The US is ‘examining’ whether Russia should be classified as a state sponsor of terrorism. This is what that means


A man walks past a residential building that was badly damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine on April 18, 2022.

Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

WASHINGTON – As the international community seeks new ways to increase economic pressure on the Kremlin for its brutal war against Ukraine, the idea of ​​labeling Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism has recently received attention within the Biden administration.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked US President Joe Biden during a recent telephone conversation between the two leaders to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Biden did not respond to Zelenskyy’s request, The Washington Post reported, but he did not deny it either.

Since then, both the State Department and the White House have said publicly that the United States is closely monitoring the rules around designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.

But they also emphasized that the specific sanctions imposed by the state sponsor of terror label, such as arms embargoes, trade restrictions and suspensions of foreign aid, have already been imposed on Russia, raising doubts as to what constitutes terrorism at this point. could actually achieve.

“The sanctions we have imposed and taken are the same steps that would be taken by designating a state sponsor of terrorism,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday. Nevertheless, he said: “We will take a close look at all potential authorities. This is one of them.”

The label state sponsor of terrorism is one of the most far-reaching sanctions in the US diplomatic arsenal, usually reserved for the worst of the worst — countries that sponsor non-state actors outside their borders who commit terrorist acts against civilians.

To qualify as a state sponsor of terrorism, a country must have “repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism,” according to the official description of the law by the State Department.

Currently, only North Korea, Cuba, Syria and Iran are on the list. Previously, four countries were on the list, but the label was removed after regime changes: Iraq, Libya, South Yemen (now part of Yemen) and Sudan.

If Russia were added to the list, the move would come as part of the wider international campaign to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government for the brutal war they are waging against Ukraine.

But ironically, Russia’s current actions in Ukraine would almost certainly not qualify as the acts of state sponsorship of terrorism that would deserve formal designation by the United States.

“The state sponsorship of terrorism is a particular state that supports an out-of-state group engaged in terrorist activities,” said Alexander Motyl, a professor of political science at Rutgers University and the author of 10 books on the history of Russia and Ukraine.

“The designation would clearly have applied to Russia in 2014, when the Kremlin supported the separatists in the Donbas and they engaged in acts of violence,” Motyl said in an interview on Tuesday. “But today the people who commit the murders are Russian soldiers in uniform, so essentially they are the state.”

This is not to say that US diplomats should look very far to find cases of Russian state sponsorship of terrorism, he noted, pointing to the widely publicized poisonings of Russian dissidents outside Russia. Moscow denies involvement in the poisonings.

If the US formally designates Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, Motyl said, “the main value could lie in potential negotiations, where the label could be used as a medium of exchange.”

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The first talks between Ukraine and Russia have never reached a serious level and have completely stalled in recent weeks. Russia claims Ukraine has shifted its demands, but Ukraine insists Russian participation in the talks was just a ruse to buy goodwill in the West while the Kremlin bombed Ukraine.

With the talks nearing death, it’s hard to see what it could actually mean to add Russia to the list of state sponsors of terrorism at this point in the conflict.

“Now that they have been charged with genocide and war crimes, and Putin has been accused of being a war criminal, accusing him of [sponsoring terrorism] won’t matter much. Certainly not to him,” Motyl said.

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