Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. May 20, 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, President Obama nominated Geoffrey Pyatt, who has served as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine since 2013, to become the new Ambassador to Greece. The President also nominated career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch to be the new Ambassador to Ukraine. Amb. Yovanovitch’s past positions include Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.
On behalf of NCSEJ, I want to thank Ambassador Pyatt for his support and cooperation during his successful tenure as Ambassador. We look forward to welcoming Ms. Yovanovitch as the new Ambassador following her confirmation.
Thousands of Azov Battalion supporters gathered in front of Ukraine’s parliament today, protesting against holding elections in the separatist-controlled areas of Eastern Ukraine. The protesters said that the elections would legitimize Russia’s actions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Ukrainian government has agreed to hold elections as part of the Minsk ceasefire agreement with pro-Russian separatists.
Azerbaijan’s parliament has approved a measure that would grant amnesty to thousands of prisoners. While over 3,500 prisoners will be released, it is unclear whether political prisoners will be eligible for amnesty.
Also this week, the U.S., France, and Russia brought together the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Vienna to resume negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, after a dangerous flare-up of the violence in recent weeks.
EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini said this week that the EU is ready to extend sanctions against Russia beyond July. Nevertheless, the extension of sanctions would require unanimous support from all the member states, which reportedly remain divided on the issue.
The IMF signaled that it may unlock a new disbursement of its bailout money to Ukraine at the end of next month, contingent on Ukraine’s progress on fighting corruption and other reforms. The update includes remarks by Ambassador Pyatt that outline the much-needed reforms in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which would sanction countries with record of human rights abuses. The legislation is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in custody after allegedly being wrongfully imprisoned, mistreated, and tortured by the Russian authorities. The legislation will be sent to the House of Representatives for a full vote. The U.S. Senate passed its version of the bill in December.
NCSEJ will feature U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) as the keynote speaker at our Board of Governors meeting on Tuesday, June 7. We’ll also have a panel with Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State Bridget Brink and Kathleen Kavalec, a panel with Jewish community leaders from Georgia, Moldova, and Lithuania, and much more. Please click here to register.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. May 20, 2016

Sharp Drop in Emigration From France and Ukraine to Israel in First Months of 2016
By Judy Maltz
Haaretz, May 16, 2016

A significant downturn in immigration to Israel was registered in the first four months of the year, according to Jewish Agency figures obtained by Haaretz.
The drop was most pronounced in Ukraine and France, the two countries that have been the leading suppliers of immigrants to Israel in recent years. Sources in the Jewish Agency said they had no explanations for the sudden downturn.
The figures show that in January-April 2016, a total of 7,086 immigrants arrived in the country, down 16 percent from the same period in the previous year. The number of immigrants from Ukraine (which includes a rather insignificant number from Molodava as well) reached 1,778 during this period – a drop of one-third compared with the same period last year. (In April alone, 315 immigrants arrived in Israel from Ukraine, less than half the number that came in the same month last year.)

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts
White House Office of the Press Secretary, May 18, 2016

 WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key Administration posts:
    Ysaÿe M. Barnwell – Member, National Council on the Arts
    Daniel Becker – Member, Board of Directors of the State Justice Institute
    Rena Bitter – Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Department of State
    Anne S. Casper – Ambassador to the Republic of Burundi, Department of State
    Sung Y. Kim – Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines, Department of State‎
    Geoffrey R. Pyatt – Ambassador to Greece, Department of State
    Douglas Silliman – Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq, Department of State
    Marie L. Yovanovitch – Ambassador to Ukraine, Department of State

Russia proposes to U.S., coalition forces joint strikes in Syria from May 25
Reuters, May 20, 2016

Russia has proposed to the Unites States and the U.S.-led coalition that they begin on May 25 joint air strikes in Syria, targeting the Nusra Front and other rebels who are not observing the ceasefire, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.
Russia proposes that these strikes should also target convoys with weapons, including those crossing into Syria from Turkey. He said the proposal had been coordinated with Syria's government and discussed with U.S. military experts in Amman, Jordan.
Russia reserves the right to hit unilaterally those rebels in Syria who do not observe the ceasefire, state television showed Shoigu addressing a Defence Ministry meeting.

Azov protesters leave square in front of Ukrainian parliament
Interfax, May 20, 2016

Protesters from the Azov civil corpse are leaving the square in front of the Verkhovna Rada, where they voiced their demands to the authorities not to hold elections in the occupied areas of Donbas.
The rally participants are heading towards the Arsenal metro station and down to the European Square, an Interfax-Ukraine correspondent reported.
As reported, on Friday a march dubbed "Nation's Demands" organized by the Azov civil corpse ended in a rally near the parliament, where leader of the movement Andriy Biletsky voiced the protesters' demands. He said that the principal demand of Azov is not to hold the elections in the areas controlled by militants in Donbas. "Our main demand is not to hold the elections in Donbas. Because in this case we will lose Crimea completely, and Russia will disappear from all media as an aggressor country. And the West will have the grounds to lift all the sanctions from Russia," he said.

Read the full article here.

Russia’s foreign ministry holding consultations with Nuland
TASS, May 18, 2016

US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland has arrived in the Russian foreign ministry and the consultations are underway, a source in the Russian ministry said on Wednesday.
Nuland is expected to meet on Wednesday with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, earlier reports said.
The US embassy in Moscow said Nuland has already held consultations with Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov.
Nuland is planning to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine, further steps to implement the Minsk agreements and support the efforts of the "Normandy four" group and the Trilateral Contact Group at talks with high-ranking Russian officials, according to the US embassy. A wide range of bilateral and regional issues will also be part of agenda.

 Read the full article here.

Russian Constitutional Court Chief Likens Obama's Rhetoric To Hitler's
RFE/RL, May 20, 2016

The head of Russia's Constitutional Court likened U.S. President Barack Obama's public comments about American "exceptionalism" to Nazi propaganda, taking Russian verbal attacks on Obama and U.S. foreign policy to a new level.
The comments by Constitutional Court chief Valery Zorkin at a St. Petersburg legal forum come at a time when tension between Moscow and Washington is at a height unseen since the end of the Cold War.
Zorkin is no stranger to controversial public statements. In 2014, he published a long essay in the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta that defended the institution of serfdom, which Tsar Alexander II abolished in 1861.
In his remarks on May 19, Zorkin said that the concept of American "exceptionalism" has increasingly manifested itself in U.S. foreign policy in recent years, and called this a worrying trend.
"Any objective, educated person can see in Obama's statements an almost verbatim quoting of the leading politicians and propagandists of Germany's Third Reich, including Adolf Hitler," Zorkin was quoted by the state-run RIA Novosti news agency as saying.

Read the full article here.

New Arrests In Kazakhstan As Planned Protests Near
RFE/RL, May 20, 2016

Police in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, say numerous items that could be used as weapons or to start fires have been found in "hideouts" in the city center.
In an official statement on May 20, the Almaty city police department said five people had been detained after police found "several firearms, ammunition, four grenades, and 5 million tenges ($15,000) in cash" in two apartments.
It added that metals bars, dozens of gas canisters, and materials used to make Molotov cocktails were also found.
The announcement comes amid reports that two more activists were sent to jail for 15 days for "preparations for an unsanctioned public event."
That brings to at least 26 the number of activists jailed recently for 10 to 15 days on the same charges.

Thousands Of Azerbaijanis To Be Released In Amnesty
RFE/RL, May 20, 2016

The Azerbaijani parliament has approved a proposal to grant amnesty to thousands of prisoners.
The Act on Amnesty, passed on May 20, is devoted to the Day of the Republic, which is marked in Azerbaijan on May 28 every year.
The proposal was made by first lady and lawmaker Mehriban Aliyeva.
Some 10,000 convicts will be affected by the amnesty, of which some 3,500 are to be released, lawmakers said.
They added that most people convicted for crimes that do not pose a "major threat" to society, people younger than 18 years, parents of handicapped children, men and women over 60 years of age, as well as war veterans will either have their prison terms reduced or be released from custody.

Read the full article here.

U.S., Russia Push Armenia, Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh
By Matthew Lee
AP, May 16, 2016

The United States, Russia and France are pressing the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to begin immediate negotiations on a settlement to their dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh following last month's outbreak of violence, the worst in 26 years.
Senior U.S. officials say Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault planned to bring the two presidents together in Vienna on Monday to urge them to recommit to a 1994 cease-fire, take steps to build confidence and resume stalled peace talks that have dragged on for two decades without visible result.
Among the measures they will recommend are an increase in monitors along the cease-fire line and the possible placement of cameras there to observe and document violations, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly preview the Vienna meeting, which is being convened by the U.S., Russia and France, co-chairs of the so-called "Minsk Group." That group, operating under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, is seeking to mediate an end to the conflict.

Read the full article here.

U.S. House Backs Increase In Defense Spending For European Deployments
By Mike Eckel
RFE/RL, May 19, 2016

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a new $602 billion defense policy bill that backs increased spending for bolstered military deployments in Europe.
The bill, which was approved by a vote of 277-147 on May 18, also highlights persistent concerns about Russian surveillance flights over the United States.
The House bill still must be reconciled with a Senate version before going to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Much of the wrangling over the House version of the bill centered on Democratic lawmakers’ efforts to rein in the war powers that Obama has used to wage battle against militants from the so-called Islamic State, and efforts to close the U.S. military's detention center at Guantanamo, Cuba.

EU Ready to Extend Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine Crisis
By Laurence Norman
Wall Street  Journal, May 19, 2016

The European Union’s economic sanctions against Russia look set to be extended beyond July because of the continuing conflict in Ukraine, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said Thursday.
Federica Mogherini’s comments, in an interview with German newspaper Die Welt, come after European and U.S. diplomats said they were increasingly confident Western economic pressure on Russia over its intervention in Ukraine would continue.
The EU imposed economic sanctions on Russia in two tranches in the summer of 2014 in response to Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia has denied Western charges that it supplied and directed the rebels.

Ukraine Bailout Set to Be Unlocked in June
By Volodymyr Verbyany and Daryna Krasnolutska
Bloomberg, May 18, 2016

Ukraine’s stalled $17.5 billion bailout will probably be unlocked at the end of next month, though the national currency is unlikely to benefit as capital controls will also be relaxed, according to the deputy central bank governor in charge of foreign-exchange policy.
A third $1.7 billion disbursement, held up for eight months because of wrangling over the budget and political turmoil that ushered in a new prime minister, is possible days after approval from the International Monetary Fund, Oleg Churiy said in an interview. Ukraine hasn’t discussed combining the third and fourth payments of the rescue loan, he said.
“If all issues are resolved, the IMF board decision could come in late June,” Churiy said Monday in his office in Kiev. “The tranche could then arrive within a few days.”

Ukraine conflict: more cases of trafficking and torture than previously thought
DW, May 18, 2016

Human rights groups have received thousands of reports of ill treatment from both the pro-Russian and Ukrainian sides in the ongoing conflict. Representatives are due to meet in Minsk for the first time in weeks.
Ukraine army prisoners
German broadcaster "Deutschlandfunk" reported on Wednesday that more than 4,000 cases of ill treatment and trafficking have been documented by human rights organizations during the ongoing Ukrainian conflict. The figure is likely to be even higher, however, with civilians as well as members of military associations among the victims.
"We can show that 4,000 people have been held hostage last summer," said Oleksandra Matwitschuk of the Centre for Civil Liberty.
According to the report, the vast majority of disappearances and ill treatment took place at the hands of pro-Russian separatists. Russian citizens - 58 of whom were identified by name - were also arrested and suffered ill treatment, the Center said. Enforced disappearances and torture by the Ukrainian side were also reported, although there is no systematic recording process in place.

Read the full article here.

Geoffrey R. Pyatt: The whole system in Ukraine 'is in need of root and branch reform'
Kyiv Post, May 17, 2016

Editor's Note: The following are remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt at the New Ukraine Investment Conference on May 16 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kyiv.
AMBASSADOR PYATT:  Thank you.  If I speak from the chair, I think it'll give way to a more conversational discussion.  First of all, let me say thank you very much to Empire Capital for having me here today.  It's a special pleasure for me to be sitting where I am between two hugely talented friends and colleagues.  Dmytro Shymkiv has been one of the greatest champions of reform in the Ukrainian government since President Poroshenko's arrival in office.  And it is the presence, the continued presence and voice, of people like him in circles of decision making here that make me optimistic about Ukraine's long-term prospects.  And then Steve from Citibank has been a pillar of the American business community, but he has another claim to fame, which I will note this morning in particular, which is that it's Steve who gave me the opportunity first to meet Jamala.  And I know that for, especially, all my Ukrainian colleagues here today, anything that I say is irrelevant against the background of Jamala's terrific, inspiring victory in Stockholm on Saturday in the Eurovision competition.  So thanks, Steve, for that.

Russia neuters the media once again
Washington Post, May 19, 2016

While the space for independent journalism in Russia has narrowed dramatically in recent years, one organization seemed to buck the trend. It was called RBC and owned by the billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who had unsuccessfully run against President Vladimir Putin for the presidency in 2012. Mr. Prokhorov fared poorly in politics, winning only 8 percent of the vote, but RBC began to blossom in the past two years with something almost unheard of in today's Russia: penetrating investigative reports and an ever-larger audience. On May 13, the hatchet fell.
Three top editors resigned, including the editor in chief of the media group, Elizaveta Osetinskaya; editor of the RBC newspaper, Maxim Solyus; and editor of the RBC news agency, Roman Badanin. While the company praised the departing editors, other news reports said they were essentially forced out because of Kremlin displeasure with the organization's reports and its growing popularity.

Vladimir Putin's Dangerous Obsession
New York Times, May 19, 2016

The United States and Russia are now proposing to drop food and other emergency aid from the air if President Bashar al-Assad of Syria does not allow trucks to deliver supplies to his besieged cities. Airdrops are a risky and desperate move - costly, hard to deliver accurately and, if poorly targeted, a threat to kill or injure the people they are supposed to help.
On the surface the move seems a humanitarian gesture from two nations that are supposedly partners in ending Syria's bloody civil war. What it really does is highlight, once again, the duplicity of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, in Syria and elsewhere. Mr. Assad remains in power largely because of Russian military assistance. It is hard to believe that Mr. Putin, who fancies himself a man who can get what he wants, could not persuade Mr. Assad to let aid get through to the cities if he chose to try.

Russian Lawmakers Back Putin's Move To Create National Guard
RFE/RL, May 19, 2016

Russian lawmakers gave tentative approval to forming a National Guard, with some saying the Kremlin needs the new force as a tool against possible unrest.
Members of the lower house, the State Duma, on May 18 overwhelmingly endorsed the bill in the first of three required readings, with only the Communist Party speaking out against it.
President Vladimir Putin announced plans to form a Russian National Guard (Rosgard) last month, saying he would put his former chief bodyguard, Viktor Zolotov, in charge of it.
Putin said the force would focus on the fight against extremism and organized crime, but some observers saw its creation as a reflection of Kremlin fears of possible antigovernment protests amid an economic downturn.
Communist Vyacheslav Tetekin said during debate on the measure that his party sees a link between the move and the long-running economic recession.

Read the full article here.

NATO Chief: 'Broad Agreement' to Seek Meeting With Russia
AP, May 20, 2016

NATO has reached "broad agreement" to seek another meeting with Russia before NATO leaders meet in Warsaw this July, the alliance's chief said Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman swiftly welcomed the announcement, but said all dialogue must include respect for Russia's interests.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said alliance foreign ministers agreed at a dinner Thursday on a "dual track approach" toward Moscow: to keep reinforcing NATO defenses against what they see as a mounting Russian threat, but also to maintain channels of communication open to the Kremlin.
Stoltenberg said the ministers "all agreed in the current situation that we need a platform (like) the NATO-Russia Council to pursue transparency, predictability and to work for enhancing mechanisms for risk reduction to avoid dangerous situations, situations which can spiral out of control."

NATO may rely on five battalions to deter Russia, Britain says
By Robin Emmott
Reuters, May 20, 2016

NATO's build-up in eastern Europe could include up to 3,500 troops, Britain said on Friday, stressing that the planned deployments would not be aggressive toward Russia.
Russia's seizure of Crimea in 2014 has prompted the Western military alliance to consider deterrent forces in the Baltics and Poland which British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said would be a "trip wire" to alert NATO of any potential threat.
NATO defense ministers are expected to decide on the troop levels next month, while making clear no large forces will be stationed permanently, to avoid provoking the Kremlin.
"It looks like there could be four, maybe five battalions ... the point of these formations is to act as a trip wire," Hammond told reporters.

U.S. Lawmakers Approve Global Magnitsky Act Targeting Rights Abusers
By Carl Schreck
RFE/RL, May 18, 2016

A U.S. congressional committee has approved legislation targeting human rights abusers worldwide with sanctions modeled after the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law punishing Russians deemed by Washington to be rights violators with visa bans and asset freezes.
The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act at a May 18 hearing that included fireworks over whether to name the bill after a whistle-blowing accountant who accused Russian officials of a massive tax fraud before his death in a Moscow jail.
The legislation is named after Sergei Magnitsky, who died in November 2009 while in custody after alleged beatings, torture, and medical negligence that supporters claim were retribution for implicating tax and law enforcement officials in a $230 million tax scam.
It echoes the Magnitsky Act, which U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law in 2012 and which has infuriated Russia. Moscow says the law constitutes interference in its sovereignty and has enacted its own sanctions against U.S. officials in response.

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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.