Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. January 8, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,

For fifty years, NCSEJ has confronted totalitarian and authoritarian governments on their human rights violations.  As a non-partisan organization, we have worked with successive Republican and Democratic administrations to fight extremism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism in Eurasia.  The American model of government and the rights and privileges of being an American citizen are seen as ideals to emulate by human rights activists and others around the world.  In the United States, we don't resolve our differences with violence.  We are a nation that is governed by the rule of law. 

Yet, two days ago, who would have imagined that the Capitol Building of the United States of America would come under attack --  let alone from a mob of domestic terrorists. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and extremists made a deliberate attempt to take over our legislative branch of government and prevent the certification of November's presidential election.  What we witnessed on Wednesday is something that happens in other countries, not in the longest standing democracy in the world.  And not encouraged by the President of the United States and his allies from a stage on the national mall. 

A bedrock of American democracy is the holding of free and fair elections, as well as the peaceful transfer of power from an outgoing president to the incoming president.  It is what separates us from so many other countries in the world.  What happened two days ago is a result of two months of denying the outcome of the November election. 

Unfortunately, after Wednesday's failed attempt, totalitarian and authoritarian governments are smiling and communicating to their oppressed citizens that the United States is not a beacon of freedom, America is just like them.  They would be wrong because after the police regained control, the Senators and Representatives returned to the House Chamber fulfilling their constitutional obligations by certifying the presidential election.  Democracy held this time.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. January 8, 2021

Bandera Supporters March in Ukraine

NCSEJ Press Release | January 4, 2021

NCSEJ is deeply troubled over reports of a nationalist march in support of Stepan Bandera held on January 1 in Kyiv.  The march, held to celebrate the 112th birthday of Bandera, the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), was organized by political parties "Svoboda", "Right Sector", "National Corps", and the movement "Resistance to Surrender."

Stefan Bandera is considered a hero to many Ukrainians whose OUN and its military arm, UPA fought against the Soviets and collaborated with the Nazis during World War II but is also accused of carrying out murderous campaigns against Jews and Poles.

The event referred to as a march of honor, dignity, and freedom brought together 1000 torchbearers.

We have shared our concerns with the Embassy of Ukraine.

Polar bears and Arctic isolation: A Russian opposition activist describes military service as ‘political exile’

Robyn Dixon
The Washington Post| January 2, 2021

MOSCOW — On a desolate archipelago in the Russian Arctic — so far from civilization that it was a Soviet nuclear bomb test site in the 1960s — sits a leaky metal hut shaped like a barrel with an icon and a photograph of President Vladimir Putin on the wall inside.

There are no trees, no Internet, no landline or mobile phone connection and no water on site except for melted snow and ice. Hungry polar bears are all around. So the outpost at Cherakino seems a perfect place to revive the practice of political exile in Putin's Russia, opposition leaders contend.

It’s here that Russia’s military sent one of the country’s most promising opposition politicians, Ruslan Shaveddinov, after security agents in black masks broke down his door and seized him from his home in December 2019.
“They called it political exile. They didn’t even try to train me in military skills,” Shaveddinov said in an interview with The Washington Post after his return to Moscow on Dec. 23, exactly a year after he was taken.

Ruslan Shaveddinov returns home after a year of political exile in the Russian arctic, one of the ways authorities have ramped up harassment of activists. (Courtesy of Maksim Litavrin)

The ordeal faced by Shaveddinov — a close ally of opposition leader Alexei Navalny — offers another look at Russia’s increasingly aggressive tactics to silence and intimidate Putin’s critics. In recent months, authorities have ramped up harassment and prosecutions of activists, dissidents and journalists, freezing bank accounts and conducting repeated searches of homes.

Russia’s activists and independent journalists face new wave of crackdowns
The pretext to send Shaveddinov to the desolate Novaya Zemlya region was mandatory military conscription for men, a means increasingly being used to send young male political activists to remote hardship posts. But he asserts that military officials told him his treatment was political and insists he never got a draft notice.

Read the full article here.

With new clubs, Russian-speaking Jews bolster unique Jewish identity

Larry Luxner

The Jerusalem Post | January 7, 2021

Belarus native Igor Litvin cares about the Earth. He’s also passionate about his Jewish identity.

Not long ago, the Minsk resident decided to start a Torah-based ecology project called Cactus. Each month, a group of young Jews in Minsk meet either in person or online to consider a specific environmental dilemma and what Judaism has to say about it.

“Our goal was to find new people who had not been involved in Jewish community activities,” said Litvin, 25, a graphic designer. “We realized that one angle that had not been explored before was ecology.”

For Tu b’Shvat, the Jewish Arbor Day, which this year falls on Jan. 28, Cactus will be holding a celebration dubbed To Be Green. The group recently organized a kibbutz-style eco-festival along the bank of a river near Minsk. Group discussion topics have ranged from climate change to the wastefulness of plastic shopping bags to the long-term repercussions of COVID-19.

“The pandemic itself is causing an ecological disaster because of all the masks being used,” Litvin said. “So we’ve been collecting plastic bottles and we bring them to a factory, which produces masks from them.”

Another club in the remote Siberian city of Yekaterinburg called CinemaMidrash aims to develop a sense of identity among local Jews through Jewish-themed movies. Among the films the group has watched and discussed: “Ushpizin,” “Footnote,” “Menashe” and “An American Pickle.”

Less Russia, More West On Belarus's Updated Emblem
Russia To 'Return' Icon Gifted To Lavrov In Balkans Amid Signs It's Stolen Ukrainian Heritage
Radio Free Europe | January 7, 2020

Belarus has officially adopted a new national emblem that carries slightly more Western and less Russian references despite the European Union and the United States having refused to recognize Alyaksandr Lukashenka as the winner of last year's presidential election.

The law on new state symbols signed by Lukashenka on January 4 was published on the official document website on January 7.

The national anthem, flag, and several other symbols have remained unchanged. However, the updated national emblem now displays subtle differences compared to the previous, Soviet era-rooted one.

Most notably, the globe on the new emblem has been slightly rotated eastward, making Western Europe and the Atlantic Ocean more visible compared to the previous one, where Russia and Eurasia were featured more prominently.

Other changes include a larger contour of Belarus at the center of the emblem and a slightly bigger red star on top, still reminiscent of Soviet times.

The changes were initiated in early 2020, when Russia was persistently pushing Lukashenka for closer ties.

Lukashenka, who has been in power since 1994, had resisted pressure from Moscow in recent years to agree to deeper integration under the unification agreement which envisaged close political, economic, and military ties but stopped short of forming a single nation.

In Ukraine, hundreds march with torches in annual tribute to Nazi collaborator
Cnaan Liphshiz 

JTA | January 3, 2021

(JTA) — Hundreds of people marched bearing torches in the capital city of Ukraine Friday in an annual tribute to a leader who collaborated with Nazi Germany.

Israel’s ambassador condemned the torchlight march Friday in Kyiv in memory of Stepan Bandera, issuing the strongest rebuke yet by an Israeli official of the event, which has grown in scope amid rising nationalism in Ukraine.

“We strongly condemn any glorification of collaborators with the Nazi regime. It is time for Ukraine to come to terms with its past,” Ambassador Joel Lion wrote on Twitter Saturday.

At the march, many participants waved banners carrying the symbol of the far-right Svoboda party, whose leaders have often made anti-Semitic comments, and banners reading: “Nationalism is our religion. Bandera is our prophet,” Pravda Ukraine reported.

Ukrainian firm applies to make Russia's COVID-19 vaccine, sparking political dilemma
Reuters| January 6, 2021

KYIV (Reuters) - A Ukrainian pharmaceutical company backed by a prominent Russian-leaning opposition figure has applied for state approval to make Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, a sensitive move given toxic relations between Kyiv and Moscow.

The two countries have been at loggerheads since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and involvement in a conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region which Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.

Ukraine’s government has played down the prospects of approving the Sputnik V vaccine quickly, if at all.

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov told Reuters the issue was being used as “political PR” by some forces and as part of Russia’s “hybrid warfare” against Ukraine.

Nagorno-Karabakh shuffles top officials, plans new elections
Ani Mejlumyan 

Eurasia.org | January 7, 2021

Following the defeat to Azerbaijan, the de facto government in Nagorno-Karabakh has reshuffled many of its top officials and is preparing for new elections.

On December 1, the head of the self-proclaimed republic, Arayik Harutyunyan, said that it would start forming a “government of national accord” to manage the territory “in this period which is so difficult for our motherland.” Since then, several new cabinet officials including a new national security adviser and foreign minister have been named, representing a wide swath of the territory’s political

“Overall, we can say that the appointments of the new government are completed,” the spokesman for de facto president Arayik Harutyunyan, Vahram Poghosyan, told RFE/RL on January 5. “We have to get on with work in order to try to get the life back to normal in [Karabakh] as soon as possible.”

The most consequential appointment has been that of Vitaliy Balasanyan as national security adviser. Balasanyan is a veteran of the first war with Azerbaijan, in the 1990s, and is a close ally of former Armenian presidents Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan. He was national security adviser from 2016-2019 and ran unsuccessfully for president in elections last year while also helping lead a campaign to free Kocharyan, the archenemy of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan who was in jail in Armenia for charges related to the violent breakup of protests under the old regime.

Respect Thy Neighbor: Russia and the Baltic Region
Dmitri Trenin

Carnegie Moscow Center | December 31, 2020

Twenty-five years ago, soon after I joined Carnegie, I launched my first project at the Carnegie Moscow Center. It was focused on the Baltic Sea area. As a result, I even wrote a short book for CMC called The Baltic Chance: The Baltic States, Russia, and the West in the New Europe. The idea behind both the project and the book was to conceptualize the role of the Baltic Sea region as a laboratory for ever closer collaboration between Russia and the rest of Europe. 

Fast forward to today. The Baltic Sea area has become the part of Europe where Russia and NATO, as a result of its enlargement to the east, sit physically side by side along a broad front. To all intents and purposes, it is a de facto front line. Following the 2014 Ukraine crisis, relations between Russia and NATO have turned as hostile as they were during the Cold War. Small Western military contingents are now deployed in each of the Baltic states. Poland is emerging as a new hub for the U.S. military presence in Europe.

Read the full article here.

The recovery year ‘Meduza’ answers key questions about what awaits the Russian economy in 2021
Meduza | January 7, 2021

Thanks to the peculiarities of its structure, the Russian economy has been riding out the coronavirus pandemic more easily than many others. That said, Russia now faces a longer and more difficult recovery than many other countries around the world. And this will likely be felt already in the coming year. Meduza looks back on how the “coronavirus crisis” has affected the Russian economy and breaks down what might happen in the months ahead, as well as the government’s plans for handling the situation.

Read the full article here.

Belarus Secures Russian Oil and Gas Supplies for 2021
Mateusz Kubiak

The Jamestown Foundation | January 7, 2021

On December 29, 2020, Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko stated that Russian energy supplies to Belarus in 2021 will be purchased under “favorable terms,” thus confirming that the months-long negotiations between the two countries had concluded (BelTA, December 29, 2020). The details of the bilateral deal, however, do not appear to reflect any sort of compromise by both sides. Rather, Belarus’s authorities effectively agreed to the specific conditions that they were actively opposing back in 2020, revealing the Belarusian government’s reduced ability to withstand Kremlin pressure under the current, “post-election” circumstances.

The protocol between Belarus’s government and Russia’s Gazprom regarding natural gas supplies in 2021 was officially signed on December 24 (Belarus-tr.gazprom.ru, December 24, 2020). As the Belarusian Ministry of Energy disclosed then, the price for Belarus was set at “practically the same” level as in 2020, when Russian gas was being delivered to the country for $127 per thousand cubic meters (Minenergo.gov.by, December 24, 2020). Although Prime Minister Golovchenko argued that the agreed-to terms are “very comfortable” (BelTA, December 29, 2020), they surely do not meet Minsk’s expectations. Throughout the negotiations, Belarus was pushing hard to secure the same gas prices as those enjoyed by domestic consumers in Russia for many years already; Minsk even unilaterally withheld some payment it owed to Gazprom last year, just as it had done in 2016 (see EDM, August 11, 2020). Thus, the terms of natural gas supplies remain a possible bone of contention between the two countries in the future.

In Ukraine, far-right protesters demand Israel apologize for communist oppression
Cnaan Liphshiz 
JTA | January 7, 2021

(JTA) — After Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine condemned the honoring of Nazi collaborators in the former Soviet republic, dozens of people rallied outside the Israeli Embassy in Kyiv demanding that Jews apologize for Soviet oppression.
The far-right activists called on Israel and the Jews to assume responsibility specifically for Holodomor, a famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s and is widely believed to have been caused by the government of Joseph Stalin, then the leader of the Soviet Union.

“Israel deliberately spreads anti-Semitism in Ukraine,” one protester, a white supremacist activist named Vladislav Goranin, said during a speech at the rally. He said Jews and Israel must “repent for genocide” on Ukrainians.

The action was in response to Israeli Ambassador Joel Lion’s tweet Saturday in which he condemned a torchlight march in memory of Stepan Bandera, a World War II Ukrainian leader whose troops killed thousands of Jews and who for a time was an ally of Nazi Germany.

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 Founded in 1971, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry 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.