Weekly News Update 
 
 
 
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. June 17, 2016
 

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
 
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
 
Dear Friend,
 

Vice President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that the United States will give Ukraine an additional $220 million in aid this year to support reforms in the energy sector, the judiciary, and for Ukraine’s decentralization efforts. The update includes a White House fact sheet that details U.S. assistance to Ukraine since 2014.
 
This Tuesday, Azerbaijani Ambassador Elin Suleymanov and I briefed Congressional staff, discussing Azerbaijan’s Jewish community, and the country’s strong ties with the United States and Israel. Ambassador Suleymanov underscored the unique level of religious tolerance in Azerbaijan, which is a predominantly Muslim country, but has a vibrant and well-integrated Jewish community and maintains a strong friendship with Israel.
 
The U.S. Senate again backed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which sanctions countries with record of human rights abuses. The legislation is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in custody after he was allegedly wrongfully imprisoned, mistreated, and tortured by the Russian authorities. Last month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved its version of the legislation.
 
In a disturbing development in Uman, a brawl took place between Jewish pilgrims, local residents, and the police. The incident was reportedly triggered by two Israeli pilgrims who attacked a local resident. Thousands of Jewish pilgrims come to Uman annually to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
 
I want to highlight a Moscow Times article on the upcoming State Duma elections in Russia. The article analyzes some of the potential strategies the Kremlin may utilize to bolster support for pro-government candidates.
 
I also recommend a story from The National Interest on increased emigration from Russia. Crackdowns on political freedoms, and the economic crisis are contributing to the continued exodus from the country of young, liberal, highly-educated and skilled Russians.

 
Sincerely,
 
 
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
 
 
 
 
 
Ambassador Elin Suleymanov and NCSEJ Vice-Chairman&CEO Mark Levin briefing Congressional staff
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. June 17, 2016


U.S. to give Ukraine $220 million in new aid: White House
Reuters, June 15, 2015
 
The United States will give Ukraine $220 million in new assistance this year, the White House said on Wednesday.
 
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman of the new aid in a phone call on Wednesday in which Biden expressed strong support for Groysman's reform efforts and commended him for steps his Cabinet has already taken in its first two months in office.
 

Read the full article here.

Global Magnitsky Legislation Clears Another Hurdle In U.S. Senate
By Mike Eckel
RFE/RL, June 14, 2016

The U.S. Senate has again backed new legislation that broadens executive authority to sanction human rights abusers worldwide, a measure building on an earlier law that has infuriated the Kremlin.
 
The measure that passed on June 14 came as part of a larger bill that sets guidance for U.S. defense priorities for the coming year.
 
Among the scores of amendments attached to the National Defense Authorization Act was one authored by Senator Ben Cardin (Democrat-Maryland) that would target human rights abusers worldwide with sanctions.
 
The bill is modeled after the Magnitsky Act, a law passed by Congress in 2012 that punishes Russians deemed by Washington to be rights violators with visa bans and asset freezes.



Polish adman creates buzz with his pro-Jewish graffiti
JTA, June 15, 2016

Anti-Semitic graffiti is so common in Poland that it hardly makes the news, except maybe when it’s on Holocaust sites or Jewish cemeteries.

But huge philo-Semitic slogans painted in the national colors and confessing a sense of loss over the destruction of Polish Jewry in the Holocaust are somewhat more remarkable. Which is why Polish media is abuzz this week with reports about a graffito reading “I miss you, Jew” that an artist painted on a main street in Lodz.


Rafał Betlejewski, who is not Jewish, coordinated with local Jews and others before painting the attention-grabbing inscription on June 11 on Piotrkowska Street, a main artery. The graffito was part of a series he began in 2005. The founder of an advertising firm, Betlejewski, 48, has painted or helped paint the message dozens of times at sites with a special place in the history of Polish Jewry.



Kremlin: Azerbaijani, Armenian Leaders To Meet In St. Petersburg This Month
RFE/RL, June 14, 2016
 
Russia says President Vladimir Putin is due to host talks in St. Petersburg on June 20 between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia about the conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
 
Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov said on June 14 that by organizing the meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, Russia was "continuing its mission as a mediator" in the conflict.
 
Sarkisian and Aliyev last met in Vienna in May, after a truce in early April halted four days of fierce fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia-backed separatists and Azerbaijan's military.
 
Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh for years.
 

Read the full article here.

Kerry Tells Russia U.S. Patience On Syria Running Out
RFE/RL, June 15, 2016
 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime to respect a shaky cease-fire, warning that Washington's patience is running out.
 
"Russia needs to understand that our patience is not infinite, in fact it is very limited with whether or not Assad is going to be held accountable," Kerry said on June 15 after a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Oslo, Norway.
 
"We also are prepared to hold accountable members of the opposition" who have been involved in continuing violence, Kerry said.
 
Kerry insisted there was a need for a "genuine cessation of hostilities" in Syria to allow humanitarian aid deliveries and pave the way for transition talks


 Read the full article here.

NATO Chief Says Four Battalions Going To Baltics, Poland
RFE/RL, June 13, 2016
 
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military alliance will agree this week to send four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states to boost their defense and show that NATO is "ready to defend any ally."
 
Stoltenberg said on June 13 the new plans are due to be formally approved at a NATO defense ministers' meeting that begins in Brussels on June 14.
 
"NATO has taken robust action to protect our nations and to contribute to stability in our neighborhood," Stoltenberg said. "But the challenges we face are enduring, so we need to be prepared for the long haul."
 
Stoltenberg said the battalions will be deployed on a rotational basis rather than being based permanently in countries.
 

Read the full article here.

Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine trigger brawl by shooting local with BB gun
JTA, June 16, 2016
 
Ukrainian police detained two Israelis who triggered a brawl in Uman by shooting a local man in the face with a BB gun.
 
The man was hit in the nose and lightly wounded by the plastic bullet Saturday night. There were no serious injuries.
 
“The visitors were drunk and they thought it was a good idea to shoot from the window of their hotel room with a BB gun at passers-by,” Uman Jewish leader Shimon Buskila told JTA on Wednesday.
 
Dozens of angry locals began to crowd outside the hotel, drawing police as well as journalists and activists affiliated with the far-right Svoboda party, which has a history of inveighing against Jews in the city.
 
Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims visit the central Ukrainian city annually from Israel, the United States and Europe. They congregate there year-round and especially on Rosh Hashanah, because it is the final resting place of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, an 18th-century luminary who called on his followers to be with him on the Jewish new year.
 

Read the full article here.

Russia and Ukraine free prisoners in latest swap
DW, June 14, 2016
 
Two Ukrainians jailed in Russia have been released and sent home, in a prisoner swap between the two countries. Two alleged pro-Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine were reported to have gone in the opposite direction.
 
The swap involved two people who Ukraine claims are political prisoners, as well as two pro-Russian fighters who were allegedly promoting the pro-Moscow cause in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
 
Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to grant pardons to Yuriy Soloshenko and Gennady Afanasyev was not explained by the Kremlin.
 
However, Moscow said separately that two Ukrainian reporters - Yelena Glishchinskaya and Vitaly Didenko - who were accused of spreading pro-Russian propaganda in Ukraine, had also been released.
 

Read the full article here.

Former U.S. Ambassadors Spar Over Russia, NATO, Ukraine
By Mike Eckel
RFE/RL, June 15, 2016
 
Two former U.S. ambassadors to Russia clashed over past and future assessments of relations between Washington and Moscow and which country bears the greater responsibility for deepening bilateral tensions.
 
Michael McFaul and Jack Matlock delivered their remarks at a June 14 hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where sharpened rhetoric from committee leaders reflected mounting antipathy toward the Russian government among many U.S. officials.
 
Both McFaul, who served as the U.S. envoy in Moscow from 2012-14, and Matlock, who served from 1987-91, seemed to agree that internal Russian politics were driving much of the Kremlin’s foreign policy in recent years.
 
“This is all about domestic politics in Russia, and in Ukraine, and very little to do with American foreign policy, either strong or weak,” McFaul testified.


 
Read the full article here.

Ukraine’s Broken Road to Europe
By Dan Peleschuk
Foreign Policy, June 16, 2016
 
If you want to get an idea of the state of governance in today’s Ukraine, all you need to do is take a drive. You might start with the notorious M15 highway, which winds its way from the city of Odessa on the country’s southern coast to the Romanian border 180 miles to the west — all the way to the doorstep of the European Union. In theory, it’s a part of an important trade route that links Ukraine’s largest seaport to Europe and Turkey. In reality, it’s something of a national embarrassment.
 
The highway was built by the Soviet government around the middle of the last century, but precious little has been done since then in the way of upkeep. The asphalt is pitted with potholes ranging in size from baseballs to kiddie pools, and the roadside doubles as a graveyard for blown tires and broken hubcaps.
 
In places the road is so badly damaged that drivers prefer to use makeshift dirt paths that have sprung up parallel to it. At least there they can maintain a steady, if not exactly expedient, 25 miles per hour.
 


FACT SHEET: U.S. Assistance to Ukraine since February 2014
The White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 16, 2016
 
During his meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, Vice President Joe Biden announced today in Washington that, pending Congressional notification, the White House plans to commit $220 million in new assistance to Ukraine this year in support of economic, political, and energy reforms.  This assistance package will continue our support for Ukraine’s efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law, reinforce the foundations for sustainable economic growth, and respond to humanitarian needs. The new assistance will also support other key areas of Prime Minister Groysman’s ambitious reform agenda, including:
 
Accelerating customs reform, including by providing legal, regulatory, infrastructure, and e-customs support; creating a new customs monitoring center; and assisting in implementing reforms of the recruitment, selection, vetting, training, and equipping of new customs officers, based on the successful patrol police model.


U.S. Official Confident EU Will Continue To Back Russia Sanctions
By Tony Wesolowsky
RFE/RL, June 16, 2016
 
The U.S. State Department's chief sanctions-policy coordinator is confident the European Union will maintain its travel and economic restrictions against Russia until Moscow fulfills the terms of a peace agreement to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
 
Speaking to RFE/RL in the Czech capital after a weeklong tour of four Central European states to shore up support for the sanctions regime, Daniel Fried on June 16 called costs to the West of sanctions "the price" of combating "Russian aggression."
 
The United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea in March 2014 and it backing of armed separatism in eastern Ukraine, leaving President Vladimir Putin internationally isolated.



Kremlin Propaganda In Czech Republic Plays Long Game To Sow Distrust In EU
By Tony Wesolowsky
RFE/RL, June 16, 2016
 
Sowing distrust and disbelief in Europe and its institutions is the main aim of Russian propaganda in the Czech Republic, according to a new study.
 
And unlike the attention-grabbing tactics used during the Soviet era, according to research conducted by two academics at Masaryk University in the eastern Czech city of Brno, Moscow is playing a sophisticated long game in the Central European country.
 
"When you mention propaganda, most people imagine posters, drawings, and videos aimed at eliciting some kind of emotion and altering views," explains Milos Gregor, one of the study's authors. "It turns out those kinds of manipulative techniques are rarely used. The techniques are much more sophisticated and subtler, employed over time to change views and opinions."
 
The approach is also not isolated to the Czech Republic. Brussels is so concerned with Kremlin efforts to mold minds across the EU that it set up its first operation to counter Russian propaganda in March 2015. EU leaders, especially in the Baltic states, have been alarmed at how Moscow has used its media to gain support for its views and policies.


Read the full article here.

United Russia: Same Game, New Tactics
By Ola Cichowlas
Moscow Times, June 16, 2016

By June 19, President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign a decree that will officially kick-start the campaign season. Within a few days, all the parties taking part in the election will host conventions and declare their list of candidates.
 
These State Duma elections will be the first time Russians take part in a nationwide vote since the Kremlin annexed Crimea in March 2014. The last time Russia held a parliamentary election, in 2011, Moscow erupted with the biggest demonstrations in its post-Soviet history. With the country facing a bitter economic crisis, the Kremlin is determined to avoid anything close to such a scenario this autumn.
 
For ruling party United Russia and its curators, this requires a change in tactics.
 
Russia's recession seems to be taking its toll on United Russia. A poll conducted in May by Moscow-based pollster Levada Center found their approval ratings fell from 42 percent to 35 percent on the eve of their campaign launch. This is partly due to the waning of the "Crimean effect," the euphoria that stemmed from Russia taking the peninsula from Ukraine. "There is nothing to replace it with," says Alexander Kynev, a professor of political studies at Moscow's Higher School of Economics.



Gazprom warns of steep gas transit cuts via Ukraine after 2020
By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Denis Pinchuk
Reuters, June 16, 2016
 

Russian gas transit to Europe via Ukraine will fall steeply after 2020 once state gas giant Gazprom has built a new pipeline under the Baltic Sea, Gazprom head Alexei Miller said on Thursday.
 
Ukraine has been the main transit route for Russian gas to central and Western Europe since Soviet times, delivering more than 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) or over a quarter of the continent's needs during peak years.
 
Pricing disputes with Ukraine have prompted Gazprom to build new lines including via Belarus and under the Baltic Sea to Germany, reducing transit via Ukraine to 50-70 bcm a year in recent years.
 
Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine have sent relations between Moscow and Kiev to an all-time low. Russia has cut gas supplies to Ukraine and threatened to reduce transit by rerouting gas.
 

Read the full article here.

Russian Fan Violence Puts Spotlight On Ultranationalist Supporters Chief
By Tom Balmforth
RFE/RL, June 14, 2016

When French police stopped a bus carrying Russian soccer fans to Lille for Russia's next Euro 2016 match, Russian Supporters Union chief Aleksandr Shprygin thrust himself into the spotlight. Live-tweeting from the scene, he cast fellow fans on the union bus as innocent victims of ham-fisted police work.
 
After a standoff around the halted bus -- with Shprygin complaining that its passengers were denied water and toilet trips -- French officials said they had placed dozens of them in custody over suspected involvement in violence last week in Marseilles, where Russian fans were involved in clashes on the street and charged England fans inside a stadium after a 1-1 draw.
 
Shprygin said 29 supporters were being deported from France, while UEFA fined the Russian soccer federation 150,000 euros ($168,000) and warned that further misconduct by Russian supporters inside a stadium would result in the national team being disqualified from the June 10-July 10 tournament -- a major embarrassment, with Russia preparing to host the 2018 World Cup.
 

Read the full article here.

Russia Is Losing Its Best and Brightest
By Judy Twigg
National Interest, June 13, 2016
 
Oil and natural gas prices are low. Western sanctions over Crimea continue to bite. Declining revenues have led the Russian government to demand another double-digit cut in state investment programs and administrative costs, with social spending likely also to take a hit. What Russia needs most is smart, technologically driven investment to shed its dependence on commodity exports and focus on diversified sources of growth. What it’s getting instead are regret-laced waves goodbye from many of its top thinkers and creators. Those most likely to propel the country forward are instead charting their paths elsewhere.
 
Russian government statistics show a sharp upturn in emigration over the last four years. Almost 123,000 officially departed in 2012, rising to 186,000 in 2013, and accelerating to almost 309,000 in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea and even more in 2015. These statistics probably underestimate actual flows, however, as many people no longer notify the government that they’re leaving. During previous emigration waves, permanent exit involved annulment of residence registration and surrender of Russian documents. Now, it is much more common to remain connected to Russia through business and/or apartment ownership, or by working for a Russian company through the internet, while obtaining long-stay visas and effectively moving abroad.


Read the full article here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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About NCSEJ
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.
 
 
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