Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 18, 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,

Lithuania’s largest Jewish museum announced a plan to open a new center dedicated to combating anti-Semitism. The new center, scheduled to open next year, is financed by the Lithuanian government and will focus on education on anti-Semitism and promoting tolerance in the country.

Last week, a $20 million Jewish community center and synagogue opened in Zhukovka, a suburb of Moscow. While the Zhukovka Jewish community is relatively small, several hundred people attended the opening of the 54,000 square foot community center and a synagogue that can accommodate up to 400 worshipers.

The Ukrainian government returned dozens of Torah scrolls confiscated by the communist regime to Ukraine’s Jewish community. Seventy members of the Ukrainian parliament, and high-level government officials participated in the ceremony, including Head of Presidential Administration Boris Lozhkin and Minister of Justice Pavlo Petrenko.

I represented NCSEJ this week at the luncheon dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council. NCSEJ worked together with U.S.-Ukraine Business Council for many years, and I look forward to continuing our partnership in the future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual press conference this Thursday, in which he address Russia’s domestic and foreign policies. At the press conference, President Putin said that Russia and the U.S. have narrowed their differences on solving the crisis in Syria.

After a meeting with President Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry announced that the United States is not seeking regime change in Syria. This is a change from the administration’s policy which required President Bashar al-Assad to resign. At the same time, it has been reported that Russia indicated that it has no objections to Assad stepping down at the end of a transition period. Foreign ministers of 17 countries who met in New York today in the latest round of talks on Syria continue to be divided over a solution to the crisis.

According to reports, the European Union has extended sanctions against Russia for another six months.  Last week, Italy called for further discussion on the issue.

We are in the middle of our once-a-year Chanukah Appeal. If you haven’t contributed please consider doing so.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice Chairman and CEO
Washington, D.C. December 18, 2015

U.S., Russia Drafting New UN Resolution Against IS Financing
RFE/RL, December 17, 2015

The United States and Russia are working together on a new United Nations Security Council resolution aimed at putting further pressure on the finances of Islamic State (IS) militants.

Adam Szubin, the acting U.S. undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the resolution will "fully criminalize" terror financing and is modeled along the lines of those that targeted Al-Qaeda finances after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Read the full article here. 

Lithuanian Jewish museum to open center to fight anti-Semitism
JTA, December 11, 2015

Lithuania’s largest Jewish museum presented plans to open a center dedicated to combating anti-Semitism and preserving Litvak Jewish identity domestically and abroad.

The Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum presented its Centre of Litvak Culture and Art last week at an event open to media, the Baltic News Service reported. Read the full article here. 

Russia to suspend Ukraine trade pact
BBC News, December 16, 2015

Russia's president Vladimir Putin has signed a decree that will exclude Ukraine from a free trade zone that includes former Soviet countries from 1 January.

Ukraine plans to join an EU free trade zone from that date.

Mr Putin cited "extraordinary circumstances affecting the interests and economic security" of Russia. Read the full article here. 

U.S. Congress To Pass IMF Reforms Raising Status Of Russia, China
RFE/RL, December 17, 2015

After years of delay, U.S. lawmakers are set to approve reforms boosting the power of major emerging countries like China and Russia at the International Monetary Fund.

After balking for years at the reforms, which would maintain the U.S. status as the IMF's largest shareholder, Republican leaders in a behind-the-scenes compromise December 16 included the changes in a big spending bill heading toward passage in Congress this week. Read the full article here. 

Ukraine to Suspend Trade with Crimea
Voice of America, December 16, 2015

Ukraine says it will suspend trade with Russian-occupied Crimea by mid-January.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in televised comments Wednesday the ban will begin in 30 days and will affect everything but humanitarian aid. Read the full article here. 

Putin: Russia Ready to Lift Visas for Georgia
Civil Georgia, December 15, 2015

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said at an annual press conference on Thursday that Moscow is “ready to cancel visa regime” for Georgian citizens.

Asked by a journalist from Tbilisi-based Maestro TV about Russia-Georgia relations in general and specifically on visas as well, Putin started responding by blaming Georgia’s ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili for taking “adventurous decisions” in 2008, which, he said, “led to territorial collapse of Georgia.” Read the full article here. 

Kremlin Denies Putin Met In Moscow With Sanctioned Iranian Commander
RFE/RL, December 16, 2015

The Kremlin has denied Iranian media reports that the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) General Qasem Soleimani, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks in Moscow earlier in December – despite facing a UN travel ban.

Iran’s FARS news agency said Soleimani and Putin met for talks on Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. Read the full article here. 

Putin’s War in Ukraine Slowly Rumbles On
By Nolan Peterson
Newsweek, December 17, 2015

As the Ukraine war approaches its third calendar year, daily skirmishes threaten to unglue a shaky truce. The consequences of Russia’s military pivot to Syria, meanwhile, remain foggy.
On December 14, the U.S. State Department updated its travel warning for Ukraine, urging all U.S. citizens in the eastern Donbas region and in Russian-occupied Crimea to get out. Read the full article here. 

In an ultra-wealthy Moscow suburb, a luxurious JCC opens its doors
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, December 15, 2015

On the only road connecting this affluent village on Moscow’s western outskirts, Russian secret service agents are blocking all inbound traffic. Drivers bound for Zhukovka pull over and step out to smoke while chatting with other motorists as a line of luxury cars grows on the shoulder of a two-lane road.

The closures are a frequent occurrence because Zhukovka and the adjacent riverside village of Barvikha are home to some of Russia’s richest and most powerful people. Among the combined 5,500 residents living in the villages are Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, who has a $52 million mansion in the area, and the Russian Jewish construction magnates Boris and Arkady Rotenberg. All three are associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Read the full article here. 

Ukrainian government returns Torahs confiscated by Communists
By Sam Sokol
Jerusalem Post, December 14, 2015

They came dancing into the Brodsky Choral Synagogue, a giant Romanesque building in downtown Kiev, tallit-covered Torah scrolls in their arms. Some 80 years after the communist rulers of what was then a Soviet republic confiscated the holy books in a crackdown on religious freedom, senior administration officials and lawmakers brought them back.

Thursday’s delegation included Boris Lozhkin, the director-general of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine; Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko; Oleg Lyashko, leader of the Radical Party; and 70 parliamentarians. Read the full article here. 

Vladimir Putin Chides Turkey, Praises Trump and Backs Russia’s Economy
By Andrew Kramer
New York Times, December 17, 2015

With his customary swagger and salty language, President Vladimir V. Putin held forth on a sweeping array of topics in his traditional year-end news conference on Thursday, even throwing in a glowing assessment of Donald J. Trump.
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Mr. Putin drew applause from the crowd of journalists when he lashed out at Turkey for having shot down a Russian bomber, daring the Turks to try it again with Russia’s advanced air defense system in place. Read the full article here. 

No 'regime change' in Syria: After talks in Moscow, Kerry accepts Russian stance on Assad
AP, December 15, 2015

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday accepted Russia's long-standing demand that President Bashar Assad's future be determined by his own people, as Washington and Moscow edged toward putting aside years of disagreement over how to end Syria's civil war.
"The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change," Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin. A major international conference on Syria would take place later this week in New York, Kerry announced. Read the full article here. 

EU resists Russian overtures on Ukraine
By Tom Burridge
BBC News, December 14, 2015

When Russia began air strikes in Syria in September, it said it was fighting terrorism, targeting so-called Islamic State (IS) fighters. But Moscow also had geopolitics in mind.

And while it clearly had other foreign policy goals, could Moscow now be using its involvement in Syria as leverage over EU sanctions linked to the crisis in Ukraine?
Read the full article here. 

Stick to Sanctions on Russia
By Andrew Fox
New York Times, December 16, 2015

Ukraine and Russia are still at war. Since the Minsk II peace agreement came into effect on Feb. 15, nearly 400 Ukrainian soldiers and more than 200 civilians have been killed. Many more may die yet. As European Union leaders gather for a summit meeting this week, with the issue of whether to renew sanctions against Russia far from resolved, they cannot afford to ignore the continued violations of the cease-fire.Read the full article here. 

Saakashvili rankles rivals as his popularity in Ukraine grows
By Roman Olearchyk
Financial Times, December 17, 2015

Mikheil Saakashvili tends to provoke strong reactions. Earlier this week Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, hurled a glass of water at Mr Saakashvili, accused him of being a thief and ordered him to: “Get the hell out of my country!”

At the same high-level meeting in Kiev, Arseniy Yatseniuk, Ukraine’s prime minister, blasted the former Georgia president, who this year became a regional governor in Ukraine, as “a clown” who was brought to the country to “do a job, not to engage in political trickery”. Read the full article here. 

U.S. Bill Seeks Sanctions On Azerbaijani Officials For 'Appalling' Rights Record
By Carl Schreck
RFE/RL, December 16, 2015

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. lawmaker has introduced legislation that would deny U.S. visas to senior Azerbaijani officials due to what he calls Baku's "appalling human rights violations."

U.S. Representative Chris Smith (Republican-New Jersey) introduced the bill, titled the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, in the House of Representatives on December 16. 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.