Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. January 15, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,

On Monday, January 18th Martin Luther King Day will be observed across the country. Dr. King was a strong supporter of Soviet Jewry and their right to leave the USSR. Included in this week’s update is a speech given by Dr. King, on December 11, 1966, to the American Conference on Soviet Jewry (predecessor of NCSEJ), in Atlanta, Georgia. Please take a moment to read his stirring words.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. January 15, 2021

Russia plans withdrawal from Open Skies treaty allowing surveillance flights after U.S. pullout

Isabelle Khurshudyan
The Washington Post | January 15, 2021

MOSCOW — Russia is preparing to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, the international pact allowing observation flights over military facilities, in response to the U.S. pullout in November, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said Friday.

Russia’s looming exit presents another pressing arms-control challenge for the incoming Biden administration, which already has the soon-to-expire New START nuclear treaty to address with Russia.

Russia’s official exit from the treaty won’t be for six months, leaving room for possible negotiations with envoys for President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he supports the treaty.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the U.S. withdrawal from the nearly 20-year-old Open Skies Treaty “significantly upended the balance of interests of signatory states.” President Trump said in May that the United States was exiting the treaty because Russia had been violating it, something Moscow denied.

Read the full article here.

Refuseniks of the past teach us to hold onto hope, persevere - opinio

Charles Savenor

The Jerusalem Post | January, 9 2021

Looking over my shoulder on a crowded Moscow street in 1987, I was certain we were being watched. Back then, the KGB tracked every visitor to the USSR.
Just over 30 years ago, Jews were essentially prisoners in the Soviet Union. In a society that suppressed Judaism, wishing to live Jewishly, study Hebrew, and even remember the Holocaust signified acts of dissident defiance with grave consequences.

Yearning to emigrate from the Soviet Union, however, was tantamount to social suicide. Historian Sir Martin Gilbert explains in The Jews of Hope, “To express a desire to leave meant risk being fired from your job, ostracized from society, facing problems in school.” In 1986, only 1,000 Jews were allowed to emigrate, leaving behind tens of thousands of “refuseniks” whose applications had been denied and lives upended.

“Almost everyone is aware that a visit to Russia has little to do with creature comforts,” plainly asserts Fodor’s Soviet Union 1987. “The reason for going is, pure and simple, curiosity.” In what became the closing chapter of the Cold War, another motive compelled people to trek to the USSR, namely supporting Soviet Jewry in their quest for freedom.

In Living Color: Georgia Before The Soviets Arrived
Amos Chapple
Radio Free Europe | January 15, 2021

The people and spectacular cityscapes of tsarist Georgia captured in vivid color by a world famous photographer

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.

European court agrees to hear Ukrainian case on rights violations in Crime
Reuters | January 14, 2021

KYIV/MOSCOW (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will hear part of a case brought by Ukraine alleging Russian human rights violations in the Crimea peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014, the court said on Thursday.

Abuses alleged by Ukraine including enforced disappearances, unlawful detention and suppression of non-Russian media had been deemed admissible and would be followed by a judgment at a later date, an ECHR statement said.

The court said there was not enough evidence for Ukrainian allegations of a pattern of killings and shootings and detentions of foreign journalists or the alleged confiscation of Ukrainian soldiers’ property.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in the Donbass conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed 14,000 people since 2014.

Leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan hold first post-war meeting
Joshua Kucera  

Eurasia.org | January 11, 2021

The leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia have met in Moscow in their first summit since last year’s war in the Caucasus, and agreed to create new, joint transportation infrastructure.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and the three men met for about four hours. Following the talks they made a joint press appearance and released a four-point agreement to create a list of projects to begin working jointly on “unblocking” the region’s borders.

What specific projects might be under consideration were not yet clear. The November 10 ceasefire agreement that ended the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, signed under Russian brokerage, stipulated that a new corridor would be opened through southern Armenia to connect Azerbaijan’s mainland with its exclave of Nakhchivan. Ahead of the meeting, Pashinyan’s spokesperson Mane Gevorgyan said that other projects were under discussion as well, including those aimed at letting Armenia transit through Nakhchivan to Iran and to use the existing railroad through Nakhchivan that, in Soviet times, used to connect Yerevan with southern Armenia.

Under the tripartite agreement signed January 11, the three countries will form a working group led by the deputy prime ministers of each country, and expert groups under that. They will be working on a quick schedule: the working group will meet by January 30 and within a month after that the expert groups will come up with a list of projects. By March 1, they will present the projects to the three countries’ leaderships for approval.

“I’m sure that the implementation of agreement will benefit both the Armenian and Azerbaijani people, the region as a whole, and Russia,” Putin said following the signing of the statement.

How Proponents and Opponents of Political Change See Russia’s Future
Andrei Kolesnikov, Alexei Levinson, Denis Volkov 

Carnegie Moscow Center | January 14, 2021

The Kremlin has consistently failed to define its vision of Russia’s future. As a new year dawns, the only thing about the country’s domestic political order that is clear is that President Vladimir Putin has secured the option to stay in power until 2036. While Putin may see keeping himself in power as the best guarantee of political stability, that reality is hardly a substitute for the specific socioeconomic goals that he has laid out at various points during his tenure.

But what about the Russian public? How do ordinary people with different political views see their country’s future? Do they think Russia can return to strong economic growth amid the reality of state-sponsored capitalism and watered-down authoritarianism that dominate life during Putin’s third decade in power?

In search of answers to these questions, we convened six focus groups in August 2020 in Moscow and Yaroslavl, a city of about 600,000 people located roughly 160 miles northeast of Moscow. In each city, we recruited three broad groups of individuals: regime loyalists, traditionalists, and liberals.

Read the full article here.

‘We need to be closer to Russia’ Lukashenko on his friendship with Putin, Western sanctions, and the Belarusian opposition
Meduza | January 11, 2021

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka) has but one friend in the world and, in his own words, that person is Vladimir Putin. Or so he told host Nailya Asker-Zade in a lengthy interview for her program on the state-owned Russian television channel Rossiya-1. Rather than your typical sit-down interview, Asker-Zade’s hour-long segment on Lukashenko included a ride in his Mercedes, a tour of his residence, a trip to a hockey rink, and dinner with the Belarusian president and his youngest son. Here’s what Lukashenko had to say.

Read the full article here.

Smaller Protests Persist, but Life Goes on in the Republic of Belarus
Grigory Ioffe

The Jamestown Foundation | January 13, 2021

What will happen in Belarus, and when? Any attempt at addressing this question would need to invoke such variables as the level of unity of Belarusian society, actions of the political regime, the health of the Belarusian economy, the role of Moscow, and the relative commitment of the West. Perhaps it is symptomatic that an extensive January 8 interview with Belarusian analyst Artyom Shraibman touched upon all those variables except the last one (Meduza, January 8, 2021).
Indeed, the West’s policy toward Belarus is an awkward issue to discuss, especially for a Western-friendly analyst. In 2011, following the crackdown on the post-election protest rally in Minsk (December 19, 2010), the European Union imposed sanctions on 243 regime associates and 29 firms.

But despite the much larger scale of the authorities’ repressions against protesters today compared to 10 years ago, only 84 persons and 7 firms are presently subjected to EU sanctions (SNPlus, December 22, 2020). This, however, is not to criticize the weakness of the current measures. After all, the 2011 sanctions were not spectacularly effective either. Rather, a lack of strategic thinking comes into view.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Speech On Soviet Jewry
Read the original text of King’s December 1966 address to the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry

Some years ago, John Donne wrote in graphic terms, “No man is an island entire of himself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.  If a part be washed away by sea, Europe is less, as well as is the promontory world, as well as is the manner of thy friends of thine own self world.  Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.  Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls.  It tolls for thee.

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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.