Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. April 20, 2016

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

Dear Friend,

Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin discussed closer coordination in Syria in a phone call this week. The leaders agreed to work on strengthening the ceasefire and improving bilateral coordination in Syria and discussed the situation in Ukraine, among other issues.
World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald Lauder led a small delegation to Moscow, and met with President Putin. Issues discussed included the Russian Jewish community, Russia-Israel relations, and the situation in the Middle East.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also met with President Putin this week during a visit to Moscow. Israel is seeking closer military cooperation with Russia in Syria to “prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah,” the prime minister said.
The update includes several stories analyzing the composition of Ukraine’s new government, and the potential for speedy reforms in the country. I want to highlight an op-ed by Amb. John Herbst, who shares his optimism about the new cabinet’s ability to implement reforms. In contrast, a Foreign Policy op-ed by Josh Cohen urges the West to increase pressure on the Ukrainian government and President Petro Poroshenko to change the status quo.
Finally, I want to wish everyone a happy Passover.

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

Parts Of S-300 Missile System Unveiled At Iranian Army Parade
RFE/RL, April 17, 2016
Iran has showcased parts of S-300 air-defense missile systems ordered from Russia during its annual National Army Day parade in Tehran.
S-300 missile tubes and the radar equipment were shown during the April 17 military parade, according to pictures by the semiofficial ISNA news agency.
Addressing the event, President Hassan Rohani insisted that Iran's military power was purely for defensive and deterrent purposes.

The Kremlin's Spin, NATO's Reality
By Brian Whitmore
RFE/RL, April 20, 2016

The Kremlin and its surrogates are spinning today's meeting of the NATO-Russia Council as the end of Moscow's isolation.
In Brussels, it is viewed as a technical meeting to put safeguards in place to prevent an accidental conflict from breaking out amid rising tensions.
The Kremlin says reviving the NATO-Russia Council after nearly two years is proof that a chastened West has realized the error of its ways and is now ready to engage Moscow.
In Western capitals, the meeting is largely viewed as a necessary evil and an opportunity to call out Russia for the provocative actions of its warplanes in international airspace -- and their continued violations of NATO airspace.


Lauder thanks President Putin for encouraging Jewish life in Russia, calls for support of Israel at United Nations
WJC, April 19, 2016

A delegation of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), led by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, was received on Tuesday at the Kremlin by Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the 90-minute-long conversation, the two sides exchanged views on the situation of Jews in Russia, and also on the situation in the Middle East and a number of other issues. Lauder praised the good relations between Israel and Russia, and called on the Russian leader to show more support for Israel in international bodies such as the United Nations.
Ronald S. Lauder told Vladimir Putin that the Jewish people are very grateful for the good relationship between Russia and the State of Israel and called on him to translate this into more international support in organizations like the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Polish president honors Warsaw Ghetto Uprising heroes
DW, April 20, 2016
President Andrzej Duda led Tuesday's ceremonies on the 73rd anniversary of the start of the Ghetto Uprising: April 19, 1943. The main state ceremonies held in front of a memorial to the Jewish fighters in the heart of the former Warsaw Ghetto in the north of the capital's city-center.
Duda said he was paying homage to "heroes who wanted to fight for their freedom and even though they knew they would die, they wanted to die in battle with their heads held high." He added that the ceremonies also paid homage to their "great dignity."
A wreath was also laid on Tuesday by visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the location where former German chancellor Willy Brandt kneeled in 1970.

Read the full article here.

Putin, Obama Discuss Syria, Ukraine Conflicts
RFE/RL, April 18, 2016
The Kremlin has said Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama have discussed the situation in Syria and agreed to increase coordination between the two countries.
"The leaders discussed in detail the situation in Syria, confirming in particular their intention to facilitate the strengthening of a Russian-U.S. initiated ceasefire in this country as well as access for humanitarian aid," the Kremlin said in a statement on April 18.
"For this purpose, additional measures for the rapid response to violations of the cease-fire will be worked out," the statement added.
During the call on April 18, the Kremlin said Putin emphasized the need to distance the moderate opposition from the Islamic State group and the Al-Nusra Front, and also to stop the flow of fighters and arms into Syria from Turkey.

Read the full article here.

U.S. Concerned By Reports Of Increased Russian Military Presence In Syria
RFE/RL, April 21, 2016
The United States has expressed concern about reports that Russia is moving more military materiel into Syria.
"We think it would be negative for Russia to move additional military equipment or personnel into Syria," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, said on April 21. "We believe that our efforts are best focused on supporting the diplomatic process."
He was speaking in Saudi Arabia, where Obama was attending a summit with Gulf Arab leaders to discuss regional security issues.
Earlier the same day in Ankara, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia has kept a "considerable" military presence in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Stoltenberg made the comments at a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara.

Read the full article here.

It will take years to settle Donbas conflict: Ukraine's Defence Minister
Ukraine Today, April 21, 2016
Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak says it could take years to resolve Russian-orchestrated conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Speaking to foreign journalists in Kyiv on Wednesday, Poltorak said that Russia still has thousands of its troops in Ukraine's Donbas.
"There are more than 7,000 Russian servicemen. And they sustain constant rotation," the minister said according to DW.
Poltorak warned about more attacks by Russian-backed separatist forces, aimed to provoke Ukrainian servicemen to return fire. Militants use such cases to portrait Ukrainian side as the one who violates Minsk peace agreements.

Ukraine’s Visa-Free Bid Gets EU Backing
By Laurence Norman
Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2016
The European Union’s executive on Wednesday formally backed visa-free access for Ukrainians to the bloc, opening the way for member states to debate the proposal.
The commission said that Ukraine’s government, which has made visa-free access a key political goal, has now carried out all the necessary reforms to win Brussels’ backing.
These included a series of anticorruption measures and stepped-up efforts against organized crime and border security.

Read the full article here.

Why I’m Optimistic about Ukraine’s New Government
By John E. Herbst
Atlantic Council, April 21, 2016

The past two months have not been favorable for Ukraine’s image in the West. The unnecessary government crisis leading to the ouster of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his government has meant little progress on reform and lots of attention to politics. The strongest reform ministers—Natalie Jaresko, Aivaras Abromavicius, Oleksiy Pavlenko, and Andriy Pyvovarskiy—left with Yatsenyuk and their replacements as a whole do not have the same reform credentials. The crisis prompted the IMF to hold back delivery of its $1.63 billion tranche of economic assistance due in February, retarding Ukraine’s recovery from the sharp drops in GDP over the past two years.
Yet three days in Kyiv—and meetings with numerous new and former officials—were enough to bring to mind an eternal truth about Ukraine: Things are never as bad (nor as good) as they seem. But there are at least four reasons to think that the new team may enjoy some success with reform.


In Ukraine, Expats and Romantics Are Out
By Leonid Bershidsky
Bloomberg, April 15, 2016
The new Ukrainian cabinet, confirmed by the parliament on Thursday, is more interesting for the people it doesn't include than for those it does. Ukraine's experiment with bringing foreign reformers and private sector professionals into the government is now officially over, and it has failed.
President Petro Poroshenko tapped his long-time protege and ally, former parliament speaker Volodymyr Hroisman to form the government.  The result, for the most part, is a cabinet of Poroshenko loyalists; the unpopular businessman-president is consolidating power, much the way his hapless predecessor Viktor Yanukovych once did. Though, at several points in the negotiating process, Hroisman reportedly refused the prime minister's job unless his conditions were met, these reports should be taken with a grain of salt: Poroshenko wants Hroisman to look independent, not least in the eyes of Washington politicians who have been wary of Poroshenko monopolizing power.

Enough Carrots for Ukraine. Time to Break Out the Sticks.
By Josh Cohen
Foreign Policy, April 20, 2016

It’s been a bad two months for Ukraine. The country’s new prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, has barely started his term in office, and he’s already being panned as an insider who will “perpetuate the corrupt business-as-usual status quo.” In February, leading reformers in the economic ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office resigned in frustration, accusing officials tied to President Poroshenko of blocking their efforts to rid Ukraine of the scourge of corruption. Although Poroshenko finally sacked his widely hated prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, this was primarily thanks to growing pressure from Western officials. Even still, Shokin managed to do plenty of damage on his way out the door, firing his only remaining reformist deputy and forbidding prosecutors from referring cases to new anti-corruption institutions.
What’s more, Ukraine’s old guard — left over from before the Euromaidan revolution swept away President Yanukovych in 2014 — appears increasingly willing to subvert the country’s democratic development to silence critics.

Revival of diplomacy? Ukraine, Russia make progress on prisoner swap.
By Fred Weir
Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2016
A deal appears to be in the works between Moscow and Kiev to exchange captured Ukrainian helicopter pilot Nadiya Savchenko, recently sentenced to 22 years in a Russian prison, for two Russian servicemen convicted of "terrorism" in a Kiev court this week.
But while the apparent agreement offers a rare point of light in the frayed relationship between the two countries, it also could reignite the question of just how involved Russia has been and continues to be in the restive Donbass region of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that an "algorithm" had been agreed to facilitate the possible exchange of Ms. Savchenko, which could happen in the next few days. Mr. Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a reportedly constructive telephone conversation about the prospective swap, a marked return to diplomacy in bilateral relations after two years of war, both hot and cold.

Netanyahu Seeks Putin's Assurance Over Syria in Moscow Visit
By Ilya Arkhipov
Bloomberg, April 20, 2016

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow seeking closer military cooperation in Syria to ensure Russia’s force reduction there doesn’t leave Israel’s northern frontier vulnerable to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
In a brief appearance with reporters at the Kremlin before their formal meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the Israeli leader he was “very happy that we have regular contacts at the highest level,” saying discussions were intense because of “the difficult situation in the region.”
Netanyahu said he made the daytrip because Israel must “do everything we can to prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah,” the Lebanese Islamic movement that warred with the Israeli military in 2006 and is now fighting alongside government forces in Syria. He repeated his April 17 declaration that Israel will never give up control of the southern section of the Golan Heights, which it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Read the full article here.

Russian protesters demand ban on Chabad movement
JTA, April 19, 2016
Demonstrators protesting the allocation of land to the Jewish community in the Russian city of Perm demanded the outlawing of the Chabad movement.
More than 100 people attended the rally near the area that municipal authorities in Perm, which is located 870 miles east of Moscow, designated for transfer without charge to the local Jewish community that is headed by a Chabad rabbi. They sang a song titled “Holy War,” a patriotic tune widely identified with Russia’s fight against Nazi Germany.
Unrest around the Jewish community of Perm has been brewing for years amid accusations made in 2013 that the local Jewish community made unauthorized use of a local theater. Unidentified individuals that year tried to set fire to the local synagogue.

Putin's Economist: Why Kudrin Tapped to Write New Reforms Plan
By Kirill Rogov
Moscow Times, April 21, 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided that former Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin is to draw up a new economic program for the country.
Any sensible economic strategy should be based upon Russia's return to regular transfers of power in the Kremlin. No administration should serve for 16 years, and a considerable segment of the ruling elite understands this all too well.
Alexei Kudrin has been called on to reject that idea and instead to write a liberal economic program for Putin. It is designed to revive hope among the elite that Putin will take a more progressive stance during his 19th year in power.
Kudrin has in fact been brought in to play an old game. This will be the fourth such program of Putin's rule.
The first was drafted by German Gref back in 2000. At the time, Putin was cultivating the image of a strongman-reformer, a man who effortlessly fulfilled the longing of the Russian people for a strong leader alongside the hopes of the Russian elite for a liberal market economy.

Russia Bolsters Its Submarine Fleet, and Tensions With U.S. Rise
By Eric Schmitt
New York Times, April 21, 2016
 Russian attack submarines, the most in two decades, are prowling the coastlines of Scandinavia and Scotland, the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic in what Western military officials say is a significantly increased presence aimed at contesting American and NATO undersea dominance.
Adm. Mark Ferguson, the United States Navy's top commander in Europe, said last fall that the intensity of Russian submarine patrols had risen by almost 50 percent over the past year, citing public remarks by the Russian Navy chief, Adm. Viktor Chirkov. Analysts say that tempo has not changed since then.
The patrols are the most visible sign of a renewed interest in submarine warfare by President Vladimir V. Putin, whose government has spent billions of dollars for new classes of diesel and nuclear-powered attack submarines that are quieter, better armed and operated by more proficient crews than in the past.

Crackdown On RFE/RL's Crimea Site Sparks International Condemnation
RFE/RL, April 20, 2016

The latest clampdown on a Crimea news site run by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has drawn international condemnation, with the United States denouncing it as "the Russian government's growing crackdown on independent voices" on the annexed peninsula.
Crimea's Moscow-backed authorities have repeatedly targeted the Krym.Realii website for its criticism of the peninsula's annexation by Russia in March 2014.
On April 19, Natalya Poklonskaya, Crimea's de-facto prosecutor-general, said her office planned to ask Russian prosecutors to permanently block access to the website.
Poklonskaya accused Krym.Realii of publishing materials that contain "justification of sabotage, extremism, and endless slander of government bodies in Crimea."

Read the full article here.

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