Weekly News Update 
 
 
 
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. August 12, 2016
 

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

This week, authorities in Kaunas, Lithuania denied that the Seventh Fort, where thousands of Jews were massacred during World War II, is used as a venue for weddings and other festive activities. Deputy Mayor Povilas Maciulis said that the Seventh Fort was not used for activities other than “exclusively educational and pertaining to the museum’s purpose.” Earlier this month, the JTA reported that the site was used for weddings, summer camps, barbeques and other festive events. NCSEJ has been in touch with the Jewish community of Lithuania, and has urged the Lithuanian government to treat this site and other massacre sites with dignity and respect.
 
Also this week, Russia accused Ukraine of intensifying the conflict in Crimea, blaming it for the death of two Russian service members in the peninsula. The Kremlin began naval exercises for its Black Sea fleet, which is based in Crimea. Ukraine refuted Russia’s accusations and called them a pretext for Russia to escalate hostilities. The update includes a number of stories that analyze Russia’s motives for escalating the conflict, which may include seeking better terms in the Minsk peace process, destabilizing Ukraine’s economy, and influencing next month’s parliamentary elections in Russia.
 
Today, President Vladimir Putin dismissed his chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, who has been a close ally for many years, and appointed Ivanov’s deputy Anton Vaino as his successor. Analysts are speculating that Ivanov was forced out in what appears to be the latest power struggle in the Kremlin.
 
On Tuesday, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in St. Petersburg and agreed to reset bilateral relations. The update includes several articles about the impact of Russia-Turkey rapprochement on the Middle East. One of the stories discusses the potential effect of the new Russia-Turkey energy agreement, to develop a natural gas pipeline, on Azerbaijan, a major gas exporter in the region.
 
The city administration of Kovel, in Western Ukraine, has permitted a traveling zoo to set up at the site of a local mass grave of thousands of Jews killed in the Holocaust. NCSEJ contacted leaders of the Kovel Jewish community, who confirmed that local authorities annually permit the zoo to stay at the site. They also reported that the site lacks a memorial to the victims, despite continuous requests made by the community. NCSEJ is looking into the issue and will keep you informed of new developments.
 
I want to recommend an interesting Foreign Policy article about Chief Rabbi Moshe Azman’s successful efforts to build “Anatevka,” the name of a new Jewish refugee community in Ukraine. Rabbi Azman hopes that the neo-shtetl will not only be home to Jewish refugees from the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, but become a prominent center of Jewish religion and culture.


 Sincerely,

 
 
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. August 12, 2016


Russia Allows Rare Protest Against New Antiterrorism Laws
By Lincoln Pigman
New York Times, August 9, 2016
 

In a mass public protest with a rare permit, hundreds of critics of the Russian government gathered in Moscow on Tuesday evening to demonstrate against a new set of so-called antiterrorism laws.
 
Signed into law by President Vladimir V. Putin in July, the legislation introduced what critics have called intrusive measures, including requirements to store all communications data for six months, and phone and texting records for one to three years.
 
Protesters decried the legislation as an assault on privacy and internet freedom. They gathered in a secluded section of Sokolniki Park, a location chosen by the city government after it rejected more central sites, including one near the Kremlin, proposed by the rally organizers.


 Read the full article here.

Putin encourages Iran to join Russia-led Eurasian alliance
Russia Today, August 5, 2016
 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised the successful cooperation between Moscow and Tehran, and has expressed hope that a free trade zone can soon be established between Iran and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.
 
“Iran is Russia’s longtime partner. We believe that bilateral relations will benefit from the reduction of tensions around Iran following the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program,” Putin said in a major interview with Azerbaijani state news agency Azertac released on Friday. He added that Iranian leaders shared his approach.
 
In some branches of the economy Russian-Iranian cooperation has already become strategic, Putin noted. This concerned first of all the nuclear energy sphere, with Russia completing and servicing the Bushehr power plant in Iran and reaching agreements on building eight more nuclear power units.



Crimean Tatar Activist Being Forced Into Psychiatric Clinic For Tests
RFE/RL, August 11, 2016
 

A court in Russia-annexed Crimea has ruled that a noted Crimean Tatar activist, Ilmi Umerov, must be placed in a psychiatric clinic for examination.
 
The Kyiv District Court in Simferopol on August 11 approved the motion by investigators. Umerov's lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, said that the court's ruling will be appealed.
 
Umerov, 59, former deputy chairman of Crimean Tatars' self-governing body -- the Mejlis -- was charged with separatism in May after he made public statements against the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea by Russia.
 
Umerov was allowed to stay home during investigations into his case.



Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Plan On Agenda Of Putin-Sarkisian Talks
RFE/RL, August 10, 2016
 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian are meeting on August 10 to discuss Armenia’s ongoing dispute over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
 
The Moscow meeting comes two days after Putin discussed an OSCE-sponsored peace plan in Baku with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Iranian President Hassan Rohani.
 
It also comes a day after Putin vowed closer relations with Ankara at talks in St. Petersburg with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ally of Azerbaijan.
 
Armenian-backed separatists seized the mainly Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.


Read the full article here.

Lithuanian city defends recreational events at former Nazi concentration camp
JTA, August 9, 2016
 

The city of Kaunas in Lithuania defended the operator of a former concentration camp where recreational events are held near the graves of thousands of Jews killed by Nazis and local collaborators.
 
Deputy Mayor Povilas Maciulis made his defense of the Seventh Fort this week following an article published last month by JTA about summer camps, barbecue parties, treasure hunts and camping activities there. In 2009 the city privatized the site, which is run by a nongovernmental organization, the Military Heritage Center, headed by 37-year-old amateur historian, Vladimir Orlov.
 
“Yes, there are activities carried out in the museum, however, they are exclusively educational and pertaining to the museum’s purpose,” Maciulis wrote in a statement that he sent to several people a few days after the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, asked the mayor to intervene to have festivities banned from the Seventh Fort – a former military complex that was turned into a camp in 1941.


Read the full article here.

Dispute Between Russia and Ukraine Over Crimea Accusations Escalates
By Laura Mills
Wall Street Journal, August 11, 2016


Ukraine’s president put his country’s forces on combat alert Thursday as Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed stepped-up security measures in the annexed territory of Crimea, escalating a crisis around the Black Sea peninsula.
 
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with his security advisers, ordering them to bring all units along the Crimean frontier and in eastern Ukraine to “increased combat-readiness,” according to an official statement. He also called on Ukraine’s foreign ministry to initiate talks with Mr. Putin.
 
Earlier in the day, Mr. Putin met with his security council and other top officials to discuss “antiterrorist security scenarios at the land border, sea, and in the airspace of Crimea,” according to a Kremlin news release.
 
The Russian Ministry of Defense said Russia’s Black Fleet would conduct training exercises in the eastern Mediterranean starting next week, including drills to test the fleet’s ability to deal with threats “of a terrorist nature.”


Read the full article here.

Will Putin escalate his war against Ukraine?
By Anders Aslund
Kyiv Post, August 11, 2016
 

Observers have greatly feared that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would start a small regional war this August. Russia has moved up its State Duma elections to Sept. 18. Although only Putin’s parties are allowed to win, he has a predilection for “small and victorious wars” to mobilize his people.
In 1999, the second war in Chechnya preceded his rise to president.
 
In August 2008, Russia attacked Georgia.
 
In February 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a move that was greatly popular in Russia.
Its war in Syria has been an unmitigated success.
 
For the last two years, Russia’s economy has been in recession, giving Putin all the more reason to mobilize his compatriots around a small war.


Read the full article here.

What's behind Russia's escalation of conflict with Ukraine?
By Timothy Ash
Kyiv Post, August 11, 2016
 

There has been a definite upsurge in violence in recent weeks in Donbas, with an increase in the daily casualty rate, and as reflected in the deaths of around 30 Ukrainian troops in the month of July – the largest monthly casualty toll since the latest cease-fire deal agreed last September.
 
That said, over the intervening period of the last year or so, more than 100 Ukrainian troops have still been killed in hostilities in the east, and at least this number of civilians and rebel combatants – close to 10,000 people have been killed in total since the conflict began in mid-2014.
 
The latest upsurge in violence has followed similar pattern of economic assets – railway/industrial infrastructure - being targeted in the east.


Read the full article here.

Western nations wary of 'reset' between Russia, Turkey
By Derek Stoffel
CBC News, August 10, 2016

 
There are plenty of people who welcome the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey: Russian tourists looking for an affordable vacation along Turkey's Mediterranean coast, executives with big Turkish energy companies, and Russian farmers who want a slice of Turkey's fruit and vegetable market.
 
Then there are those in Washington, Ottawa and European capitals who warily watched the handshakes yesterday between Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
 
The "reset" of relations between the two countries is a cause for concern for Western nations, as Turkey, a member of NATO, moves toward a closer alignment with Moscow.
 
"The axis of friendship between Moscow and Ankara will be restored," said President Erdogan on Tuesday at a joint news conference with his counterpart from Russia.



Turkey-Russia Rapprochement Spells Bad News for Azerbaijan
By Selina Williams
Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2016


Russia and Turkey signaled that they would resuscitate the development of a natural-gas pipeline between them, potentially undermining European efforts to reduce reliance on Russian energy with fuel piped in from Azerbaijan.
 
Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a meeting Tuesday in St. Petersburg, indicated the way was clear again for the pipeline known as TurkStream, which would bring gas from Siberia under the Black Sea. The project had been sidelined after Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in November, causing a diplomatic rupture.
 
When complete, the pipeline would have the capacity to pump more natural gas into Turkey than it could consume, making the country a potential hub for sending Russian gas into Europe.
 
That would be a blow for Azerbaijan. President Ilham Aliyev has said he wants to make his country a major gas exporter. The country needs to replace revenues from oil production, which is declining.



Another Trump adviser with deep ties to Russia
By Josh Rogin
Washington Post, August 10
 
This week Donald Trump released a new roster of economic advisers, including a businessman with extensive investments in Russia who tried to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow. It’s the latest in a long list of relationships that give Trump a financial stake in warm U.S.-Russian relations.
 
Businessman and investor Howard Lorber already donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory fund, has been named as one of Trump’s “best friends” and even appeared once on “The Apprentice.” He is also president and chief executive of the Vector Group, a holding company that has various business interests in Russia. In 1996, Lorber brought Trump to Moscow to look for opportunities for Trump to lend his famous name to development projects there.
 
“Howard has major investments in Russia,” Trump told Russian politician Alexander Ivanovich Lebed after his trip to Moscow with Lorber, according to a 1997 profile of Trump in the New Yorker. “See, they don’t know you,” Trump told Lorber. “With all that investment, they don’t know you. Trump they know.”



Armenians challenge age-old links to Russia
By Rayhan Demytrie
BBC News, August 10, 2016
  
Armenia has maintained a special relationship with Russia since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but a recent hostage siege revealed an undercurrent of anti-Russian feeling.
 
For two weeks last month gunmen held hostages at a police compound in the capital Yerevan.
 
Thousands of anti-government protesters rallied every night in support of the gunmen and many accused Russia of meddling in Armenia's affairs.
 
"Today all the processes in our country are governed from outside. I am speaking about Russia," said Tigran Khzmalyan, addressing a crowd on the steps of Yerevan's Opera House on 31 July.



Jews and Albanians, Then and Now
By Liam Hoare
eJewish Philanthropy, August 7, 2016
 
My journey through the Balkans last autumn came to an end in Tirana, the monumental capital of Albania that is not without its charms. Having delved into the Jewish responses to the refugee crisis and discrimination against the Roma population in Hungary, met energetic and remarkable educators and charity organizers in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and celebrated the four-hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Jewish community with a concert in Sarajevo, turning up in Tirana was a little deflating.
 
I had expected to find something of a Jewish community in Albania, yet came away with the conclusion that while there might still be Jews here – anywhere between 50 and 250, according to disputatious accounts – that is something altogether different to having Jewish life. While the remaining Jews are known to one another, engage in business and celebrate the holidays together, there is no Jewish school and cemetery. Perceptible Jewish life seems confined in the past in Albania, and outside efforts to help local Jews have done more harm than good – except, of course, for the organizations purported to be assisting them.


Read the full article here.

Fiddler on the Front Line
By Linda Kinstler             
Foreign Policy, August 10, 2016
 
When the rabbi of Chernobyl, Mordechai Twersky, felt he was dying in 1837, he set out on a long walk from Kiev. He made it about 30 kilometers to the west, where he came upon a rolling green field of wildflowers on the banks of the Irpin River, outside the village of Hnativka. It was there, he decided, that he would be laid to rest, having chosen the pastoral location, according to local lore, “because there is no house of idol worship, and the sound of impure bells won’t disturb my rest in the grave.” A Jewish cemetery for residents of the nearby Jewish villages, known as shtetls, soon sprang up around the cyan mausoleum built to mark his grave. Two decades later, in 1859, the Yiddish author Shalom Aleichem was born nearby, and the cluster of Jewish settlements became the inspiration for his stories about “Tevye the Milkman” — now more commonly known as the Fiddler on the Roof.
 
That time period was the tail end of what the historian Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern calls the “golden age of the shtetl,” in his 2014 book by that title — the last time a network of Jewish villages, and their distinctive Yiddish-speaking economic, religious, and cultural life, could truly be said to have prospered in Ukraine. The final decades of the 19th century ushered in a period of Russian national expansion that brought with it a series of pogroms and expulsions, and eventually the Jews of Hnativka and neighboring Boyarka — which some say appear in the Tevye stories as “Anatevka” and “Boiberik” — disappeared. Though Twersky’s mausoleum remains, the cemetery surrounding it has been demolished, its tombstones removed to build foundations for nearby homes.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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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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