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In Putin’s Russia, Jewish groups adopt silence as best protection


More then 6,000 young Russian-speaking Jews participated in summer camp programs offered by the Jewish Agency in the former Soviet Union -- activities that so far have avoided problems with the government. (Photo credit: Courtesy of the Jewish Agency via JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it didn’t take long for international Jewish groups to rush into Russia and begin rebuilding institutions of Jewish life that had been destroyed under generations of communist repression.

In the two decades since, Russian Jewry has undergone a remarkable revival, and Diaspora Jewish institutions from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to the Jewish Agency for Israel to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement have been there every step of the way.

But with the environment in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia growing increasingly hostile toward foreign nongovernmental organizations, could the operations of international Jewish groups be in jeopardy?

“We’re in a very reactionary phase,” said James Brooke, the Moscow correspondent for the Voice of America. “The current leadership doesn’t favor civil society and prefers vertical power, which is an authoritarian, dictatorial concept from the top of ‘salute and shut up.’ ”

On Oct. 1, in a sign of rising tensions between Washington and Moscow, Russia announced that it was ending all US Agency for International Development operations in the country, ending a program that has invested more than $2.7 billion in Russia since 1991 to promote “a more open and innovative society and a strengthened partnership between Russia and the United States.”