WASHINGTON, D.C. September 16, 2016
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Russians will head to the polls on Sunday to choose candidates for the lower chamber of Russian parliament (State Duma). The update includes an NCSEJ backgrounder detailing major parties and candidates, and a Moscow Times article analyzing potential election outcomes. NCSEJ will report on the results of the election next week.
Last Sunday, Belarus held its parliamentary elections, which observers say were freer than in the past. Registration process for opposition candidates was simplified and international observers were given access to the vote count. However, experts continue to call for democratic changes and electoral reform in Belarus.
A delegation of World Jewish Congress (WJC) and Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) representatives visited Azerbaijan last week, and met with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. The visit highlighted the excellent relations between the Azeri government and the local Jewish community, which has thrived in predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan for centuries.
The IMF approved a $1 billion aid disbursement to Ukraine, which analysts say will provide much needed assistance for Ukraine’s struggling economy. The IMF said that Ukraine was showing signs of recovery, and the Ukrainian government has made progress on reforms.
The UN General Assembly meeting opens in New York next week. NCSEJ, together with other Jewish organizations, will participate in a number of meetings with high-level representatives from the Eurasia region. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is expected to meet with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
The update includes a JTA article on the potential impact of leadership changes in Uzbekistan on the country’s Jewish community, which offers one perspective on the role President Karimov’s government played in maintaining stability and restricting Islamic radicalism in the country.
I also want to highlight a New York Times article by Andrew Higgins about the role the Russian Orthodox Church plays in the Russian government’s outreach to Europe.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. September 16, 2016
Clinton Sets Meeting With Ukraine's Poroshenko
RFE/RL, September 15, 2016
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, her campaign said on September 14, in an effort to contrast her pro-Kyiv stance with her Republican opponent Donald Trump's public comments in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Clinton's meeting with Poroshenko, whose country has struggled economically and politically since Moscow forcibly annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and fueled a war with separatists in eastern Ukraine, will occur on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting in New York next week. Read the full article here.
'Excellent relations with Jewish community and Israel,’ Azerbaijan’s president tells WJC delegation
WJC, September 13, 2016
A delegation of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) headed by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder held talks in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku on Tuesday.
At a meeting with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, Lauder said the situation of Jews in the former Soviet republic, a predominantly Muslim nation, was very good and he thanked the Azeri head of state for it.
President Aliyev underlined what he said were “excellent relations” of his administration with the Azeri Jewish Community, as well as with the State of Israel and with international NGOs such as the World Jewish Congress.
Krakow march recalls centuries-old Jewish presence
JTA, September 13, 2016
Hundreds marched through the streets of Krakow to commemorate the centuries-old Jewish presence in the city in an event organized by local Christian organizations.
Marchers waved Polish and Israeli flags at the “memory march” held Sunday. Among those on hand was the Krakow bishop, Grzegorz Rys.
The aim of the march was reconciliation between Poles and Jews, and to stand in opposition to anti-Semitism.
“Many of my colleagues from other countries would like to be in my place,” Anna Azari, Israel’s ambassador to Poland, said at the event. “They also have marches, but anti-Semitic ones.”
Suspected neo-Nazis vandalize Holocaust memorial in Hungary
The Jerusalem Post, September 12, 2016
Budapest's 'Living Memorial' was reportedly desecrated a few weeks after an article threatening to destroy the site was published on a neo-Nazi website.
Suspected neo-Nazis over the weekend allegedly vandalized a vigil dedicated to Hungarian victims of the Holocaust, local media reported Sunday.
According to the Hungarian Free Press, the grassroots 'Living Memorial' in Budapest's central Liberty Square was desecrated Friday night by unknown perpetrators, weeks after an article threatening to destroy the monument was published on a neo-Nazi website.
The assailants apparently tore down photographs and shattered and stole items placed at the site that serves as testimony to the nearly 600,000 Hungarian Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Read the full article here.
Jewish cemetery desecrated in Poland
Arutz Sheva, September 12, 2016
The Jewish cemetery in Novominsk, Poland was desecrated in recent days by anonymous persons in a flagrant display of anti-Semitism.
According to local authorities, anonymous persons burst into the cemetery, closed most hours of the day, and sprayed swastikas on a number of graves, desecrating the graves.
The activity was discovered by locals who discerned the break-in; they alerted representatives of the local Jewish community.
Read the full article here.
With eye on West, Belarus holds slightly freer election
By Andrei Makhovsky
Reuters, September 12, 2016
Lawmakers loyal to hardline Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko retained power in an election on Sunday, but the opposition's win of a seat for the first time in 20 years could help the ex-Soviet nation further improve ties with the West.
The opposition, which has not been represented in the 110-seat parliament since 1996, had not been expected to gain any seats, but in a concession to Western calls for greater transparency its candidates were able to register more easily. External monitors were also given access to the vote count.
Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has kept Belarus in a close strategic alliance with Moscow. However, some cracks appeared in the relationship following Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and since then Minsk has made overtures to the West.
Anna Konopatskaya, a member of opposition party United Civil Party, won a place in parliament, election results showed. Independent candidate Elena Anisim, who has links to the opposition, was also elected.
Read the full article here.
Why Uzbekistan’s Jews already miss the iron fist of their late ruler
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, September 13, 2016
Driving through this dusty desert city of many ornate and ancient mosques, Shirin Yakubov recalls the ruthlessness of her country’s recently deceased president of 25 years.
“He killed all of them, every last one,” she says of Islam Karimov’s role in the 2005 police massacre of hundreds of suspected Islamists in the eastern city of Andijan following unrest.
“Our president acted exactly right,” she adds, smiling.
A no-nonsense businesswoman and a doting Jewish mother of three, Yakubov belongs to the urban elite of this Central Asian country of 32 million citizens that shares a border with Afghanistan. Read the full article here.
Kremlin to hold 2nd Int'l Congress of separatists in Moscow
UNIAN, September 13, 2016
The second annual conference of the separatists from around the world will be held in Moscow late September. The organizers received a RUB 3.5 billion presidential grant for its holding.
According to RBC, the conference titled "Dialogue of Nations. Right of peoples to self-determination and the construction of a multipolar world" is convened by the public organization "The Anti-globalization Movement of Russia" (AGM).
The Congress will be attended by the "fighters against the ideology of world domination and economic exploitation," the statement said. The forum is expected to discuss and work out a resolution in support of the right of peoples to self-determination.
A previous conference of the movement was held in September 2015.
The organizers expect the delegations of separatists from Catalonia, Northern Ireland, Western Sahara, Scotland and other regions. According to the announcement on the website, many delegates will come from the United States – these are the supporters of independence of Hawaii and Puerto Rico, as well as separatists from California and Texas.Read the full article here.
IMF board approves $1 billion loan disbursement to Ukraine
By David Lawder
Reuters,September 15, 2016
The International Monetary Fund said its board on Wednesday approved a long-awaited loan disbursement to Ukraine of about $1 billion after a review of the country's bailout program.
The IMF has agreed to pump $17.5 billion into Ukraine's economy in a four-year bailout, releasing the funds in installments subject to the government making progress on economic and anti-corruption reforms.
To date, Ukraine has received about $7.62 billion in the program launched in March 2015.
The latest disbursement was less than the roughly $1.7 billion anticipated, after some reforms required by the fund had stalled.
But the IMF said in a statement that the board had approved waivers for Kiev's failure to meet criteria related to international reserves targets, external payments arrears and foreign exchange restrictions.
Crimean Tatar Leader Nominated For EU's Sakharov Prize
RFE/RL, September 14, 2016
The European Parliament's largest political bloc will nominate Crimean Tatar politician Mustafa Dzhemilev for the 2016 Sakharov Prize.
The European People's Party will nominate Dzhemilev on September 14.
The European Conservatives and Reformists bloc -- consisting of Britain's Conservative Party and the Polish Law and Justice party nominated him a day earlier.
Dzhemilev is expected to be one of the three shortlisted candidates chosen by the European Parliament's foreign affairs and development committees vote on October 11. Members of the European Parliament will decide the winner on October 27.
Read the full article here.
Russia Adds Salt to Western Food Embargo
The Moscow Times, September 13, 2016
Russia is to boycott Western imports of salt, the Kremlin announced in a statement Tuesday.
The embargo, which will come into effect from Nov. 1, will add to the long list of Western food products currently banned in Russia, which include fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, milk and dairy.
The Kremlin announced that it would boycott food imports from the U.S., EU, Australia, Canada and Norway in August 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in June, extending the embargo until the end of 2017.
The boycott has hit Russian consumers hard, with food prices soaring by 31 percent in the last two years, Russia’s Economic Development Ministry announced in August.
Azerbaijan Releases Opposition Activist Ahead Of Key Referendum
RFE/RL, September 11, 2016
Azerbaijani authorities have released an opposition activist from jail, just weeks after his detention prompted international criticism in Europe, North America, and elsewhere.
Colleagues of Natig Jafarli, of the Republican Alternative Movement, said he was released from a Baku jail on September 9.
The head of the Republican movement, Ilqar Mammadov, remains in prison.
Jafarli was arrested on August 12, charged with “illegal entrepreneurship” and other charges that prosecutors said stemmed from a grant the Republican movement received from the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, the National Democratic Institute.Read the full article here.
Human rights situation in eastern Ukraine deteriorates – UN report
Ukraine Today, September 15, 2016
A new UN report released on Thursday describes the deterioration of the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine, as a result of escalating hostilities between June and August, and the continued disregard for the protection of civilians by both sides of the conflict.
The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said that by 15 September 2016, it recorded 9,640 conflict-related deaths and 22,431 injuries among Ukrainian armed forces, civilians and members of the armed groups since the conflict began in mid-April 2014.
The report, which covers the period from mid-May to mid-August, shows a 66 per cent increase of the number of conflict-related civilian casualties in the east, compared to the previous reporting period.
Read also UN rings alarm bells on record number of civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine
In total, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine documented 188 civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine, including 28 dead and 160 injured, during the three months covered by the report.
Russian Election Watch 2016: Noteworthy Candidates
By Ola Cichowlas
The Moscow Times, September 12, 2016
The last time Russia held a parliamentary election, in 2011, the capital erupted in mass protests. The authorities responded by cracking down on dissent at home, and embarking on full-blown confrontation abroad. On Sept. 18, Russians return to the polls. This time, nobody expects street protests or anything but a Kremlin victory.
But that does not mean the Kremlin has forgotten about 2011. President Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin, the Kremlin’s man in charge of this election, has been telling the cameras all summer that this will be the cleanest vote in Russian history.
In a way, it will be. Ella Pamfilova, the new head of the electoral committee, says she is determined not to play into the hands of the ruling party and promises the vote count to be fair. In a scene unimaginable just a few months ago, Russia even saw its former prime minister turned opposition figure Mikhail Kasyanov take part in a live debate on state television. Arch Putin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oil tycoon who spent a decade in a Siberian prison, was even allowed to finance 18 candidates as part of his Open Russia initiative.
As Russia reasserts itself, U.S. intelligence agencies focus anew on the Kremlin
By Greg Miller
Washington Post, September 14, 2016
U.S. intelligence agencies are expanding spying operations against Russia on a greater scale than at any time since the end of the Cold War, U.S. officials said.
The mobilization involves clandestine CIA operatives, National Security Agency cyberespionage capabilities, satellite systems and other intelligence assets, officials said, describing a shift in resources across spy services that had previously diverted attention from Russia to focus on terrorist threats and U.S. war zones.
U.S. officials said the moves are part of an effort to rebuild U.S. intelligence capabilities that had continued to atrophy even as Russia sought to reassert itself as a global power. Over the past two years, officials said, the United States was caught flat-footed by Moscow’s aggression, including its annexation of Crimea, its intervention in the war in Syria and its suspected role in hacking operations against the United States and Europe.
U.S. spy agencies “are playing catch-up big time” with Russia, a senior U.S. intelligence official said. Terrorism remains the top concern for American intelligence services, the official said, but recent directives from the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have moved Russia up the list of intelligence priorities for the first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Read the full article here.
In Expanding Russian Influence, Faith Combines With Firepower
By Andrew Higgins
The New York Times, September 13, 2016
The golden main dome of a new Russian Orthodox cathedral now under construction on the banks of the Seine shimmers in the sun, towering over a Paris neighborhood studded with government buildings and foreign embassies. Most sensitive of all, it is being built beside a 19th-century palace that has been used to conceal some of the French presidency’s most closely guarded secrets.
The prime location, secured by the Russian state after years of lobbying by the Kremlin, is so close to so many snoop-worthy places that when Moscow first proposed a $100 million “spiritual and cultural center” there, France’s security services fretted that Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer, might have more than just religious outreach in mind.
Anxiety over whether the spiritual center might serve as a listening post, however, has obscured its principal and perhaps more intrusive role: an outsize display in the heart of Paris, the capital of the insistently secular French Republic, of Russia’s might as a religious power, not just a military one.
Read the full article here.
Russian engagement in the Ukraine crisis. Is it really hybrid?
By Maksym Beznosiuk
New Eastern Europe, September 14, 2016
Over the past two years, many scholars in defense, security and other areas of study have attempted to examine and explain the Russian engagement in the Ukraine crisis through a broad range of conceptual approaches. Such concepts as asymmetric warfare, full spectrum conflict and hybrid warfare have been among the most frequently used conceptual approaches to decipher Russian activities in Ukraine. In this regard, hybrid warfare has been predominantly used to give meaning to Russia’s swift annexation of Crimea and current destabilising activities in eastern Ukraine. Many scholars have claimed that Russia is elaborating upon this hybrid warfare doctrine which was first successfully applied in Ukraine. Also, in their view, there is a high likelihood of such hybrid warfare techniques being replicated by Russia elsewhere in the region.
On the other hand, there are experts that point to the misleading perception of unprecedented nature of hybrid warfare concept, mainly due to the lack of newly displayed military and informational capabilities. Apart from that, they claim that there is no clear evidence of the emergence of Russia’s hybrid warfare doctrine. In their opinion, it is crucial not to overemphasise the novelty and recent transformations in Russian capabilities, while also not overlooking the importance of Soviet-inherited techniques and permissive environment for such hostile Russian actions in Ukraine. In addition, they point to the potential dangers and misperceptions which could be caused by applying the hybrid warfare concept to describe Russian engagement in Ukraine.Read the full article here.
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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.