Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 11, 2015

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

Dear Friend,
On Tuesday, we held a very successful Board of Governors meeting featuring Congressman Ted Deutch, Ambassador of Poland Ryszard Schepf and Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Ukraine Yaroslav Brisiuck, former Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer, MetroWest NJ Federation CEO Dov Ben-Shimon and Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan Yeshaya Cohen. Our guests included representatives of member organizations, Jewish Federations, and diplomats from the countries in the Eurasia region. Summaries of all speakers’ remarks will be available shortly on NCSEJ’s website.

NCSEJ's Board of Governors elected Daniel Rubin, of Bergen County, New Jersey, as the organization's new Chairman. A businessman, Mr. Rubin has been a longtime community leader, who first became involved with the NCSEJ during the Soviet Jewry movement. He succeeds Stephen Greenberg, who became Chairman in 2012. Board also reelected Alexander Smukler as NCSEJ President. To see full bios visit the NCSEJ website.

The Board meeting included a tribute to outgoing Chairman Stephen Greenberg, who was honored for his life-long contributions to protecting Jewish communities in Eurasia and around the world.

On Monday, December 7, NCSEJ hosted a meeting with NCSEJ's member agencies with Defense Minister of Georgia Tinatin Khidasheli. Minister Khidasheli gave a brief overview of the current situation in Georgia, discussed Georgia’s Western integration, and its strong relations with the United States and Israel.

NCSEJ also attended the U.S. Senate Democratic Holiday Reception, Israeli Embassy Chanukah party and the White House Chanukah party this week.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Ukraine this week, where he met with Ukrainian officials and became the fourth foreign official to address Ukraine’s parliament.  In his speech, he urged Ukraine to continue to fight corruption and pursue other reforms, and reiterated the Unites States’ support for Ukraine.

Jewish communities throughout the Eurasia region are celebrating Chanukah.  Despite the crisis, Jewish communities in Eastern Ukraine held celebrations. In Luhansk, because of the situation in the city, a menorah was not lit in the town square, but near the synagogue, and also by the “Beit Menachem” school. In Donetsk, a community celebration was held in the Jewish community center, which was attended by over three hundred people.

At the annual Chanukhah celebration in Moscow, Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar presented the ‘Fiddler on the Roof” award to human rights activist and former prisoner of Zion Yosef Begun for “his outstanding contribution to the struggle of Soviet Jewry for the right to be Jewish, to observe Jewish traditions and facilitate Russian Jewish culture.”

We are in middle of our once-a-year Chanukah Appeal. I want thank those who already contributed, your support is much appreciated.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice Chairman and CEO
Stephen Greenberg, Alexander Smukler, Daniel Rubin and Mark Levin at NCSEJ Board of Governors Meeting
Washington, D.C. December 11, 2015

Russian parliament declares scriptures of major religions non-extremist
JTA, December 10, 2015

Russia’s federal parliament passed a law that says Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Buddhist scripture cannot be regarded as extremist texts.

The law passed by the Duma is an amendment to the Federal Law on Countering Extremist Activity, which forms the legal basis for prohibitive measures against the incitement of ethnic or religious hatred, the news website Lenta.ru reported. Read the full article here. 

Georgia Accuses Russia Of Violating Its Airspace
RFE/RL, December 10, 2015
Georgia says a Russian military helicopter has violated its airspace.

The Defense Ministry said on December 10 that a Russian Mi-8 helicopter crossed "the occupation line" near Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia the day before and flew back several minutes later. Read the full article here. 

Hanukkah 2015: Jewish Festival of Lights begins in Ukraine's port city of Odesa
Ukraine Today, December 7, 2015
More than 2,000 years after first event, Jews around the world are still celebrating Hanukkah.

Millions of Jews around the world have begun celebrating the start of Hanukkah, also known as the 'festival of lights'. In Ukraine's port city of Odesa, a six meter menorah has been lit on what was the first night of the eight-day holiday. Each night another light is added, bringing light to the darkest time of the year. Read the full article here. 

Russian Prosecutors Want Probe Into Khodorkovsky's 'Extremist' Remarks
RFE/RL, December 10, 2015
Russian prosecutors have demanded an investigation into exiled former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky for allegedly making extremist comments.

Speaking to journalists in Moscow on December 9 via a video link from London, Khodorkovsky said a new Russian revolution was "inevitable and necessary," and he predicted that President Vladimir Putin’s government would be out of power within a few years. Read the full article here. 

What's Behind Italy's Step Back On Extending Sanctions Against Russia?
By Rikard Jozwiak
RFE/RL, December 10, 2015

It was supposed to be a done deal: European Union envoys had been expected to approve a six-month extension of sanctions against Russia over its interference in Ukraine, as agreed by EU leaders last month.
But the Italian ambassador upended that plan at a meeting on December 9, telling the others that Rome wanted more debate on the matter. Read the full article here. 

U.S. general: Syria involvement not impacting Russian operations in Ukraine
By Jamie Crawford
CNN, December 9, 2015

Russian military involvement in Syria has not significantly decreased its capabilities in eastern Ukraine, a top U.S. general said Wednesday.

"They definitely have the ability to do both, should they need to," Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, told reporters at the Pentagon. Read the full article here. 

Protesters Gather in Yerevan, Claim Fraud In Armenian Referendum
RFE/RL, December 7, 2015

Hundreds of protesters were gathering in central Yerevan on December 7 to demonstrate against the declared results of a referendum on whether to change Armenia’s constitution -- transforming the country from a presidential to a parliamentary system of government.

Armenia's Central Election Commission says voters endorsed the constitutional amendments in a December 6 referendum. Read the full article here. 

Azerbaijani Tanks Shell Positions In Nagorno-Karabakh
RFE/RL, December 10, 2015

Azerbaijani tanks shelled positions in the Nagorno-Karabakh region for the first time in 21 years, the Defense Ministry for the breakaway region said on December 9.

"For the first time since the cease-fire [in 1994], Azerbaijan has used tanks on the Karabakh front line," killing one soldier identified as Garik Avanesian, the ministry said. Read the full article here. 

Azerbaijani Opposition Leader Arrested In Baku
RFE/RL, December 9, 2015

The deputy chairman of Azerbaijan's opposition Popular Front Party, Fuad Qahramanli, has been arrested in Baku in connection with a deadly security operation in the city's suburbs last month.

Baku's Nasimi District Court ruled late on December 8 that Qahramanli should be held in pretrial detention for three months. Read the full article here. 

Moscow honors former refusenik Yosef Begun
By Victoria Martynov,
Jerusalem Post, December 10, 2015
This year’s celebration of Hanukka at the Kremlin is very different from the Hanukka of 1977, which Begun spent in the darkness of the Gulag in Siberia, after being arrested in Moscow.

At the annual Hanukka ceremony of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia at the Kremlin in Moscow on Tuesday night, Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar of Chabad presented the special Fiddler on the Roof Award to human rights activist and former refusenik Yosef Begun. Read the full article here. 

In Ukraine's parliament, Biden highlights need for corruption fight
Kyiv Post, December 8, 2015
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, in a passionate speech to Ukraine's parliament and other political leaders on Dec. 8, urged Ukraine to seize the opportunity to become a truly democratic nation that removes the blight of corruption.

His words drew several rounds of applause, including a standing ovation, during a 37-minute speech in which Biden talked about how the United States would support Ukraine as long as it stayed on the democratic path. Read the full article here. 

IMF Policy Change Pushes Ukraine, Russia to Resolve Bond Dispute
By Andrew Mayeda and Natasha Doff
Bloomberg, December 10, 2015
Ukraine will need to negotiate in "good faith" with Russia over a $3 billion bond due this month if it wants to continue receiving a loan from the International Monetary Fund under a policy change the institution laid out this week.

The IMF’s executive board approved a policy change on Dec. 8 that will allow lending to countries that default on debts to sovereign creditors. The change clears the way for the Washington-based fund to continue lending to Ukraine if it fails to repay a $3 billion bond Russia bought from the government of former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych in 2013. Read the full article here. 

Russia's Putin threatens Ukraine with court over $3 billion debt
By Lidia Kelly and Natalia Zinets
Reuters, December 9, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his government to take Ukraine to court if it did not repay a $3 billion Eurobond while other Russian officials blasted the International Monetary Fund for softening its lending rules to help "crooks" in Kiev.

The Kremlin reacted sharply after the Washington-based Fund announced it was changing its lending rules to allow it to continue supporting countries if they fail to repay official creditors, a change that would help Ukraine if it misses payment on the Moscow-held Eurobond, falling due on Dec. 20. Read the full article here. 

At Least 9,115 Killed in Ukraine Conflict, U.N. Says
By Nick Cumming-Bruce
New York Times, December 9, 2015

At least 9,115 people have been killed in the 21 months since the outbreak of hostilities in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, United Nations monitors in Ukraine reported on Wednesday, an increase of more than a thousand since the United Nations’ last estimate, in September. An estimated 20,797 have been injured.

The casualty estimates are based on new information and do not represent an uptick in fighting, said the monitors, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Read the full article here. Read the full article here. 

Italy seeks further EU discussion on extending sanctions against Russia
By Robin Emmott and Gabriela Baczynska
Reuters, December 9, 2015

Italy unexpectedly demanded that a mooted extension of the European Union's economic sanctions on Russia go for further discussion within the bloc rather than be rubber-stamped by EU envoys who met on Wednesday.

The envoys aimed to approve a six-month extension to the sanctions, imposed on Moscow last year over the Ukraine crisis, without discussion after an agreement by EU leaders - including Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi - in the wings of the Group of 20 summit in Turkey last month. Read the full article here. 

The transatlantic cost of Russia sanctions
Joseph J. Schatz
Politico, December 9, 2015

When the U.S. Treasury Department’s top sanctions official visits Europe this week, he’ll get one more chance to urge Europeans to renew the punishing sanctions regime against Russia. By all accounts, he won’t need it.

It’s a point of pride among U.S. and European officials that in an otherwise fractious Europe, nobody — even skeptics like Hungary and Greece — will veto the sanctions imposed after the Russian invasion of Crimea. For the moment, at least. And despite Russian attempts to poke holes in the alliance, EU leaders are this month expected to renew the sanctions for another six months. Read the full article here. 

Russia's middle class: We don't blame Putin
By Jill Dougherty
CNN, December 10, 2015

"Jill Dougherty is currently a CNN Contributor. She is a former CNN foreign affairs correspondent and Moscow bureau chief with expertise in Russia and the former Soviet Union. She is currently at the International Centre for Defence and Security, researching the influence of Russian media. The views expressed are her own."

(CNN)Russia's middle class has had a tough time recently, but they aren't blaming President Vladimir Putin for it.

No more winter charter flights to sunny Turkey; Putin's government banned them after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in Syria in late November. Read the full article here. 

Teflon Rahmon: Tajik President Getting 'Leader' Title, Lifelong Immunity
RFE/RL, December 10, 2015

Tajik lawmakers have voted to give President Emomali Rahmon the title "Leader of the Nation" and grant him lifelong immunity from prosecution, drawing sharp criticism from opponents and activists who called it a new step away from democracy.

A bill passed on December 9 by the parliament's lower chamber would officially designate Rahmon "the founder of peace and national unity of Tajikistan" and state that he cannot be prosecuted for anything he has done while in office. Read the full article here. 

Ukraine Reform Monitor: December 2015
Ukraine Reform Monitor Team

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, December 7, 2015

Ukraine held local elections and made modest reform progress, while the economy improved slowly. But there are renewed concerns about the ceasefire in the east.

The main political event in Ukraine during the October–November period was the October 25 local elections. These much-anticipated elections did not fundamentally change the balance of political power in the country. However, they renewed concerns about the enduring power of oligarchs in some regions and demonstrated the residual strength of former president Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions in others. The economic situation improved slowly, and the government approved a number of sectoral liberalization measures. In late November, violations of the ceasefire in Donbas in eastern Ukraine became more frequent, leading to fresh worries about the future of the Minsk agreement aimed at ending the fighting. Despite modest progress on the issue of decentralization, fundamental differences about the form this should take remained unresolved. Read the full article here. 
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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.