Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. February 12, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: James Schiller, Chairman;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO

Dear Friend,

Below is the NCSEJ statement issued earlier this week on the death of former Secretary of State George Shultz.  I would like to add a few personal recollections of meeting with Secretary Shultz during and after his tenure in office. 

NCSEJ leadership met with Secretary Shultz many times, in large and small gatherings, during his almost seven years in office. 

I had the opportunity to be in most of these meetings, but the ones I remember most were the private meetings between Secretary Shultz and then NCSEJ Chair Morris Abram.  It was if I had my own post-graduation seminars on international relations by two of the smartest individuals I had the privilege to know.  And if I were lucky, and most of the time I was, they would ask my opinion on a particular issue.  This was heady stuff for someone in his late twenties. 

Secretary Shultz was far more animated in these small meetings than he usually was in his public presentations.  He truly cared about the plight of individual Jewish refuseniks and activists.  We knew that when he committed to raising their situation with Soviet officials in every possible setting it was not an empty promise. 

At the end of the Reagan Administration, NCSEJ did get a chance to say thank you to Secretary Shultz for all he had done on behalf of Soviet Jews.  In his typical manner, he told us he was the one who should thank us and not the other way around. 

My last encounter with Secretary Shultz was a few years ago in his office at Stanford University.  We reminisced for a few minutes, but he was far more interested in discussing the current issues of the day.  Once again, I had the privilege of learning from one of the best public servants to serve our country. 
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. February 12, 2021

NCSEJ Mourns the Death of Former Secretary of State George Shultz
NCSEJ Press Release | February 8, 2021

NCSEJ Chairman Jim Schiller and CEO Mark Levin on behalf of the entire NCSEJ leadership mourn the death of former Secretary of State George Shultz, a great statesman and advocate on behalf of Soviet Jewry. As Secretary of State during the Reagan administration, he repeatedly pressed the leaders of the Soviet Union for the freedom of Soviet Jews and played a crucial role in bringing about freedom for millions.

NCSEJ worked closely with Secretary Shultz from the beginning of his appointment as Secretary of State.

Former NCSEJ Chairman Ed Robin, then an officer of the organization,  remembers the first meeting of Jewish community leaders with Shultz.

What Awaits Navalny in Russia’s Brutal Penal Colony System
Andrew E. Kramer
The New York Times | February 5, 2021

MOSCOW — While doing time in a Russian penal colony, Aleksandr Y. Margolin saw prisoners savagely beat another inmate, and from that point on, the beaten man obediently cleaned the toilet every day, a demeaning chore signaling that he had fallen into a low caste in the prison hierarchy, known as the “degraded.”

“The conditions are not very homey,” Mr. Margolin said of Russia’s prison camps, descendants of the Soviet gulag, many of them scattered across Siberia.

Inmates are housed not in cell blocks but in free-standing, rough wood or brick barracks, dozens of men in each one, with nothing to separate victimizers from victims. The open floor plan arrangement, little modified since the time of the gulag, has over the decades given rise to a coarse, often brutal prison culture requiring care to navigate.

This is the world the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny is likely to face, after a Moscow court found that he had violated his parole and, this week, sentenced him to spend more than two years in a so-called general-security correctional colony. He is appealing the sentence, but even his allies hold little hope that it will be overturned.

“The steel doors slam behind me with a deafening clang,” Mr. Navalny wrote in a statement after the sentencing.

Russian forces search for Israeli soldiers’ remains near Damascus — report
TOI Staff
Times of Israel | February 6, 2021

The Russian military began searches in a cemetery near a Palestinian refugee camp outside Damascus, in attempts to locate remains of two Israeli soldiers missing since 1982, Syrian media reported this week.

Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz went missing in the 1982 First Lebanon War’s battle of Sultan Yacoub, along with Zachary Baumel, whose remains were recovered and returned to Israel in 2019.

The Yarmouk refugee camp, home to one of the largest Palestinian refugee communities in Syria and the site of the remains of Baumel, was once again being searched for remains by the Russian military, the Syrian Capital Voice site reported Thursday. The unverified report said the search would include DNA testing.

Polish court rules that historians must apologize for part of Holocaust pogrom research
Cnaan Liphshiz 
JTA | February 9, 2021

(JTA) — In the verdict of a lawsuit seen by some as significant for the future of Holocaust research and freedom of expression in Poland, a Warsaw court ordered two historians to publicly apologize for part of their research into a Holocaust pogrom.

In their 2018 book “Night Without an End,” a 1,700-page tome about Polish collaboration during World War II, historians Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking wrote that Edward Malinowski, the late mayor of the village of Malinowo, told Nazi officers where a group of Jews were hiding in a forest. The group of “dozens” were all killed.

Malinowski was acquitted in a postwar trial of collaborating with Nazis, and his niece sued the scholars for $26,000, alleging that they tarnished her uncle’s legacy.

Judge Ewa Jończyk of the Warsaw District Court ruled Tuesday that the scholars are to post a statement on the website of the Institute for Holocaust Research and apologize to Filomena Leszczyńska, the niece, for “violating the honor” of her uncle by “providing inaccurate information.” The judge did not order them to pay the $26,000 that Leszczyńska was seeking.

Grabowski and Engelking said they will appeal the ruling.

No Sputnik Shot For Ukraine As Kyiv Bans Registration Of COVID Vaccines From 'Aggressor States'
Radio Free Europe | February 11, 2021

KYIV -- Ukraine's government has banned the registration of vaccines for COVID-19 from "aggressor states," a designation it has applied to Russia since 2015.

The government made the decision on February 8 but did not announce it publicly until February 10, when it appeared on the government's website.

"The registration of vaccines or other medical immunobiological medicines specific to the prevention of the acute respiratory disease COVID-19 caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus...[that were] developed and/or produced in a nation recognized by the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine as an aggressor-state, is banned," the government's ruling says.

Talking about the possible use of Russian vaccines, Zelenskiy said last week that "Ukrainians are not guinea pigs" and that the government didn't "have the right to conduct experiments on our people."

Relations between Moscow and Kyiv have been tense since Russia forcibly seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and threw its support behind pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east, where the ongoing conflict has claimed more than 13,200 lives.

The ban comes despite criticism of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for the government's sputtering vaccination plan.

Wife of jailed Kremlin critic Navalny arrives in Germany: Spiegel
Reuters | February 10, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) - Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, has landed at Frankfurt airport after flying from Russia, German magazine Spiegel reported in its online edition on Wednesday.

Alexei Navalny was flown to Germany last summer after being poisoned in Siberia with what many Western countries said was a military-grade nerve agent.

Navalny, sentenced last week to 3-1/2 years in jail after a Moscow court ruled he had violated terms of his parole, was arrested on Jan. 17 after returning to Russia from Germany where he was treated for poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent.

The United States, Britain, Germany and the EU have urged Moscow to immediately free Navalny, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Washington will coordinate closely with allies to hold Russia accountable.

Earlier on Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said further sanctions against Russia needed to target the right people.

Read the full article here.

Visitors to Karabakh to require Russian permission
Joshua Kucera
Eurasia.org | February 10, 2021

Visitors to Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh now have to get Russian permission ahead of time.

The territory’s de facto ministry of foreign affairs announced new entry regulations for foreigners on February 8, and one of the provisions was that Russian peacekeeping forces will examine applications “for security purposes” before they are approved.

It’s not clear what prompted the new regulation, which the de facto authorities say had already been in effect before being announced. The day before, a gadfly source claimed that a group of French journalists and activists had been turned away at the de facto Armenia-Karabakh border, and that it was because the Armenian government had made a secret agreement with Azerbaijan allowing Baku to control who enters Karabakh.

Karabakh’s de facto foreign minister David Babayan denied the reports about Azerbaijani control, claiming that the new border regulations were necessary because of the presence of foreign fighters in Azerbaijan proper. “The fact that a large number of mercenary terrorists recruited to fight against Artsakh [an alternate Armenian name for Karabakh] still remain in Azerbaijan forces us to improve the procedure of registering those entering Artsakh,” he said in an interview with Armenian Public Radio, without elaborating on the (improbable) connection.

“We have established close cooperation with the Russian peacekeepers because they are among the key role-players in maintaining peace and stability,” he added.

Podcast: Managing the Great-Power Competition Between Russia and the U.S.
Alexander Gabuev, Thomas Graham, and Dmitri Trenin
Carnegie Moscow Center | February 5, 2021

What are the main risks from the current state of competition between Moscow and Washington? Is there a pragmatic agenda on which both sides are interested in cooperating? What tools can be used to safely manage this great-power competition? Carnegie Moscow Center director Dmitri Trenin and Thomas Graham, a distinguished fellow at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, join podcast host Alexander Gabuev to discuss how relations could be reimagined.

The ‘Wagner Affair’ in Belarus and Its Implications for Ukraine
Sergey Sukhankin
The Jamestown Foundation | February 9, 2021

At the end of last year, former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko (June 2014–May 2019) announced in an interview that, back in 2018, he had initiated a special operation to detain mercenaries belonging to the notorious Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner Group (News.ru, December 31, 2020)—a shadowy paramilitary outfit allegedly culpable in war crimes committed in Ukraine, Syria, Libya and Sub-Saharan Africa. Poroshenko additionally accused Ukraine’s current ruling elites of “sabotaging the operation” last summer and promised to pursue the matter until all “traitors” have been punished. This highly controversial episode established a dangerous new precedent with potentially far-reaching repercussions for Ukraine.

The story Poroshenko was referring to first came to light on July 29, 2020, when Belarusian law enforcement detained 33 men near Minsk (Tut.by August 7, 2020). The local authorities claimed that the group—apparently all Wagner mercenaries—arrived in Belarus to take part in “igniting mass anti-governmental provocations” ahead of the approaching presidential elections (August 9, with early voting August 4–8). Despite the seriousness of the accusations and vigorous protestation of the Ukrainian government, which demanded the arrested individuals’ extradition, almost all members of the group were soon sent back to Russia. In time, however, the story developed further, revealing new details and stunning claims. Specifically, Ukrainian sources alleged that the detention of the Wagner militants in Belarus was, in effect, part of a failed special operation that sought to trick the mercenaries into arriving in Kyiv, where the group was to have been apprehended and brought to justice (News.ru, October 12, 2020). According to Ukraine, at least 9 out of the 33 men were Ukrainian citizens, and all of them allegedly took part in hostilities in southeastern Ukraine. Kyiv accused some of them of, among other crimes, shooting down (on July 17, 2014) Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which resulted in 298 fatalities. Interestingly, while official Russian information sources either remained silent or shrugged off these charges, one Russian conservative writer who had himself volunteered to fight in Ukraine, Zakhar Prilepin, openly admitted that “there are two or three fighters [among the detained Wagner members] from my battalion” (Ura.news, July 29, 2020).

tHow did Russian society react to Covid-19?
Margarita Zavadskaya  
Riddle.io  | February 10, 2021

Though the pandemic still goes on, there are already clear indicators of how public opinion has shifted in Russia due to Covid-19. Of course, there is no guarantee these shifts will persist; opinion polls can be volatile. However, the findings do give us at least some guidance. What are the fundamental changes? Did the Russian public react like the rest of the world? To a large extent it did, but in a recent survey, one striking point was the prevalence of theories denying the existence of Covid-19 — a higher rate of Covid-19 denial than in all other countries surveyed.