New leader of Russian Jewish group pursuing closer ties to Kremlin

moscow | Culminating a shift for his organization, the new leader of the Russian Jewish Congress has announced the group’s unconditional support for the Kremlin.

In a news conference Nov. 17, Vladimir Slutsker also indicated that the RJC, a leading Russian Jewish organization, was unlikely to pay special attention to Israel-related matters, and would focus instead on domestic issues.

Slutsker’s outlook raises the possibility that Russian Jewish organizational life will be marked by less acrimony than in recent years, but some observers worry that it also presages less independence for the group, whose founder was one of the leading critics of Russian governmental policy, particularly in Chechnya.

Slutsker, 48, a banker and member of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, was little-known to the public until he was picked last month to head the RJC.

He said at the news conference that he would try to keep the group apolitical. “The RJC should not be involved in politics, which means fighting for power, money or influence. It was that fight for power that led RJC to its current crisis,” he said in a veiled reference to RJC’s founder and former president, Vladimir Goussinsky.

Slutsker, who was officially installed as RJC leader last week, elicited a mixed reaction among Jewish leaders, though none appeared willing to criticize him openly.

For its part, the Kremlin welcomed the appointment.

“I am confident that under your leadership, the activities of the congress would be aimed at strengthening the unity of nationalities and religious faiths of Russia,” Vladislav Surkov, the powerful deputy head of Putin’s administration, wrote in his official greeting to Slutsker. The letter marked the first time in several years that the Kremlin, which has favored another Jewish group, the Federation of Jewish Communities, has sent an official communication to RJC, JTA has learned.

At the news conference, Slutsker made it clear that under his presidency the RJC would be loyal to the Kremlin — a departure from the image the group acquired under Goussinsky and has been unable to shed.

“If we pursue a policy aimed at strengthening of interethnic and interfaith peace, we will receive an appropriate support from the leadership of Russia,” Slutsker said. “The policy of RJC will not run against objective interests of the leadership of the country. We all want to live in a comfortable, peaceful and friendly society.”

Under Slutsker’s predecessor, Yevgeny Satanovsky, the RJC took an active interest in Israeli issues. But Slutsker’s words at the news conference indicated that he might change course. “By fighting terrorism in Russia, we are helping Israel. We are Russian citizens and we are not indifferent to the fate of Israel, but RJC does not plan any special programs that would help in Israel’s fight with Palestinian terror,” he said.