The recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism is today the main goal that Ukraine is trying to achieve in the international sanctions pressure on the Russian Federation, the head of the President’s Office, Andriy Yermak, said in a recent interview with NV.
Previously, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy repeatedly called on the world community to recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism against the background of countless war crimes committed by the Russian Federation, including the killing of civilians and rocket attacks on the civilian infrastructure of Ukrainian cities.
“These are not accidental rocket hits at kindergartens, schools, shopping malls, residential buildings, these are calculated strikes by the occupiers. Russia should be recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism. The world is capable, and therefore must stop Russian terror,” Zelenskyi said on June 28 after the attack on the Amstor shopping center in Kremenchuk. He and a number of other officials of the President’s Office, as well as the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, have been repeating a similar call since the first months of spring — and they voiced it again after Russia struck the center of Vinnytsia on July 14.
In addition, on May 3, 2022, the Verkhovna Rada appealed to the House of Representatives and the Senate of the US Congress to recognize the Russian Federation as a sponsor of terrorism. The Parliament of Ukraine also recognized the Russian Federation as a terrorist state on April 14, introducing a special term for this in Ukrainian legislation.
Some countries are already following this example: on May 10, the Lithuanian parliament unanimously adopted a resolution in which it recognized the Russian invasion of Ukraine as genocide, and Russia itself as a state that supports and commits acts of terrorism.
On July 21, OP Chairman’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak supported Nancy Pelosi, who called on the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to decide on this landmark step towards Moscow. “There cannot be “flexibility” and realpolitik when one country kills children and blackmails half the world with hunger and cold. Speaker Pelosi’s brilliant position: Russia is a terrorist country and will be officially recognized as such. Putin dreamed of going down in history like Peter I. Now his name will be next to bin Laden,” Podolyak expressed confidence.
NV tells what it would mean to include Russia in the list of sponsors of terrorism in the USA and what are the chances of making such a decision.
“The state is a sponsor of terrorism”: what gives this status and who gives it
The term “state sponsor of terrorism” is a term used by the US State Department to designate those countries “that have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.”
As a rule, the US Secretary of State makes a formal decision to recognize a country as a “sponsor of terrorism”.
It means that the US government imposes four main categories of sanctions on such a state:
• restrictions on US aid, including economic aid;
• ban on the export and sale of defense products to such a country;
• additional control measures over the export of dual purpose goods;
• various financial and other restrictions.
In addition, if the US recognizes a country as a “sponsor of terrorism”, this has a number of other consequences:
• sanctions and various measures against those persons and countries that trade with a “terrorist” state;
• removal of diplomatic immunity from representatives of the country sponsoring terrorism (for example, family members of victims of terrorist attacks or attacks perpetrated by such a state are given the right to apply for compensation to US courts);
• a reputational blow to the state.
As of the summer of 2022, the US list of state sponsors of terrorism includes four countries:
• Cuba (from 1982 to 2015, then removed from the list under Barack Obama, whose administration eased US sanctions against Cuba, and returned to the list again in 2021, eight days before the end of Donald Trump’s term)
• DPRK (in 1988-2008, then it was excluded after the agreement on the admission of IAEA inspectors to all nuclear facilities declared by the agency, and again returned to the list in 2017)
• Iran (since 1984)
• Syria (since 1979)
Previously, this list also included Iraq, Libya, South Yemen and Sudan at different times.
Discussion in the USA: why is the Biden administration delaying and whether the State Department can still recognize the Russian Federation as a “terrorist” country
Calls to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism were heard in the USA long before the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine in February.
For example, in the summer of 2020, even under Donald Trump, the largest group of Republican lawmakers in the US Congress (Republican Study Committee, 147 congressmen) stated that the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by Washington since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were insufficient. Therefore, they proposed new measures against Moscow — and, above all, the idea of recognizing the Russian Federation as a sponsor of terrorism.
“Russia supports terrorism around the world while pretending to fight it. The commander of the US forces in Afghanistan announced that Russia was supplying weapons to the Taliban. Russia coordinated its actions in Syria with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, providing them with air support,” the 120-page document Strengthening America and Countering Global Threats said.
There were other attempts to secure the status of a “terrorist” state for the Russian Federation, the BBC recalled. In the spring of 2018, after the attempt by the Russian special services on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Great Britain, a member of the US Senate International Affairs Committee, Robert Menendez, called for such a step against Moscow. And in December 2019, the Senate International Affairs Committee supported a bill introduced by Republican Senator Cory Gardner to recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism.
However, Russia has never been included in this list. However, the brutal and brutal full-scale war that the Kremlin is waging against Ukraine has repeatedly strengthened both Kyiv’s calls for such a step and the grounds for it.
On May 12, 2022, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Joe Wilson and Democrat Ted Lew, introduced a bipartisan resolution proposing to recognize the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
“The USA will have the opportunity to ban the export [of goods to the Russian Federation] of dual purpose and to take measures of an economic nature against other countries that do business with Russia. At most, the United States will be able to expand measures against Russia by freezing its assets in the United States, such as real estate […] This will be a reasonable way to provide further assistance to Ukraine,” argued the authors of the resolution.
They also recalled that in addition to war crimes in Ukraine and “the bloody massacre that has already resulted in the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and military personnel,” Russia’s involvement in international terrorism over the years “is much broader and well-documented.” The congressmen explained that they mean both direct attacks and attacks directed through private military organizations or committed by mercenaries. “This rampant terror must be stopped,” they urged.
At the same time, a similar resolution was approved by the US Senate Committee on International Relations at the end of June. The document is also bipartisan: Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Richard Blumenthal proposed it.
“Putin is a terrorist, and Putin’s Russia is one of the most destructive forces on the planet,” said Senator Graham. — Putin’s Russia deserves such a definition […]. We are also making it clear to the Russian people that we are fighting Putin — and as long as he is your leader, engaging in this kind of activity [international terrorism], you will be isolated on the world stage.”
The senators also provided a long list of arguments in support of their claim, including the following facts:
• at the direction of Vladimir Putin, the authorities of the Russian Federation encourage acts of international terrorism against political opponents and national states;
• on Putin’s order, the Russian government launched a campaign of terror, using brute force against civilians during the Second Chechen War; and the actions of the Russian army in Grozny led to the death or injury of countless innocent men, women and children;
• since 2014, the Russian government has supported separatists who commit acts of violence against Ukrainian civilians in Donbas;
• since the entry of the Russian Federation into the civil war in Syria in 2015, the Russian army has struck civilians in Syria, carrying out attacks on markets, medical institutions and schools; at the same time, the authorities of the Russian Federation provide material support to Syria – a country that is already a state sponsor of terrorism;
• The Russian Federation sows terror throughout the world, including through private military mercenary networks, such as Wagner’s PMC, in an attempt to consolidate its influence over a number of regions and support the goals of the Russian foreign policy; at the same time, the US Treasury Department considers Wagner’s PMC to be “puppet forces of the Russian Ministry of Defense”;
• in February 2022, it was reported that more than 400 Russian mercenaries, including those from Wagner’s group, were sent to Kyiv with orders from the Kremlin to kill President Volodymyr Zelenskyi and Ukrainian government officials;
• The armed forces of the Russian Federation committed numerous mass executions of innocent civilians and tried to cover up their crimes with mass burials throughout Ukraine;
• On March 14, 2022, OSCE Chairman-in-Office Zbigniew Rau recognized that the actions of the Russian government in Ukraine against innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure facilities are “state terrorism”;
• On March 17, 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi called on the world to recognize the Russian Federation as a terrorist state, and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine addressed the US Congress with a corresponding appeal.
Finally, on July 20, Politico magazine, citing its own sources, reported on the phone conversation between the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and the head of the State Department, Anthony Blinken, in which Pelosi demanded that the Secretary of State declare Russia a sponsor of terrorism — or Congress would do it.
Moreover, the US Congress is already discussing such an unprecedented step, writes Politico. “There is no legal reason to prevent Congress from passing a law that effectively designates Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism,” one Democratic aide told the publication. “The adoption of such a law by Congress is, of course, a more difficult path than the decision of the Secretary of State, but it will give the [US president’s] administration the political cover it needs to increase economic pressure and anti-Putin rhetoric.”
Until now, the US State Department, which is responsible for the formal decision, has commented cautiously on the topic of recognizing Russia as a “terrorist” state. As recently as April 27, 2022, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said while speaking in Congress: “I have no doubt that the Russians are terrorizing the Ukrainian people.”
And yet, so far, the US State Department has not decided to take such a step, explaining its position by the fact that it requires a thorough analysis of all consequences. For example, State Department spokesman Ned Price explained to journalists in the spring that the White House has already imposed sanctions against Russia that include recognition of the Russian Federation as a sponsor of terrorism. “We are going to consider all possible options […] that will be effective in bringing Russia to justice – and if the tool is available and effective, we will not hesitate to use it,” Price commented on the possibility of recognizing the Russian Federation as a sponsor of terrorism.
Politico suggests that the delay of the US State Department may also be related to the fact that the scale of trade of the Russian Federation with other countries of the world is much larger than that of such countries as North Korea, Syria, Cuba and Iran, and therefore, to expand sanctions to many sectors of the Russian economy will be more difficult.
Now, however, if the resolution on Russia as a sponsor of terrorism is adopted by the US Senate or House of Representatives – or even both houses of Congress – Anthony Blinken may “feel more pressure” to side with the lawmakers and still include Russia on this list, the publication predicts.
Arguments for and against: will such a step help Ukraine – experts’ opinions
Foreign Policy magazine in its recent article analyzed why the hypothetical decision to recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism has a wave of skepticism.
“U.S. officials and experts familiar with the matter talk about debates in the National Security Council and the State Department over the substance of such a move, with some officials arguing that giving Russia the status of a sponsor of terrorism would be a powerful signal of support for Kyiv, while others say it would not is of great practical importance, as Russia has already faced one of the harshest sanctions regimes in the world,” the publication writes.
Among the latter is lawyer Ingrid Wurth, head of the Department of International Law at Vanderbilt University Law School and an expert of the US State Department’s Advisory Committee on Public International Law.
In a recent article, she points out that in practice, the inclusion of the Russian Federation in the list of “terrorist” countries does not make much sense and will be rather symbolic, since:
• Russia does not receive foreign aid from the USA anyway;
• there is already a ban on the export and sale of defense products to the Russian Federation;
• significant financial restrictions have already been imposed on Russia;
• such a step may make it more difficult to use frozen Russian assets for future compensation to Ukrainians for their losses in the war (since now plaintiffs of domestic American lawsuits for crimes of Russia over many years – including events in Chechnya, Syria, etc.) will be able to claim compensation from these assets;
• only a very limited group of plaintiffs (US citizens, US military personnel, and civil servants) will be able to receive the right to private lawsuits for acts of terrorism committed by Russia — for example, families of US citizens who died in Ukraine at the hands of the Russian military, or American relatives of killed Ukrainians , but not Ukrainian families.
On the other hand, the recognition of Russia as a sponsor of terrorism would have a significant reputational effect, counterargued other experts. Such a move would increase the pressure on the Kremlin and make virtually any relationship with Russia impossible for American citizens, writes Politico. “Declaring Russia a state sponsor of terrorism would be of great importance because it is a comprehensive measure,” Edward Fishman, an expert on sanctions at the Atlantic Council think tank, told the publication. “This brings risk to any relationship with Russia.” He also added that a congressional mandate to grant the Russian Federation such status would make any secondary sanctions against the Russian Federation “much more effective.”
Russia’s threats in response
The real significance of the recognition of the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism is largely reflected by the reaction of Moscow itself to such an alleged step. Each new wave of discussions about this decision provokes threatening statements in the Kremlin.
“It is very difficult to do something that could further spoil relations between Russia and America, they are already in an unattractive state,” Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmytro Peskov said on July 21, adding that the Kremlin “extremely negatively assesses the consequences of such a step.”
Earlier, the official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, called the initiative to recognize the Russian Federation as a sponsor of terrorism. “by an idiotic measure”. She stated that such steps “will develop” and “will not remain unanswered.”