Yesterday we shared with you the sad news of Vladimir Slepak's death. Volodya was a seminal figure to the Soviet Jewry movement, and much more. To my generation, he and his wife Masha were and always will be heroes. He and a handful of other courageous Jews in the USSR created a global movement, spurring the mass migration of millions of Jews to Israel and elsewhere. Even more so, Volodya and his friends challenged a totalitarian government and helped bring about its demise, which forever changed the world.
I first met Volodya and Masha in Moscow, in the early 1980s, in an apartment filled with Jewish refuseniks and activists. It was at a time when few Jews were able to make aliyah or emigrate. Most in the apartment were in great despair over their lack of success, but not the Slepaks. Volodya was a bear of a man who instilled confidence in everyone he met, and particularly on that cold January night.
Volodya and Masha sacrificed everything they had to secure not only their freedom, but the freedom of so many others. I was proud to welcome them to Washington in 1987 after they were allowed to make aliyah. After gaining their freedom they didn't forgot those who were unable to leave. They continued their efforts in Israel until anyone who wanted to emigrate was able to do so.
Their years in Israel were not easy. They and many other older refuseniks struggled to carve out a good life that all of them so richly deserved. As time moves forward, it is incumbent upon those of us who benefited from being part of this movement not to forget those who gave so much to us, the State of Israel, and the movement.
We lost a giant yesterday. I mourn the loss of Volodya, and hope Masha and their sons Lonya and Sanya know how much he meant to so many people.
In other developments this week, it appears that the Russian government is sending conflicting messages about the sale of S-300 missiles to Iran. Yesterday, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that Russia is not planning to sell the missiles to Iran "in the near future." Previously President Vladimir Putin lifted the ban on the sale of S-300, which he said was a "purely defensive" system which would not threaten Israel. The update includes a number of stories on the issue.
Reports are coming in about Russia's renewed efforts to mass troops and equipment along the border with Ukraine, in what U.S. government officials say is the highest concentration of forces and equipment since August 2014. Russian officials denied these reports, and accused the U.S. of sending forces to Eastern and Southern Ukraine. The number of ceasefire violations has risen in recent days. Yesterday, pro-Russian separatists shelled Ukrainian army positions on the outskirts of the strategic city of Mariupol.
Congress continues to pressure President Barack Obama to send lethal military assistance to Ukraine. Military assistance to Ukraine is supported by both sides of the aisle, and many within the U.S. government. President Obama has not yet made a decision on the issue.
The Babi Yar memorial in Kyiv was desecrated with swastikas this week, for the fourth time during recent months. We urge the Ukrainian government to bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent such incidents though better security measures.
I also want to recommend an interesting RFE/RL article by Robert Coalson on a new wave of emigration from Russia.
Mark B. Levin