WASHINGTON, D.C. June 3, 2016
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Moscow next week for the second time this year to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Syria, the Middle East peace process, and other issues.
Yesterday, Ukraine’s parliament approved a bill to reform the country’s judiciary system. The bill aims to limit both political influence on judicial appointments and judicial immunity. The lack of an independent judiciary has been long seen as impeding anti-corruption efforts and Ukraine’s development.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt welcomed the bill’s passage, calling it “a historic day” for Ukraine, and “a big step forward on Ukraine's European path.” He added that the United States is ready to work with Ukraine to help transform its judiciary. And today, the United States signed a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine. The U.S. had promised the funds to Ukraine last year, contingent on Ukraine’s continued progress on reforms.
I want to recommend a Washington Post story in this week’s update that details the environmental impact of continued violence in Eastern Ukraine. Fighting threatens to destroy a water filtration plant in Donbas, which could result in a humanitarian and environmental disaster.
A new controversy is brewing over renaming two streets in Kyiv to honor Ukrainian nationalists who have been accused of killing Jews during World War II. We have contacted Ukraine’s embassy with our concerns about the issue. The city administration is expected to make the final decision on renaming the streets.
Lithuania’s and Slovakia’s parliaments formed pro-Israel caucuses this week to promote closer relations with the State of Israel.
Finally, I want to welcome the newest addition to our team. Yury Terekhov, a young international relations professional from Russia, is our new NCSEJ/Atlas Corps Research Fellow. Yury holds a Bachelors degree in Regional Studies from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland’s oldest university. While in Moscow he participated in events organized by the local Jewish community, including rallies in support of Israel.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. June 3, 2016
Slovakia, Lithuania open pro- Israel parliamentary caucuses
Jerusalem Post, May 29, 2016
Pro-Israel caucuses will be formed this week in the parliaments of Slovakia and Lithuania, the result of an initiative by the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, World Jewish Congress and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
The caucuses, which will be formed on Monday and Wednesday, will be the 34th and 35th such caucuses formed in countries around the world by the Israel Allies Foundation.
The Israeli delegation will include Shas MK Ya’acov Margi, Knesset Christian Allies Caucus director Josh Reinstein, World Jewish Congress-Israel chairman Shai Hermesh, World Jewish Congress-Israel director, Sam Grundwerg, Israel Allies Foundation European director Andras Patkai, retired IDF colonel Moshe Leshem, Ambassador to Slovakia Zvi Aviner Vapni and Ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon.
Read the full article here.
Putin to hold talks with Israeli PM in Moscow next week
TASS, June 1, 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamini Netanyahu who will arrive in Moscow for a visit.
According to Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the situation in Syria will be one of the issues discussed at the talks.
"Of course, (the situation in Syria will be discussed)," he said answering a question on the subject.
The Kremlin spokesman noted that this visit was planned well in advance. "The agenda is quite extensive," he said. "The relations (between Russia and Israel) are advanced and partnership in various fields. There is a huge potential in economy, there are extensive grounds for cooperation in security and international politics."
Putin Talks Syria, Ukraine With Normandy Format Leaders
Moscow Times, May 24, 2016
President Vladimir Putin has held phone talks with the leaders of Ukraine, France and Germany to discuss the situation in Syria and in Ukraine's Donbass region, the Kremlin said in a statement Tuesday.
Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko discussed the peaceful settlement of the situation in south-east Ukraine as well as possible steps to tackle the socioeconomic and humanitarian problems in the region.
All leaders stressed the importance of complying with Minsk agreements and of enhancing the effectiveness of the OSCE's special monitoring mission in the region “by giving it additional powers,” the RBC newspaper reported.
“Vladimir Putin called for an immediate end to attacks by the Ukrainian armed groups on Donbass' residential areas. He emphasized that a key part of any settlement should be direct dialogue between Kiev and Donetsk and Luhansk,” the statement said.
Ukraine Proposes Working With U.S. To Replace Russian Rockets
RFE/RL, June 1, 2016
Ukraine has proposed that Kyiv and the United States jointly develop and produce a rocket engine to replace Russian rocket engines currently used to launch U.S. military satellites.
The head of Ukraine's Space Agency, Lyubomyr Sabadosh, said on May 31 that he proposed the plan to replace Russian RD-180 rocket engines, which the U.S. Congress has ordered to be phased out by 2019, on a visit to the United States last month.
"We have proposed using our capabilities for implementing a joint design solution. ... It's quite a complicated task, but we can cope with it," he said.
Sabadosh said the United States expressed an interest in the idea. He said further talks will be held in Kyiv in November and will address the time frame for development, conducting tests, and funding.Read the full article here.
U.S. Ambassador welcomes adoption of constitutional amendments on judicial reform
Interfax Ukraine, June 2, 2016
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt has welcomed the adoption by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the judicial reform and said the United States is ready to support its implementation to transform judiciary into an independent institution.
"A historic day. Welcome Rada's approval of constitutional amendments on the judicial reform, a big step forward on Ukraine's European path. The U.S. is ready to support implementation and work ahead to transform judiciary into an independent accountable and efficient institution," he wrote on his Twitter page. Read the full article here.
Kremlin denies allegations Russia is building up troops on Belarus border
TASS, June 2, 2016
The Kremlin calls absurd the very wording of statements alleging that Russia is reinforcing its contingent on the border with Belarus, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday.
"It would be a strong exaggeration to speak about the strengthening of some alignment of forces on the border with Belarus, the very presentation of the problem as ‘strengthening on the border with Belarus’ seems absurd to me," Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
He said Russian Defense Ministry officials "will be able to explain movement of this units or the other". Peskov admitted that he knew nothing about reports about beefing up of Russian armed forces on the border with Belarus.Read the full article here.
Belarusian Opposition Leader, Associates Detained
RFE/RL, June 2, 2016
A Belarusian opposition leader has been detained "brutally" by police in a town some 110 kilometers east of the capital of Minsk and charged with illegally distributing printed material.
Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition United Civic Party (AHP), and two associates were taken into police custody in Krupki on June 2.
Speaking to RFE/RL, an AHP spokeswoman accused the police of brutality when arresting Lyabedzka, and Dzyanis Krasochka, a party activist, and Henadz Veratsinski, a photographer.
Hanna Krasulina said the three were facing charges of illegally distributing printed materials.
Moscow Police to Interrogate Ekho Moskvy Editor for Publishing Navalny Blog
Moscow Times, May 31, 2016
Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the Ekho Moskvy radio station has said that police will interrogate him after a blog post by opposition leader Alexei Navalny was published on the station's website.
“Employees of the Interior Ministry came to Ekho about a court case against Navalny — they want to interrogate the editor-in-chief for publishing his blog post,” Venediktov tweeted on Tuesday.
The Interior Ministry have filed a court case on behalf of former investigator Pavel Karpov, accusing Navalny of slander.
The Interior Ministry filed the case because Navalny wrote about a film in his blogs and social media pages that accused Karpov of being involved in the death of Hermitage Capital employee Sergei Magnitsky in 2009. Magnitsky died in an isolation cell in a Moscow prison in 2009.Read the full article here.
Baku Ordered To Pay Compensation To Prominent Rights Defenders
RFE/RL, June 2, 2016
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ordered Azerbaijan to pay compensations to human rights activists Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus, for "inadequate medical treatment" that led to "prolonged mental and physical suffering."
In a ruling made public on June 2, the Strasbourg-based court ordered Baku to pay 15,000 euros ($17,000) to each applicant.
Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus were arrested in summer 2014 and sentenced to 8 1/2 and 7 years in prison, respectively, in August 2015 for alleged economic crimes.
They were released on health grounds late last year and their prison sentences reduced to suspended sentences. Read the full article here.
Prominent Kyrgyz Rights Defender Called In For Questioning
RFE/RL, June 1, 2016
A prominent Kyrgyz rights defender who has sued President Almazbek Atambaev says she's been called in for questioning by the State Committee for National Security (UKMK).
Tolekan Ismailova, the director of the Bishkek-based Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan (One World-Kyrgyzstan) rights group, told RFE/RL on June 1 that she refused to comply with the UKMK request, saying it was invalid without an official subpoena.
According to Ismailova, the action by the UKMK was linked to her professional activities.
Ismailova and another well-known Kyrgyz rights defender, Aziza Abdyrasulova, have recently sued Atambaev for publicly calling the two women "saboteurs" last month.
Ismailova's group and Abdyrasulova have criticized Kyrgyz authorities for failing to review a number of criminal cases linked to deadly clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.
Ukraine's corrupt judges targeted in constitutional reforms
By Alexei Kalmykov and Alessandra Prentice
Reuters, June 2, 2016
Ukraine's parliament approved on Thursday judicial reforms that Western backers say are needed to fight corruption, in the first constitutional vote the ruling coalition has pushed through since an overhaul of the government in April.
Bribery in the court system is seen as a major obstacle to Ukraine's broader reform effort under a $17.5 billion International Monetary Fund bailout programme that political infighting has threatened to derail.
The bill, which aims to curb political influence on the appointment of judges and limit their immunity in case of malpractice, was backed by 335 lawmakers, 35 more than the required votes needed for changes to the constitution.
The result was welcomed by Ukraine's international backers, including the United States and the European Union, which along with the International Monetary Fund have urged Kiev to step up its fight against corruption.
Ukraine Honors Nationalist Whose Troops Butchered Jews
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, May 31, 2016
Amid a divisive debate in Ukraine on state honors for nationalists viewed as responsible for anti-Semitic pogroms, the country observed the first minute of silence in memory of Symon Petliura — a 1920s statesman blamed for the murder of 50,000 Jewish compatriots.
The minute was observed on May 25, the 90th anniversary of Petliura’s assassination in Paris. National television channels interrupted their programs and broadcast the image of a burning candle for 60 seconds, Ukraine’s Federal News Agency reported.
A French court acquitted Sholom Schwartzbard, a Russia-born Jew, of the murder even though he admitted to it after the court found that Petliura had been involved in or knew of pogroms by members of his militia fighting for Ukrainian independence from Russia in the years 1917-1921. Fifteen of Schwartzbard’s relatives perished in the pogroms.
Moscow chief rabbi: Ukraine, Russia Jews worry over Kiev honors for mass murderers of Jews
Read the full article here.
JTA, June 2, 2016
The chief rabbi of Moscow condemned the honoring in Ukraine of nationalists whose troops massacred Jews.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who is also the president of the European Conference of Rabbis, spoke of his “concern” over the trend in an interview Tuesday with JTA during a gathering of the standing committee of the Conference in Vienna.
Goldschmidt was referring to a minute of silence observed on May 25 in memory of Symon Petliura, a 1920s statesman whom a Russian Jew killed 90 years ago because the killer blamed Petliura for mass murders of Jews committed in the years 1917-1921 by militias under Petliura’s command.
A French court acquitted the killer in 1927 in what many interpreted as confirmation of Petliura’s culpability for pogroms that claimed the lives of 50,000 Jews. Earlier this week, a government official said Kiev would name streets after Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, Ukrainian nationalists who collaborated with Nazi Germany and whose troops also killed Jews.
As fighting surges again in Ukraine, an environmental disaster looms
By Jack Losh
Washington Post, June 2, 2016
Land mines and sniper fire, tank traps and unexploded shells have shut down Highway 20, the main artery into eastern Ukraine’s separatist stronghold of Donetsk. But despite the upheavals caused by two years of war, ordinary life along the route has struggled on.
As violence surges again, that could change.
One building near the desolate arc of tarmac is a water-filtration plant, staffed by 117 Ukrainian engineers and others. Hundreds of thousands of civilians on both sides of the front line depend on this crucial public utility, a symbol of resilience in an intractable conflict that has cost more than 9,000 lives.
Now, international cease-fire observers warn, renewed fighting between Ukraine’s army and Russian-backed separatists in the area threatens to destroy the plant, potentially triggering environmental havoc and a humanitarian emergency.
On Ukraine, the E.U. should not follow Russia’s script
Washington Post, May 27, 2016
European Union sanctions on Russia for the war it has waged in eastern Ukraine will be up for renewal in a few weeks, and some governments have been looking for a way to loosen them even though Russia has never observed the terms of a 15-month-old peace deal it signed. So it should not have been a surprise when Vladimir Putin’s government on Wednesday released the Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, a national hero Moscow had been holding as a de facto hostage, in exchange for two Russian military officers captured inside Ukraine last year. Mr. Putin not only got his soldiers back but also bought a chance that E.U. leaders will seize on his “concession” as a pretext to betray Ukraine.
For the moment, Ukrainians are rightly celebrating the return of Ms. Savchenko, a military pilot who was abducted from the front in eastern Ukraine while fighting with a volunteer battalion in 2014. After illegally transporting her to Russia, the Putin regime blamed her for the deaths of two journalists who were killed by mortar fire inside Ukraine. Though the evidence showed she had nothing to do with what was, in any case, a legitimate military attack, she was sentenced to 22 years in prison in March. Read the full article here.
The Unraveling Of Moscow's 'Novorossia' Dream
By Sergei Loiko
RFE/RL, June 1, 2016
The Kremlin’s project to create “Novorossia” in southern and eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea was conducted in secrecy and haste in the first months of 2014.
Details of how that project rose and ultimately fell have been hard to come by. But Aleksandr, a Moscow businessman who asked that his identity not be revealed, had a front-row seat as an insider in Crimea and agreed to tell RFE/RL what became of the dream he still cherishes, despite the disenchantment of his months in Crimea.
“Russia lost its chance to create any ‘Novorossia’ on July 17 , when the passenger airliner was shot down over territory held by the militants,” Aleksandr said during a recent interview in Moscow, in reference to the downing of Flight MH17 by a Russian-made, surface-to-air missile that killed 298 people and shocked the world. “After that, the idea of Novorossia was closed. So it was shut down and the war was soon frozen.”
Aleksandr traveled to the Crimean capital, Simferopol, in February 2014 to work for the Russian Unity party of Sergei Aksyonov, who went on to become Crimea's de facto governor following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region. After the annexation, Aleksandr worked within Aksyonov’s administration.
Effort to Expose Russia’s ‘Troll Army’ Draws Vicious Retaliation
By Andrew Higgins
New York Times, May 30, 2016
Seeking to shine some light into the dark world of Internet trolls, a journalist with Finland’s national broadcaster asked members of her audience to share their experience of encounters with Russia’s “troll army,” a raucous and often venomous force of online agitators.
The response was overwhelming, though not in the direction that the journalist, Jessikka Aro, had hoped.
As she expected, she received some feedback from people who had clashed with aggressively pro-Russian voices online. But she was taken aback, and shaken, by a vicious retaliatory campaign of harassment and insults against her and her work by those same pro-Russian voices.
“Everything in my life went to hell thanks to the trolls,” said Ms. Aro, a 35-year-old investigative reporter with the social media division of Finland’s state broadcaster, Yle Kioski.
Read the full article here.
Chechnya: Russia’s Islamic State?
By Yaroslav Trofimov
Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2016
When a female visitor tried to enter the Chechen Republic’s parliament on a recent day, a bearded trooper looked disapprovingly at her skirt, well below the knee, and then touched his jackboot with the walkie-talkie antenna.
“The skirt must be long like that,” he growled. “We have orders: You can’t come in dressed like this.”
In theory, Chechnya—though overwhelmingly Muslim—is an integral part of the secular Russian Federation, governed by the same laws as Moscow. In practice, however, this North Caucasus republic of 1.4 million people, ravaged by two wars of secession, lives under very different rules.
Under strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel who has become a fervent ally of President Vladimir Putin , Chechnya underwent a striking Islamization in recent years. Most women on the streets of Grozny, the capital, wear the Islamic hijab, a dress code until recently enforced by drive-by paintball shootings.
Is Europe Wobbling Over Sanctions on Russia?
By Judy Dempsey
Carnegie Europe, June 1, 2016
A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Elmar BrokChair of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs
Having good relations is in the interests of both the EU and Russia; this is crucial for securing peace and stability in Europe. It is clear, however, that good relations are possible only in compliance with international law, which is a principle for internal cooperation in Europe. Consequently, the full implementation of the Minsk agreements is indispensable. Only then can the EU lift the sanctions imposed in view of Russia’s actions to destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine. The restrictive measures in response to Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea, including the city of Sevastopol, will be suspended once the peninsula is returned to Ukraine.
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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.