Weekly News Update 
 
 
 
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. May 27, 2016
 

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

Dear Friend,
 
Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko was released by Russia in a prisoner swap this week, after being held in detention for over two years. Analysts have suggested that her release may alter the political landscape in Ukraine, if Savchenko decides to pursue a political career amid continued public dissatisfaction with the country’s current leadership. 
 
Violence in Eastern Ukraine has picked up in recent weeks, raising questions about the effectiveness of the Minsk ceasefire agreement. I want to highlight an op-ed by Steven Pifer who argues that despite continued violations of the agreement, the Ukrainian government should not abandon the Minsk peace process, to ensure that European sanctions against Russia are maintained.
 
Also this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that it is “too early” to discuss lifting economic sanctions on Russia, signaling that they will most likely be extended. However, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that reaching consensus on the issue by all EU members will be even harder than last year.
 
On Wednesday, Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis announced that next year Romania will organize an international summit on combating anti-Semitism and extremism. NCSEJ Deputy Director and Chair of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad Lesley Weiss attended the reception in Bucharest where President
Iohannis made the announcement.  During her visit to Romania, she also met with the country’s Jewish community leaders and attended the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) conference.
 
It’s not too late to rsvp your attendance for the NCSEJ Board of Governors meeting on Tuesday, June 7. The meeting will feature U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) as the keynote speaker. 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.


Sincerely,
 
 
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. May 27, 2016




Romania to organize an International summit in 2017 against anti-Semitism
Actmedia, May 26, 2016

Romania will organize at the beginning of 2017 an international summit dedicated to the joint action against the anti-Semitic and extremist manifestations, President Klaus Iohannis announced on Wednesday.
 
"We shall launch soon the initiative of organizing in Bucharest, at the beginning of 2017, an international summit dedicated to the joint action against the anti-Semitic manifestations, as well as against any form of extremist manifestations," said Iohannis at the ceremony of decoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Honorary Chairman Yehuda Bauer.
 
The head of state congratulated Bauer, who throughout his career proved to be an unmistakable landmark in the research of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and the movement of the Jewish resistance during the persecution.
 

Read the full article here.

Kremlin: Savchenko's Release Won't Help Warm EU-Russia Ties
RFE/RL, May 26, 2016
 
Russia says the release of Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko after nearly two years in captivity is unlikely to help improve Moscow's relations with the European Union.
 
Savchenko returned home on May 25 after being exchanged for two Russians held by Ukraine.
 
"The return of our guys to Moscow and the pardoning of Savchenko and her return to Kyiv can hardly be considered as something that is able to significantly change the current atmosphere, which of course we would like to see as more constructive," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on May 26.
 
Savchenko's handover, which had been demanded by the West, comes a few weeks before the EU decides whether to extend sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.
 
The EU sanctions, which were adopted in 2014 in response to Russia's occupation and illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and Moscow's military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, are due to expire at the end of July.



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.



Kremlin Says Russia 'In Favour' of Returning Donbass to Ukraine
Moscow Times, May 26, 2016
 
The Kremlin is ready to support the return of Ukraine’s troubled eastern regions to Kiev government control, according to President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Thursday.
 
In a move some have interpreted as an invitation to dialogue, and others as bluff, Peskov said on Thursday that Moscow fully supported Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s pledge to re-establish control over the war-torn regions. Such support was, however, conditional on changes being “dictated by humanitarian concerns.”
 
A day earlier, the head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko declared that the separatist statelet would only agree to Kiev control once “Ukraine becomes a state again.” For this to happen, “there would need to be change of government.”
 
The new government would also be required to condemn the “2014 putsch,” the separatist leader added, referring to the popular revolution that toppled former President Viktor Yanukovych.
 

Read the full article here.

Resistance to sanctions against Russia increased in E.U. – Steinmeier
Ukraine Today, May 26, 2016
 
European Union is going to have a hard time negotiating to prolong the sanctions against Russia. Some E.U. members are not satisfied with the economic restrictions imposed on Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine. And compared to the last year, this time it will be harder to reach a consensus.
 
This is according to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
 
"The resistance to the sanctions is growing in the E.U. Germany is doing all it can to ensure that Europe has a united front on this issue", Steinmeier said in an interview with the Baltic News Service (BNS).
 
Steinmeier also reminded, the sanctions were inextricably connected to the implementation of the Minsk agreements. While the Minister didn't point at any particular country, Italy and Hungary had been the most skeptical regarding the sanctions.


 Read the full article here.

Sweden, With Eye On Russia, Agrees To Give NATO Greater Access
RFE/RL, May 26, 2016

Sweden's parliament has voted 291 to 21 to give NATO more access to the neutral Nordic country for training exercises and in the event of a war.
 
Sweden is outside of NATO, but has moved closer to the alliance recently because of heightened tensions with Russia, cooperating with NATO states like Denmark, Norway, and Iceland and participating in operations in Afghanistan.
 
"This deal will not change our relationship with NATO nor our security policy. We will remain nonaligned," Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said. "There will be no NATO troops on Swedish soil without an invitation."
 
Sweden's closeness to NATO has already angered Moscow. In April, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the daily Dagens Nyheter that Russia would take unspecified action if Sweden joined NATO.


Read the full article here.

Savchenko's Return Heralds New Turmoil in Ukraine
By Vladimir Isachenkov
AP, May 26, 2016

After being freed from a Russian jail, Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko stands to emerge as a wild new force in Ukraine's already volatile politics.
 
Savchenko's adamant defiance of Russian authorities and the Russian justice system has made her a national icon, a widely revered symbol of courage and perseverance for a nation reeling from an economic meltdown and a devastating war in the east against Russian-back separatists. The 35-year-old's blunt candor and passionate ways pose a tough challenge to Ukraine's political clans, who have been locked in fierce power battles that go back decades.
 
The prospects of more political infighting raises new threats to the stability of Ukraine — and would be welcome news for the Kremlin, which is eager to see its neighbor plunge deeper into turmoil.
 
Savchenko's return home was a personal triumph for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who rallied international leaders to press Russia for her release. But even though he may have hoped her return boosts his sagging popularity, Savchenko's entry into politics is likely to challenge him greatly.



Ukraine’s Parliament Is Getting a Facelift, but Will It Make a Difference?
By Brian Mefford
Atlantic Council, May 23, 2016

The newly elected Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Andriy Parubiy, wasted no time in announcing a series of internal reforms for the Ukrainian parliament, which has long been the most hated institution of public life. In the latest International Republican Institute (IRI) poll, 88 percent of Ukrainians viewed the institution unfavorably. Contributing factors to this negative view include parliamentary immunity, parliamentarians’ habit of voting for other members, and an overall perception of massive graft and corruption.
 
In an effort to clean up the institution’s image, Parubiy announced three reforms. First, he advocated increasing the number of plenary meetings from two sessions to three sessions per month. Plenary sessions are the equivalent of voting meetings and typically occur on four consecutive days. With an average of just eight days per month usually allotted to plenaries, it is no wonder that little legislation—and even fewer reforms—get passed.
 
Parubiy also proposed the creation of a “council of committees,” which would be held following regular committee meetings. This council of committees would propose the agenda for the next plenary week of parliament—that is, what items will be voted on.
 

Read the full article here.

Minsk is not working, but Kiev should stay with it
By Steven Pifer
Kyiv Post, May 21, 2016
 
The Minsk arrangements that were supposed to resolve the conflict in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine have not been implemented. Ukrainians and others increasingly question whether it is time to abandon the Minsk process. The Ukrainian government, however, should not do so, as it would dangerously undermine Kyiv’s position.
 
Negotiators met twice in Minsk—in September 2014 and February 2015—to broker a settlement to the Russian-inspired separatist fighting in the Donbas. The second time, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande joined Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin to mediate.
 
Minsk is not working. The first three provisions of the Minsk II agreement called for an “immediate and full ceasefire” by midnight on February 15, 2015, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact within fourteen days of the February 11 conclusion of the Minsk II agreement, and free access for Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors to provide “effective monitoring and verification” of the ceasefire and heavy weapons withdrawal.


 
Read the full article here.

Mikheil Saakashvili: 'Ukraine's government has no vision for reform'
Guardian, May 25 2016
 
When Mikheil Saakashvili was appointed governor of the Ukrainian region of Odessa a year ago, the former Georgian president constantly mentioned Vladimir Putin. Reforms in post-revolution Ukraine, and attempts to reform Russophone Odessa, were all part of a grand plan to stick two fingers up to the Kremlin, and prove to both Ukrainians and Russians that post-Soviet life could be transformed to remove corrupt elites and promote democratic values.
 
A year later, and Saakashvili still talks about Putin, during a late-night interview at his residence on the outskirts of Odessa. But as well as the Russian president, the man who crushed his Georgian army during a brief 2008 war, Saakashvili also has increasingly tough words for the man who appointed him to his new role in Odessa: the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko.
 
For Saakashvili, the crunch time has now approached to determine whether Poroshenko is part of the problem, or part of the solution. Last month, he held a press conference in which he blasted the president for not fulfilling a single promise made since he took office after the 2014 revolution.



Are Lithuanian Jews’ descendants, Litvaks, asking too much — citizenship?
By Linas Jegelevicius
Baltic Times, May 19, 2016
 
Things could perhaps be straightened out with the snap of a finger if Litvaks, Jews of Lithuanian origin, complained to the Israeli government about the difficulties they bump into along the road to Lithuanian citizenship. But Faina Kukliansky, the chairperson of the Jewish (Litvak) Community of Lithuania, just won’t resort to it yet. “I won’t do it, as the problem we are dealing with is an issue of the state of Lithuania. Lithuania is in the shoes to resolve it itself,” she told The Baltic Times.
 
Justices follow 2013 Constitutional Court ruling
 
“The practice of courts adjudicating citizenship cases has notoriously become very against Jews,” Kukliansky, a lawyer by occupation, said before adding, “But the justices are just enacting the Lithuanian Constitutional Court’s tougher prerequisites for citizenship.” The ambiguous court practice has been formed following the ruling in a citizenship case by the Constitutional Court back in 2013.



A synagogue is born in a little Polish town, but no Jews are left
By Julie Masis
PRI, May 25, 2016
 
A small town in Poland is building a wooden synagogue — more than 70 years after the Nazis burned all the country's wooden Jewish temples to the ground.
 
Thing is, there aren’t any Jews left in the town of Bilgoraj. Even the retired businessman who came up with the idea, 62-year-old Tadeusz Kuźmiński, isn’t Jewish.
 
But he had a vision, and a dose of historical nostalgia.
 
“One day he woke up in the night and he got the idea of rebuilding a wooden town in Bilgoraj — with a synagogue in the center of the market,” said Kinga Staroniewska, the coordinator of the Bilgoraj XXI Foundation that’s carrying out the project. She spoke on behalf of Kuźmiński, head of the foundation, because he does not speak English.
 
A replica of a pre-World War II icon, the temple is the latest monument being erected in Poland at a time when it's witnessing a small Jewish revival.


Why an Orthodox Jew Is Fighting the Construction of a Holocaust Memorial in Ukraine
Haaretz, May 24, 2016
 
LVIV, Ukraine – Three construction workers, their faces covered in white dust from stonework, meticulously toil away on what later this year will become the first city-sponsored Jewish memorial in Ukraine’s history. On a worn plaque tucked away in a corner, a Star of David sits next to a text that identifies the ruins here as the remnants of the Golden Rose, Ukraine’s oldest synagogue. Between the fenced windows on the wall opposite the plaque, someone has hastily graffitied a black swastika.
 
Yet there is something more unsettling than the juxtaposition of a Jewish symbol and a Nazi emblem: The main opponent to the memorial project is Meylakh Sheykhet, a long-time fighter for the protection of Jewish sites in Lviv and western Ukraine.
 
As an Orthodox Jew, Sheykhet finds it offensive to do anything less than rebuild the Golden Rose, which the Nazis burnt to the ground, as a functioning place of worship. And he makes it known in theatrical ways.
 
“Get out of here, that isn’t yours!” he shouted to the open-mouthed construction crew on a recent visit to the site, kicking wooden boards and ripping up string lines. “You’re doing what the fascists and Soviets did!” 


Read the full article here.

Taking War Seriously: Russia-NATO Showdown No Longer Just Fiction
By James Sherr
Moscow Times, May 25, 2016
  
NATO’s former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, General Sir Richard Shirreff’s new book, “2017: War With Russia,” is a work of fiction. But its subject — a clash between NATO and Russia as early as next year — is not completely fanciful.
 
When Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014, it also attacked the Helsinki-based security order of Europe. In place of this system, President Vladimir Putin is calling for a revived Yalta system, based on spheres of influence and respect. He also has invoked the borders of historic Russia and proclaimed a right to “defend” Russian “compatriots” abroad.
 
And if treaties and agreements are not sacrosanct to the Kremlin, why should NATO borders be sacrosanct? It is only reasonable that NATO’s Baltic allies ask this question and that others, beginning with Turkey, do so as well.
 
Their concerns are heightened by military developments as significant as today’s political ones. Since the war with Georgia in 2008, Russia has made a steady, cumulative investment in the capacity to wage local and regional war throughout the interior and on the periphery of the former U.S.S.R. This means full-spectrum, non-linear war, from non-attributable attacks by “polite little men” to first use of nuclear weapons. It also means information war, from disinformation to cyber attacks, and a coordinated effort to mobilize the state.



Ekho Moskvy Chief Alleges Censorship In Cancellation Of Putin Critic's Show
RFE/RL, May 25, 2016
 
The editor in chief of Ekho Moskvy radio, one of Russia's most prominent independent-minded media outlets, says a popular talk show hosted by a searing Kremlin critic has been pulled off the air due to censorship by the station's management.
 
The comments by Aleksei Venediktov come amid mounting concerns that the authorities are stepping up efforts to curtail hard-hitting investigative reporting and dissenting voices anywhere in the Russian media.
 
He announced on May 25 that a politically themed talk show hosted by Yevgenia Albats, a prominent journalist who is also editor of a weekly magazine that has investigated President Vladimir Putin's friends and family, had been taken off the air.
 
"I can confirm that the Yevgenia Albats' program has not been on Ekho Moskvy since May 1 due to the absence of a contract between the host and the general director."
 

Read the full article here.

Why Russian Primaries are Little More Than a PR Stunt
Moscow Times, May 23, 2016
 
Merry-go-round voting is a specific Russian voting practice. It works like this: the voter goes to the voting booth with a ballot already marked in favor of a specific parliamentary candidate. At the booth he gets an empty ballot, puts the already-marked ballot into the ballot box and exits, giving his unused empty ballot to a supervisor. The supervisor marks it, gives to the next voter, and he goes for his turn to “vote.” And so on.
 
This trick has been used in Russia's parliamentary elections for years. On May 22, it was seen during the first national primaries held by the ruling United Russia party. The Kremlin adopted primaries a few years ago, but this was the first time that not only party members but anybody with the right to vote could take part.
 
The Russian parliamentary system is under the strict control of the Kremlin. The United Russia party is regarded as the Kremlin’s direct extension in the State Duma, providing President Vladimir Putin with a parliamentary majority.
 
In December 2011, massive vote rigging took place in Moscow and other cities which provided United Russia with a majority in the Duma despite a lackluster performance. This consequently led to Bolotnaya Ploshchad protests and popular unrest.



Azerbaijan's Other Political Prisoners
RFE/RL, May 25, 2016
 
The release of RFE/RL journalist Khadija Ismayilova from an Azerbaijani prison has drawn applause from Western officials and international rights groups. But it also highlighted the plight of numerous other activists and journalists widely considered political prisoners who remain behind bars in the oil-rich former Soviet republic.
 
"This is a positive signal that can be replicated in other cases," Giacomo Fassina, a spokesman for European Parliament President Martin Schulz, told RFE/RL following Ismayilova's release on May 25.
 
Dozens of journalists, opposition activists, and other critics of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev remain behind bars in cases they and their supporters call retribution for their political activities. The U.S.-based group Freedom House says there are still more than 80 political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
 
Their arrests and prosecutions have come amid a broad clampdown on dissent in Azerbaijan over the past three years that has been condemned by Western governments and prominent rights watchdog groups.


 Read the full article here.

Russian Monument To Stalin's Victims Highlights Fate Of Executioner
By Robert Coalson
RFE/RL, May 26, 2016
 
In the summer of 2004, a group of activists near the city of Saransk made a gruesome discovery: Some 500-700 corpses buried in shallow mass graves in a forest.
 
They were the bodies of victims of Josef Stalin's Great Terror in the 1930s. According to local historians, the victims were Orthodox priests, Muslim clerics, local teachers, collective farmers, and workers. Their names are unknown because the archives of the Soviet and Russian secret police remain closed.
 
"We brought our information about the grave to the government, to academic circles, and to civil society," activist Nikolai Kurchinkin told the Saransk edition of the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. "But there was only silence."
 
The activists hoped that the bodies would be exhumed and buried properly in the city cemetery. They hoped that a monument would be placed on the spot where the victims were dragged out into the forest and shot in the back of the head.
 


Russia: A Nation of Sore Losers
By Maxim Trudolyubov
New York Times, May 26, 2016
 
Everyone loves to win. But in Russia, obsessing about victories past or present, military or artistic, is a national pastime.
 
At least, that’s the impression you get if you listen to Russia’s politicians and its state-run news media. That Russia’s leadership in arts, sports and fighting terrorism is not sufficiently recognized by the rest of the world is a daily staple, a very public kind of acute status anxiety.
 
Celebrating triumphs is preferable, of course. Russians do not like losing. In fact, their leaders make a show of being very sore losers indeed.
 
Take the Eurovision song contest. Despite being extremely kitsch, the event is taken seriously in Central and Eastern Europe — for reasons that often have little to do with music.
 
In the finale of the most recent contest, a Ukrainian singer took first prize. The result, which was decided by televoting, seemed as politicized as the winning song: a tragic ballad about the fate of the Crimean Tatars deported under Stalin. Given Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea, it is not a stretch to assume that European audiences were sending Russia a message, rather than choosing a winner purely on artistic merit.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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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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