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Odessa’s Jews on Evacuation Alert, Russia Launches Choppers Near the Baltics

Plus, Albania grants tax delinquents an amnesty, and is Moscow waging a new kind of war?

by Ioana Caloianu, Barbara Frye, Annabel Lau, Piers Lawson, and Lily Sieradzki 5 May 2014

1. Odessa’s Jews nervously eye the exit

 

The Jewish community in the Ukrainian city of Odessa is preparing for a possible mass evacuation because of the eruption of violence over the weekend, The Jerusalem Post reports.

 

Street clashes escalated between Ukrainian nationalist and pro-Russia separatist groups in Odessa, which is significantly west of the eastern Ukrainian regions that have seen most of the violence so far.

 

Anti-Semitic graffiti on a wall near a synagogue in Odessa in April. Photo by Novoross/Wikimedia Commons.

 

On 2 May, more than 40 pro-Russia fighters died in a blaze when the trade union building they were occupying was burned to the ground, according to Reuters.

 

Jewish leaders assert that while the violence has not been directed toward Jews directly, they are concerned about its spill-over effects on their community.

 

Rabbi Refael Kruskal, who heads the Tikva Jewish social service agency, said the Great Choral Synagogue, located near the clashes, closed over the weekend.

 

Kruskal is considering renting space for 600 Jews in a holiday camp outside the city if there is more violence next weekend, The Jerusalem Post says.

 

This Friday, 9 May, marks the anniversary of Soviet Russia’s defeat of Nazi Germany.

 

Centers belonging to Odessa’s Chabad, a Hassidic community of ultra-Orthodox Jews, have remained open but are employing armed guards.

 

In addition, The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has arranged for 70 buses to be on standby for an emergency evacuation.

 

Odessa has a population of about 30,000 Jews, according to The Jerusalem Post. That is down from 600,000 in 1939, according to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.

 

In Odessa, a Holocaust memorial stands in former warehouses where thousands of Jews were shot and burned alive. This site and a Jewish cemetery were vandalized with anti-Semitic slogans in April, RT reported.

 

2. Russian helicopters patrol near Baltic borders

 

As tensions mount in the Baltic countries as a result of the crisis in Ukraine, a new Russian army helicopter brigade has begun training flights near the borders with Estonia and Latvia, PanArmenian.net reports.

 

Media in the Baltic countries and elsewhere have expressed security concern about the deployment, which includes dozens of attack and transport helicopters, the website reports, and which comes as more NATO troops and equipment pour into the region.

 

Toomas Hendrik Ilves
Despite American reluctance to engage in any new combat as it winds down its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said recently that he believes NATO would step up if Russia were to attack a member country, according to The Economist. The alliance’s founding treaty requires members to come to the defense of one another in such cases.

 

Likewise, Francois Heisbourg, of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, told the magazine, “The moment a Russian tank crosses the bridge at Narva [on Estonia’s border with Russia] it will be zapped.”

 

The Economist says Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has given NATO “a renewed sense of purpose” – particularly in the United States – to defend Europe.

 

That could be difficult in the Baltics, whose air space is covered by Russian missiles, The Economist notes. And it could be complicated, given the Kremlin’s stealth tactics in Ukraine.

 

“Mr. Putin does not do frontal attack; he does judo,” Heisbourg said.

 

3. Albania forgives millions in back taxes

 

Some businesses in Albania will see their overdue taxes forgiven in a controversial move to boost the economy, SETimes.com reports.

 

The amnesty will apply to unpaid taxes and fines dating from March to September 2013. It will cover more than 4,000 businesses that owe a total of almost 22 million euros ($30.5 million), Economy Minister Arben Ahmetaj said, according to SETimes.com.

 

The move is meant to provide businesses with “the proper space they need to exercise their activity in Albania,” a lawyer with the Economy Ministry told SETimes.com.

 

Albania sits in the middle of the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business assessment, ranking 90th of 189 countries. It gets low marks – ranked 146th – for its tax regime, but the index notes that things are improving. The major problems are the frequency with which businesses must make payments and the number of hours the process eats up, although the country’s tax on profits is actually lower than the average for Europe and Central Asia.

 

When the government took office last year, it vowed to pay off the more than 43 billion leks ($405 million) it owed to contractors, who in turn were not paying their debts and fueling a credit freeze.

 

The World Bank estimates Albania’s economy grew by 1.3 percent in 2013, down slightly from growth of 1.6 percent in 2012.

 

Critics of the amnesty complained that other taxpayers will have to pick up the tab for the money forfeited by the government and that the process has so far been opaque.

 

“Who are these businesses, why are their debts forgiven, and what are the requirements businesses should meet to benefit from this law?” one blogger asked, according to SETimes.com.

 

4. Russia fights a new kind of war

 

Russia is developing “new-generation warfare,” based on psychological tactics for undermining the resistance of its enemies rather than traditional military strategies, a prominent Latvian defense analyst argues in a new research paper.

 

Taking Russia’s annexation of Crimea as an example, Janis Berzins says the lack of resistance on Ukraine’s military bases demonstrates the success of the new approach.

 

Berzins outlines eight steps that characterize this new style to warfare, which have been summarized by journalist Edward Lucas.

 

  • Prepare the field by a combination of economic, political, diplomatic, and psychological pressure
  • Confuse the political and military leadership of the targeted country, with leaks and disinformation to compromise their decision-making
  • Intimidate and bribe state officials not to carry out orders and duties
  • Use propaganda to stir up discontent and deploy groups of trained provocateurs
  • Erect blockades, sometimes in the form of no-fly zones, or on the ground using contractors and disguised special forces
  • Launch cyber-attacks, industrial sabotage, intense diplomatic pressure and propaganda aimed at the outside world
  • In fighting, use precision munitions, including electromagnetic radiation and non-lethal biological weapons
  • Destroy remaining points of resistance – attack with advanced weapons and if necessary airborne assaults

 

 

“NATO, on a good day, would respond to stages seven and eight if they were used against a member country,” Lucas writes. “But not the first six. And if those have gone well, any outside military response will be too late.”

 

In his conclusions, Berzins says that while it is unlikely that Russia would attack Latvia directly, Moscow could easily implement the first five phases of its new approach because they do not give NATO grounds to intervene.

 

“Russia would like to split Latvia and take part of its territory in the same way it is doing in Ukraine,” Berzins writes.

 

5. Tajikistan hires first all-woman mine-sweeping team

 

Tajikistan has created an all-female mine-clearing team for the first time, Central Asia Online reports.

 

The women, all from the district of Kumsangir near the southern border with Afghanistan, are in charge of cleaning up land mines left behind from the civil war of 1992 to 1997.

 

The country is also plagued with mines along its northern border with Uzbekistan, placed there in 2000 by Uzbekistan “to deter Islamic militants operating in the area at the time,” the Institute for War and Peace Reporting wrote in 2012.

 

They were subsequently supposed to have been cleared, but that has not happened everywhere and scores of people have been killed, IWPR writes.

 

Recruiting and training the group began in January and February, Muhabbat Ibrohimzoda, director of the Tajikistan Mine Action Center, said, according to Central Asia Online. After three months of intense training and testing, 10 women were chosen from a field of 25.

 

The women’s brigade is being praised by some as a step forward in this patriarchal culture.

 

“Professions aren't divided into male and female ones," gender issues specialist Saiyora Ashrapova said, according to Central Asia Online. "We've been talking about gender equality for several years."

 

Favziya Nazarova, a researcher at the Dushanbe-based human rights and democracy think tank Nota Bene, praised the women for taking on a career that involves “a big risk and a real peril.”

 

The UN promotes the inclusion of women in mine action. Women make up more than 20 percent of the UN Mine Action Service field staff and more than 40 percent of the headquarters staff.

Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Annabel Lau and Lily Sieradzki are TOL editorial interns. Piers Lawson is a TOL contributing editor.
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