloc.

At the same time as its internal politics have gone off the rails, Europe now faces new external dangers. In the east, a revanchist Russia—having invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea—looms ominously. To Europe’s south, the collapse of numerous states has driven millions of migrants northward and created a breeding ground for Islamist terrorists. Recent attacks in Paris and Brussels have shown that these extremists can strike at the continent’s heart.
Read the full article here.

What Ukraine Can Learn From Germany’s Cold War Divisions
By Alexander Motyl
Foreign Policy, October 3, 2016

Ukraine has been fortunate in its misfortune. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has annexed Crimea formally and the eastern Donbas informally, and thousands of Ukrainians have died in the conflict. But most of the West has rallied to Kiev’s side, imposing sanctions on Russia and supporting reforms. Ukraine has become stronger, more stable, and more secure since 2014.

But the path Kiev must walk remains precarious — not least because there is an inherent contradiction between pursuing reunification with its breakaway regions and implementing pro-western reforms. Not only does Ukraine not know what to do with the 35,000 heavily armed separatists who currently control the eastern Donbass, but the occupied territories are also home to pro-Russian elites and populations who would have blocked reforms if they had remained within Ukraine.

Read the full article here.

1120 20th Street NW, Ste. 300N Washington, DC 20036-3413
Telephone: +1 202 898 2500  |  ncsej@ncsej.org
Founded in 1971, NCSEJ represents the organized American Jewish community in monitoring and advocating on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the 15 successor states of the former Soviet Union.