WASHINGTON, D.C. March 11, 2016
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
A group of Latvian parliamentarians said that they will join the annual march of the Latvian SS veterans and their supporters next Wednesday in Riga. Many of the Latvian members of the Waffen SS played an active role in killing Jews during World War II. Over the years, NCSEJ has repeatedly urged the national government not to participate. In 2014 and 2015, Latvia’s national government officials did not take part in the march. We will continue to urge the government’s non-participation in the Waffen SS marches.
NCSEJ has raised the issue of the desecration of a synagogue in Orgiev (Orhei), Moldova with Moldova’s embassy in Washington. The embassy representative said the government is concerned about the attack and has initiated an investigation. NCSEJ has also been in touch with Moldova’s Jewish community. We will continue to be engaged with the government and the Jewish community and keep you updated on the developments.
Slovakia’s neo-Nazi party won seats in the parliament in elections on Saturday. The neo-Nazi “People’s Party-Our Slovakia” received three times the predicted number of votes, securing 14 seats.
Ukraine’s political turmoil continues, as speculation grows about potential replacements for Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Media are reporting that President Poroshenko might be considering U.S.-born Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko and Speaker of the Parliament Volodymyr Groysman as candidates. In the meantime, the IMF has frozen the disbursement of aid to Ukraine. The current political crisis threatens to further destabilize the country and derail Western assistance to Ukraine. We are engaged with the Ukrainian authorities and the U.S. administration, closely monitoring the unfolding situation in Ukraine.
The United States and the EU have urged Russia to release Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, imprisoned in Russia for the past two years. On March 8, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for the release of Savchenko who has “endured interrogations, solitary confinement, and forced psychiatric evaluation…[which] demonstrate disregard for international standards, as well as for Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements.” EU parliamentarians have proposed imposing further sanctions on President Vladimir Putin and high-level Russian officials over Savchenko’s detention.
Media reports are indicating that Russia has delayed its deliveries of S-300 missiles to Iran. Reportedly, President Putin agreed to suspend the missile deal after Israel presented evidence that Iran had transferred Russian-made missiles to Hezbollah.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement strongly condemning the terrorist attacks in Israel this week. “Moscow resolutely condemns the terrorist attacks against civilians, whatever the reasons given for them," the statement said in response to terrorist attacks on civilians in Israel on March 8 and 9.
I want to highlight a story by Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council Stephen Blank, about Russia’s continued information war. Blank argues that Russia has been successful in disseminating its propaganda around the world because the West lacks a strategy to counter Russia’s tactics.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. March 11, 2016
Latvian lawmakers to participate in annual SS march through capital
By Sam Sokol,
Jerusalem Post, March 10, 2016
Latvian SS veterans and their supporters, including several members of parliament, are set to march in the capital Riga next Wednesday in an event that has become an annual tradition.
At least several members of the All for Latvia party will march in the event, which marks the unofficial holiday of Latvian Legion Day, which honors those who fought in the German-organized, anti-Soviet Latvian SS Legion -a component of the Waffen SS- according to reports by the Baltic Course and TASS news agency. A countermarch is also expected to be held.
“Wednesday’s march of SS veterans is another example of the systematic efforts of post-Communist eastern European countries to rewrite the narrative of the World War Two and the Holocaust,” argued Dr. Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi hunter and the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office.
Neo-Nazi party wins seats in Slovakia parliament for first time
JTA, March 6, 2016
A neo-Nazi party in Slovakia won seats in the nation’s parliament for the first time.
In the results of Saturday’s national elections announced Sunday, the People’s Party-Our Slovakia garnered 8 percent of the vote, three times more than expected, which is equal to 14 seats. The country’s parliament, the National Council, has 150 members.
Party chairman Marian Kotleba had led the neo-Nazi Slovak Togetherness-National Party, a banned party that organized anti-Roma rallies and was sympathetic to the Slovak Nazi puppet state during World War II, The Associated Press reported.Read the full article here.
Thousands Attend Anti-Russian Rally In Georgian Capital
RFE/RL, March 6, 2016
Thousands of people gathered in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, on March 6 to protest negotiations between their government and Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom.
The demonstrators formed a nearly 7-kilometer human chain stretching from the Russian Embassy to the government headquarters.
The protesters say they fear that buying gas from Gazprom would make Georgia dependent on Russia.
The rally was organized by former President Mikheil Saakashvili's pro-Western United National Movement party (UNM) that accuses Moscow of using Gazprom in a bid to prevent Georgia from forging closer ties with the West.
Juncker Says Ukraine Not Likely To Join EU, NATO For 20-25 Years
RFE/RL, March 4, 2016
It will take Ukraine at least 20 to 25 years to join the European Union and NATO, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said March 3.
"Ukraine will definitely not be able to become a member of the EU in the next 20 to 25 years, and not of NATO either," he said in a speech at The Hague.
While Juncker did not explain why Ukraine would have to wait so long, his speech was aimed at reassuring Dutch voters that this year's free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU was not a first step toward quickly joining the European Union.
Despite his prediction, the EU has been paving the way for visa-free travel to the bloc for Ukrainian citizens while providing Kyiv with a generous $40 billion bailout along with the United States and the International Monetary Fund to help it maintain economic stability amid a war with Russia-backed separatists.
Ukraine PM challenges president to ‘back me or sack me’
Neil Buckley and Roman Olearchyk
Financial Times, March 10, 2016
Ukraine’s prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk has challenged president Petro Poroshenko to “back me or sack me”, saying decisive action is the only way out of the country’s month-long political crisis that risks triggering early elections and derailing pro-western reforms.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Yatseniuk complained bitterly of constant attacks from a governing coalition that includes 136 MPs from the president’s party, saying it was “uncomfortable [to be] stabbed in the back”.
Parliament, he noted, had failed to pass 60 per cent of government bills. But Mr Yatseniuk defended his record, insisting Ukraine was an “entirely different country” from 2014, when a revolution ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich.
His comments came amid intense backroom political manoeuvring, with the US-born finance minister Natalie Jaresko and the parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman said by political insiders to have been sounded out over the premier’s job.Read the full article here.
Fierce fight under way to replace Yatsenyuk
Kyiv Post, March 10, 2016
Agreement on the need to remove Arseniy Yatsenyuk is a lot easier to come by than consensus on who should replace the unpopular prime minister.
But two names keep coming to the forefront of discussions for the post: Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko and Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Groysman.
Both dodge the question of whether they’ll take the job, however, and Yatsenyuk shows no signs of wanting to leave after surviving a no-confidence vote in parliament on Feb. 16. “Back me or sack me,” Yatsenyuk said in an interview with the Financial Times published on March 10.
Ukraine’s spiraling political crisis gained steam on Feb. 3, after Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius resigned, alleging corrupt officials close to President Petro Poroshenko were interfering in his work. Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaliy Kasko deepened the crisis by quitting on Feb. 15, alleging systemic corruption and obstruction of justice that he said Poroshenko is doing nothing to eliminate.
The departures of Abromavicius and Kasko came amid growing public anger over the lack of progress in achieving the goals of the EuroMaidan Revolution that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych – a genuine fight against corruption, establishment of the rule of law and the adoption of Western democratic principles.
Russian-Iranian S-300 Missile-Deal Reportedly Delayed
By Anna Dolgov
Moscow Times, March 9, 2016
Russian officials conceded some problems with supplying S-300 missiles to Iran but maintained the deal was still in place, the Kommersant newspaper reported Wednesday, after a Kuwaiti daily cited an unidentified high-level source as saying Moscow has decided to suspend shipments.
Both Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, and a spokesperson for Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport declined to comment on the Kuwaiti report, Kommersant reported. But several unidentified officials “in the military-technological cooperation sphere” said the contract remained in effect and Russia had no plans to cancel it, Kommersant said.
Deliveries of the S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran have, however, hit some snags over payment issues, unidentified Russian officials conceded, Kommersant reported.
A contract, reached last November, called for Iran to pay about $1 billion in several installments, and envisaged the first shipments of S-300 missiles as early as February, to be followed by two more later this year, Kommersant reported.
Russian Activists, Western Journalists Attacked Trying To Enter Chechnya
RFE/RL, March 9, 2016
A Russian rights group says two Western journalists and two rights activists were hospitalized after masked men with knives and clubs attacked them as the group tried to enter Russia's Chechnya region from neighboring Ingushetia.
The Committee to Prevent Torture said its workers and the journalists were still within Ingushetia on March 9 when they were attacked by about 20 men -- thought to have come from Chechnya -- who burned their minibus.
Maria Persson Lofgren, a Moscow-based correspondent for Swedish Radio, and Norwegian reporter Oystein Windstad of the Oslo daily Ny Tid were hospitalized with injuries from the attack.
Another reporter with the group, Aleksandrina Yelagina of the Russian magazine The New Times, said the attackers called them "terrorists" and said they had "no business on our territory."
Why Does Putin Surprise Us Again and Again?
By Stephen Blank
Atlantic Council, March 7, 2016
From Great Britain to the Black Sea, Russia is waging a constant, unceasing information war against virtually every European government. This war takes many forms, but information war in essence entails what Peter Pomerantsev called the weaponization of information in the form of lies, misinformation, propaganda, exploitation of agents of influence, and reflexive actions inducing opponents to behave in ways they think benefit them but actually work to the enemy’s advantage. Among other things, numerous reports show that an army of so-called trolls exist in Russia who do nothing but defame honest reporters and reporting on Russia, and saturate the internet, television, newspapers, and other media with their misinformation.
All of this is well known, but in Europe and the United States, the “counterattack” to this form of warfare is almost invisible. US officials freely admit that they cannot deal with these attacks, and certainly there is no observable strategy, or even the beginnings of a program of action to confront this campaign of mendacity.
Yet the means to oppose this challenge are available to those who care to look for them. There is general agreement that the roots of Russia’s information war date back to the Soviet period. Both a cadre of experts and a literature exist that explain this form of warfare in both the past and the present, and outline how it can be successfully fought.Read the full article here.
Like, Share, Convict: Russian Authorities Target Social Media Users
By Daria Litvinova
Moscow Times, March 10, 2016
It was a throwaway comment, forgotten almost the minute it was written. Then again, Viktor Krasnov could hardly have predicted the trouble those three words -"God doesn't exist" - would cause. He couldn't have imagined that two VKontakte users would file a formal complaint to the authorities, claiming the comment "insulted" them; that police would show up at his apartment in the southern Russia city of Stavropol a year later; that they would charge him with insulting religious feeling; that he would be committed to a mental institution; or that he would lose his business as a result.
"Never in a million years did I think law enforcement would pursue something like that," he told The Moscow Times.
Far from being an isolated incident, however, Krasnov's case is one of a growing number of prosecutions based on social media use. Since Putin's return to the Kremlin in 2012, dozens of websites have been blocked and branded "extremist," and the number of people prosecuted has ballooned.
But while some argue the war on social media is exclusively a tool against the opposition, a closer inspection reveals a more indiscriminate picture. All kinds of ordinary people have been targeted - you do not have to be criticizing Putin to be threatened with a jail term. Read the full article here.
Russia's Risky Syria Strategy
By Ilan Berman
International Journal on Security Affairs, March 9, 2016
In September 2015, Russia formally waded into the civil war in Syria. Over the course of two weeks, the Kremlin commenced a major military intervention into the brutal four-and-a-half-year-old conflict, deploying thousands of troops, breaking ground on a new air base in Latakia, and dispatching an array of heavy war materiel (including tanks and fighter aircraft) to the Syrian theater. As of this writing, the Russian military contingent in Syria is estimated to number 4,000 soldiers.But it could grow bigger still, because Russian president Vladimir Putin has pledged to send as many as 150,000 additional troops to the country. In the meantime, Russia’s military has already launched hundreds of airstrikes aimed at assorted anti-regime forces. The message is unmistakable: Russia is in Syria to stay.
On the surface, the rationale behind Russia’s intervention is clear: to strengthen longtime ally Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power. The months preceding Russia’s entry into the conflict saw the Assad regime progressively lose ground against its domestic opponents. An August 2015 assessment by IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review noted that the Syrian regime’s hold on territory has shrunk by 18 percent over the prior eight months, leaving it in control of just a sixth of its country. Regime setbacks, moreover, had taken place despite the heavy, sustained presence of both Iranian forces and Hezbollah irregulars fighting in support of the Syrian government. Against this backdrop, Moscow’s assistance is sorely needed.
Remembering Boris Nemtsov
By Mikaila Altenbern
Atlantic Council, March 3, 2016
Boris Nemtsov’s legacy and his final project—exposing the Kremlin’s role in the war in Ukraine—were remembered at an event in Washington to mark the first anniversary of his assassination.
“He was a man of great values,” said Paula J. Dobriansky, a Senior Fellow at Harvard University and an Atlantic Council board director.
Nemtsov was shot dead outside the Kremlin on February 27, 2015. In Moscow, thousands of people participated in a memorial rally to mark the first anniversary of his assassination.
Dobriansky acknowledged the “profound” role Nemtsov, a Russian opposition politician, had played in exposing the Kremlin’s lies by documenting the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine. She spoke at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council and the US Senate Human Rights Caucus in Washington on March 2.
Dobriansky was joined in a panel discussion by Rob Berschinski, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy. John Herbst, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, moderated the discussion. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a co-chairman of the US Senate Human Rights Committee, delivered opening remarks.Read the full article here.
Obama: Ukraine 'Vulnerable' To Russian 'Military Domination' No Matter What U.S. Does
RFE/RL, March 10, 2016
President Barack Obama said in remarks published on March 10 that Ukraine "is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what" the United States does.
In one of a series of interviews that formed the basis of an article in The Atlantic magazine, Obama said that Ukraine is clearly a core interest for Russia but suggested that it may not be one for the United States.
Ukraine is "an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for," Obama said.
He rejected the notion that "the decision making of Russia or China" could somehow be influenced by "talking tough or engaging in some military action" in such situations. Such an idea "is contrary to all the evidence we have seen over the last 50 years," Obama said.
Obama resisted pressure last year to send lethal military aid to help Kyiv fight against Russia-backed separatists who control part of eastern Ukraine. Their war against government forces has killed more than 9,100 people since it broke out in April 2014 -- shortly after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine.
Obama said that there are "ways to deter, but it requires you to be very clear ahead of time about what is worth going to war for and what is not."
He said: "If there is somebody in [Washington] that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, they should speak up and be very clear about it."
Tajik restrictions on opposition, civil society, media ‘eroding’ rights, says UN expert
UN News Center, March 10, 2016
An independent United Nations human rights expert today voiced concern over the increasing Government restrictions on opposition parties, civil society and the media over the past year in Tajikistan.
“The people of Tajikistan enjoy fundamental protections under their Constitution and human rights law, but those protections are eroding as the Government punishes dissent, limits access to alternative voices in the media and online, and shrinks the space for civil society,” David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said at the end of a week-long official visit to the Central Asian country.
The expert voiced particular concern over the recent ban of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the prosecution of at least 13 of its leaders in secret trials.
“The Government accuses the IRPT and its members of serious crimes, but it has refused to give public access to the trial and evidence,” Mr. Kaye said, urging the Government to release all persons detained on political grounds and ensure due process and a fair trial.
He also drew attention to the attacks on members of Group 24 and other independent politicians. Criminal cases have also been brought against lawyers defending opposition leaders, and other critical voices also reported harassment.
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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.