WASHINGTON, D.C. February 12, 2016
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
I am currently participating in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization’s (CoP) annual overseas mission, led by CoP Chairman (and immediate past NCSEJ Chairman Stephen Greenberg) and Executive Vice Chairman/CEO Malcolm Hoenlein.
The delegation has met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss a range of issues, including the respective countries’ relations with the U.S. and Israel, terrorism and extremism, and regional conflicts and the broader situation in the Middle East.
Uncertainty persists in Ukraine following last week’s protest resignation by economic minister Aivarus Abromavicius, who said he refused to provide “cover” for the rampant government corruption that was slowing the pace of reforms in Ukraine. This week, IMF head Christine Lagarde threatened to suspend Ukraine’s bailout program “without a substantial new effort to invigorate governance reforms and fight corruption.”
Confidence in Ukraine’s political leadership is declining, and some within Ukraine have called for new parliamentary elections. Others have warned that the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada may bring further political instability. On February 16th, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk will deliver his annual progress report to the Rada, which may be followed by a vote on a no-confidence motion, rejecting the Prime Minister’s government.
On Monday, the leadership of Ukraine’s Batkivschyna Party expelled its member and Lutsk deputy administrator Serhiy Grygorenko for making anti-Semitic statements during a City Council Executive committee meeting on February 3rd. Batkivschyna Party leader Yulia Tymoshenko issued a statement condemning ethnic hatred and anti-Semitism in Ukraine. The next day, Grygorenko gave an apology.
In Moldova, one of the leaders of the ongoing anti-government protests, pro-Russian Socialist Party chairman Igor Dodon, accused the United States of orchestrating a plot to unify Moldova and its neighbor Romania, and providing support for the political crisis in Moldova. The Socialist Party is the largest single party in Moldova’s parliament.
The United States, Russia, and other world powers agreed on a plan for the cessation of hostilities in Syria during talks in Munich. The ceasefire, which will come into effect in a week, is aimed at bringing the government and the opposition to the negotiation table and delivering humanitarian aid. However, the U.S. and Russia have serious disagreements about the endgame in Syria. The update includes several stories analyzing Russia’s strategy in the Middle East.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. February 12, 2016
Readout of Vice President Biden’s Call with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine
Office of the Vice President, The White House, February 11, 2016
Vice President Joe Biden spoke today with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The two leaders agreed on the importance of making progress on the security and political aspects of the Minsk agreements, and expressed serious concern about the worsening security situation in eastern Ukraine.
The leaders also discussed the political situation in Ukraine, agreeing that it is essential for Ukraine to continue to take action to root out corruption and implement reforms. The Vice President urged the governing coalition to quickly establish unity to allow Ukraine to move forward with reforms, in line with the commitments in its IMF program.
U.S. welcomes Ukraine's contribution to global security – Pyatt
Interfax Ukraine, February 11, 2016
The United States welcomes Ukraine's positive contribution to global security, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said.
"We welcome Ukraine's positive contributions on issues of global concern. This year, with Ukraine on the UN Security Council, the country has the opportunity to play a leading role – whether on Syria, DPRK [the Democratic People's Republic of Korea], Iran, or on other pressing issues," Pyatt told Interfax-Ukraine in an exclusive interview.Read the full article here.
NATO Defense Ministers confirm Georgia is moving closer to NATO
NATO, February 11, 2016
“Georgia is moving closer to NATO thanks to its reforms, and to its significant contributions to our shared security”, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. Meeting with Georgian Defence Minister Tinatin Khidasheli, ministers reviewed progress on NATO’s Substantial Package of support to Georgia and discussed how to intensify the Alliance’s support.
The Secretary General underlined that NATO’s Substantial Package is strengthening Georgia’s defenses and its ability to work side-by-side with NATO forces.
“In May, our Joint Training Centre in Tbilisi will start training the first Georgian company. This is good news”, he noted.
Defense Ministers also discussed Georgia’s domestic political and security reforms, which are bringing the country closer to NATO. They welcomed Georgia’s efforts to strengthen its democratic institutions, and stressed the need for continued progress in key areas of reform, including the rule of law and independence of the judiciary. The Secretary General also confirmed Allies’ full support Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, within its internationally recognised borders.Read the full article here.
UN Envoy: No Changes In Belarus's 'Dismal' Human Rights Situation
RFE/RL, February 9, 2016
The United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklos Haraszti, has warned that "no changes" have been initiated in the country to alter the "oppressive laws and practices" since the October presidential election.
"Unfortunately, the dismal state of human rights has remained unchanged in the country," Haraszti said in a February 9 statement.
"The authorities have not ceased the systematic harassment of those who attempted to practice their individual, civil, political, and other rights, despite the partial suspension of EU and US sanctions, decided in anticipation of further advancement of human rights," the UN special rapporteur said.Read the full article here.
Ukraine backtracks on Babi Yar plans amid accusations of Holocaust revisionism
B Sam Sokol
Jerusalem Post, February 8, 2016
Ukrainian gov't is facing allegations that it's engaging in historical revisionism following announcement of plans to revamp massacre site to generic symbol rather than emblem of Holocaust.
The Ukrainian government is facing allegations of historical revisionism after announcing plans to revamp the Babi Yar massacre site to turn it into a generic symbol of human suffering rather than a quintessential emblem of the Holocaust.
In preparation for September’s 75th anniversary of the massacre at the ravine in Kiev where more than 33,000 Jews were murdered in a two-day period in 1941, a government- backed design competition invited architectural proposals to resolve what it sees as a “problem” of a “discrepancy between the world’s view and Jewry’s exclusive view of Babi Yar as a symbol of the Holocaust.”
But the contest’s rules were revised on Monday after an outpouring of anger by Jewish groups around the world against a perceived attempt to diminish the site’s Jewish significance, including questions put by The Jerusalem Post to Ukrainian officials about the project.
Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial said the language initially used by competition organizers was “very problematic,” and indicated an attempt to distort history and redefine the massacre as “a universal tragedy and not a unique Jewish tragedy” caused as a result of a German policy to eradicate the Jewish people.
IMF Demand For Ukraine Reform Just Latest Red Flag For Poroshenko
By Tony Wesolowsky
RFE/RL, February 11, 2016
A stinging rebuke from the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has underscored the precarious spot in which Ukraine finds itself despite Kyiv's repeated pledges to tackle corruption and enact major reforms.
IMF head Christine Lagarde's call on February 10 for "a substantial new effort" from Ukraine's leadership carries particular weight due to fears that the fund could suspend its $17.5 billion portion of an international bailout to help the country kick-start its economy, stay on a democratic track, and weather an ongoing conflict with Russia.
The IMF's stark language set off alarm bells in Kyiv, where President Petro Poroshenko quickly telephoned Lagarde to assure her and allies such as the United States that he recognized the need to "reboot" the government.
The government's approval ratings have tumbled and it could face a no-confidence vote in the coming days, ushering in more uncertainty for a country already on a war footing.Read the full article here.
HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools
VOA, February 11, 2016
Human Rights Watch said Thursday that both sides in the conflict in Ukraine have indiscriminately attacked schools, which could amount to a war crime.
In a report entitled "Studying Under Fire," the rights group documented how both the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed rebels have carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes, including basing troops or weapons in or near schools.
"Normally, a school is a civilian object and it is protected under international law," Yulia Gorbunova, the HRW researcher who authored the report, told VOA by phone from Moscow. "Once it has military inside -- it is used for military purposes -- it becomes a legitimate military target and can be attacked."
She said this happened on a wide scale in eastern Ukraine.
The HRW team visited 41 schools in both the government controlled areas and in the rebel-held Donbas region of Donetsk and Luhansk.
For Kiev’s Jewish refugees, little thought about tomorrow
Jerusalem Post, February 7, 2016
The ankle-deep mud sucks at my boots as I slog through it, ducking under the cement mixer’s chute just before it begins disgorging its cargo into a ditch dug into the frozen Ukrainian soil. As a worker with a shovel begins smoothing the concrete, Rabbi Moshe Azman, the leader of one of Kiev’s two Chabad hassidic communities stands above him, thanking God and tossing in a symbolic spadeful of cement.
As the foundations for what will be a residential building are filled, I turn and look at the temporary wooden housing already erected here at Anatevka, a refugee resettlement compound established by Azman just outside the Ukrainian capital’s city limits.
According to the Jewish Agency, approximately 2,500 Jewish internally displaced persons from the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk – now self-styled as people’s republics by the Russian backed separatists in control there – have settled in the Kiev area. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee estimates that it is providing aid to around 2,800 of the displaced across the country.
Around 11,000 Jews lived in Donetsk, the center of the current insurgency, prior to the outbreak of hostilities two years ago, but after two years of grueling conflict, just over 2,000 remain.
Ukrainian Ex-Premier’s Visit to Washington Highlights Obstacles Facing Peace Pact
By David Herszenhorn
New York Times, February 5, 2016
Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister of Ukraine who now leads a minority party in Parliament, said on Friday that she and her allies would staunchly oppose constitutional changes that the United States and European powers view as crucial to carrying out a peace agreement with Russia.
Her remarks underscored the enormous obstacles still facing the nearly year-old peace accord, known as Minsk II. A shaky cease-fire has sharply reduced the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels launched a separatist insurgency in 2014, but the accord has never been enacted, largely because of acute disagreements over how voting in the region would be organized.
Ms. Tymoshenko’s comments, though not new, were particularly notable given that she made them in Washington. The United States has been one of the new Ukrainian government’s strongest allies and one of its main supporters in securing help to prevent an economic collapse, including billions in credit from the International Monetary Fund.
How to fix Moldova
By Linas Linkevicius
EU Observer, February 8, 2016
Major political and economic reforms require determined action, consolidation of the main political forces, and close involvement of civil society.
This is the lesson that Lithuania learned in the course of its successful reform process in the 1990s. Strong support from international partners was another key factor in Lithuania’s success.
Today, Moldova urgently needs both a consensus on main reform priorities at home and strong, but conditional support from the EU.
The new government, led by Pavel Filip, faces an enormous task: society is divided, the public has little confidence in the government due to massive corruption, and the country will very soon face difficulties in paying pensions and salaries.
European forces (even the European idea itself) have been compromised by so-called pro-European politicians, who seem unable or unwilling to fight corruption.Read the full article here.
Putin Pulls Levers As Russian Patriarch, PM Head Abroad
By Steve Gutterman
RFE/RL, February 11, 2016
With the Russian patriarch and prime minister both holding big meetings abroad, this weekend presents a chance for President Vladimir Putin to soothe a world still stunned by Moscow's aggression in Ukraine and dismayed by its bombing campaign in Syria.
Russian Orthodox Church chief Kirill holds historic talks with Pope Francis at the airport in Havana, Cuba, on February 12, the first such meeting since Christendom split in two more than 1,000 years ago.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will speak at the annual Munich Security Conference on February 12-14 -- the same forum at which Putin ripped into Washington and the West in a 2007 address that set the tone for years of discord.
Facing deep economic troubles and persistent Western sanctions, Putin may be looking for ways to alleviate Russia's isolation.
But will he use the high-profile meetings of two top allies to build real bridges, or to execute tactical moves in a mounting confrontation with the United States and Europe?
Signs point to something far short of the first and closer to the second: an effort to improve Russia's global image and score points with the West without giving ground on the gritty issues of Syria and Ukraine -- or even the deep-rooted disputes between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Read the full article here.
Russia is making a huge effort to challenge US influence in Iraq
By Saif Hameed
Reuters, February 11, 2016
Russia is ready to sell civil airliners to Iraq and keep providing it with military aid to fight Islamic State, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Thursday, accompanied on a trip to Baghdad by the biggest Russian delegation in years.
The mission by nearly 100 government and business officials was part of a drive by Moscow to strengthen commercial and security ties with Iraq, potentially eroding U.S. influence in one of the world's most critical regions.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said discussions had revolved around providing military assistance to defeat Islamic State militants, also known as Daesh, who seized a third of Iraq in 2014 and want to redraw the map of the Middle East.
"We need international support from multiple sources, be it from within the international coalition or outside of it," he said, referring to the U.S.-led coalition which has launched thousands of airstrikes and provided training and advice to Iraq's military.
"We need support, training and intelligence-sharing," he told reporters. "Intelligence plays an important role in the war on Daesh, and we've been coordinating for a while now with the Russian side to place this information in the hands of Iraqis."
Iran to Purchase Sukhoi-30 Fighter Jets From Russia
AP, February 10, 2016
Iran will sign a contract with Russia for the purchase of Sukhoi-30 fighter jets, Iran's defense minister said Wednesday.
In comments published on the ministry of defense website, Gen. Hossein Dehghan did not specify how many fighter planes Iran will buy, or give a timeline for the signing of the deal. However, he said that under the agreement Iran would also be involved in the production of the aircraft.
Iran needs to "seriously focus on the air force and fighters," he said. "We are moving toward a contract. We told them that we need to be involved in the production (of the plane) as well."
Iran's acquisition is significant given its role as a regional power in the volatile Middle East, where it is backing opposite sides in conflicts in Yemen and Syria to its longtime rival Saudi Arabia.
The fighter jet is believed to be comparable to the American F-15E fighter bomber.Read the full article here.
How censorship works in Vladimir Putin’s Russia
By Alyssa Rosenberg
Washington Post, February 9, 2016
Russia can be a murderously difficult place to do independent journalism; the killing of reporter and activist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 ought to have made that manifestly clear. But journalism isn’t the only kind of speech that’s under threat in Russia. A new report from PEN America makes it clear how a confluence of laws ostensibly aimed at combating terrorism and religious hatred and protecting children have created an environment in which it’s increasingly hard to publish fiction, broadcast independent television or put on theatrical and musical productions that don’t toe an ever-shifting party line.
The report, “Discourse in Danger: Attacks on Free Expression in Putin’s Russia,” traces the way various strands of Russian lawmaking have converged into a tightening net.
A 2002 law aimed at combating terrorism “[targeted] speech, publications, groups, and ideas deemed ‘extremist,’ a broadly defined notion interpreted subjectively by officials.” Add to that law a provision of the Russian Criminal Code that criminalizes any action that might be interpreted as “incitement to hatred or hostility” or “humiliation of human dignity” based on a number of American identity categories; in the United States, such a law might be aimed at protecting members of embattled minorities, but in Russia, it empowers already powerful socially conservative religious activists. And those provisions dovetail with the Law on Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development, passed in 2010, which required widespread content labeling and gave government agencies wide latitude to crack down on content that might be interpreted as glamorizing violence or drug use, and a 2013 law that cracked down on content that treats gay people in any remotely positive way.
Read the full article here.
Russian Companies Rush to Return to Post-Sanctions Iran
By Andrew Kramer
New York Times, February 8, 2016
At a sprawling pipe factory in this gritty industrial town, an exhibit of Surrealist art, featuring reproductions of Mondrian, Malevich and Magritte, lines the walls. One of the company’s biggest shareholders, a collector of Surrealist works, says the art will stretch engineers’ minds and unlock workers’ creativity.
Commentary at the exhibit gets to an existential debate with Shakespearean flair: “Tube or Not Tube?” It is a fitting question for the factory owner, the Tube Metal Company, the biggest supplier of pipes to oil and natural gas producers.
Like many players in the oil patch, the Tube Metal Company, or TMK for short, is being hurt by weak energy prices. With oil dipping below $29 a barrel, TMK has been pulling back in the United States and elsewhere.
But TMK contends it has an edge in a relatively untapped market, Iran, a country with warm political relations with Moscow that has tens of billions of dollars in newly unfrozen, shah-era money to spend on oil infrastructure. During the Soviet era, TMK was the dominant provider of pipes to Iran.
Russian companies are broadly gearing up to get back into Iran.
Sukhoi wants to sell its Superjet airliners to a market starved for transportation. Avtovaz has started talks to open an assembly plant for Lada cars in Iran.
Kremlin: No Link Between Kasyanov Incident, Chechen Leadership
RFE/RL, February 10, 2016
The Kremlin has condemned an attack against Russian opposition politician Mikhail Kasyanov and said there was no reason to associate the incident with Chechnya's leadership.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comments on February 10 after the attack at a Moscow restaurant where Kasyanov was dining the previous night.
Video footage of the incident posted by the Kremlin-loyal website Lifenews shows two men approaching Kasyanov at his table, one of whom violently slams a cake into his face while the other appears to film the attack.
At least one of the men is then heard berating Kasyanov for his politics, calling him an "American agent." The footage appears to show another man linked to the assailants.
Three Chechen police officers were reportedly detained in Moscow in connection with the incident and an administrative case has been opened against them.
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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.