Russia is a state sponsor of terror?

Foreign Affairs

Is Russia the State Sponsor of Terrorism in Russia?

The Putin regime may be evil but not a sponsor for terrorism.

War between Russia and Ukraine continues. Russia is the latest victim of an act of aggression. Already, it has been suffering a great deal, including thousands of deaths, massive displacements, and millions in damage. Fighting could go on for many months.

Kiev is still afloat thanks to the generous Western assistance. The West has been pushing Volodymyr Zelensky to allow active military intervention but so far it is unsuccessful. He is now urging the Biden administration not to make Moscow a state sponsor for terrorism.

There is one problem: Russia isn’t a state sponsor for terrorism.

The Putin regime, which has brutally invaded its neighbour, is obviously evil. Russia did not have any justification to invade its neighbor, but allied breaches of security guarantees and the expansion NATO’s reach at Russia’s borders help justify his actions. Moscow is a criminal actor. But that doesn’t mean Moscow is a terrorist state.

Zelensky is only too human in his desire to obtain as much from the West for his country. Any American president would do the same in a similar situation. The American colonists worked tirelessly to lobby the French monarchy for assistance when they sought independence. This was crucial for their triumph. (Ironically, Paris’s war with Great Britain ultimately was disastrous for France, bleeding the monarchy financially and thereby contributing to the subsequent French Revolution. Washington must remember that good deeds are not unpunished. )

The terrorism designation has little meaning and would only apply minor economic sanctions to the ones already in place. Although the bill could compromise Russia’s sovereignty immunity, any other impact would likely be minimal. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made this point: “The costs that have been imposed on Russia by us and by other countries are absolutely in line with the consequences that would follow from designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.” Calling a state or movement “terrorist” is primarily symbolic, a bit of name-calling to discredit the discreditable.

There might still be a reason to do this if terrorists are actually terrorists. The label was used repeatedly to describe regimes or movements that have not been involved in terrorism, or abandoned it long ago. This includes North Korea, Cuba, Yemen, Yemen (Ansar Allah or the Houthis), Syria and Sudan, as well as Iran. These cases showed that Washington was willing to label regimes it didn’t like. Sometimes, this was for good reason. However, successive U.S. administrations have shown that the mere fact of being called a State Sponsor of Terrorism does not equate to terrorism.

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Indeed, by the current standard, numerous countries could be placed on the state-sponsor-of-terror list, such as Myanmar/Burma, China, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few. The United Arab Emirates and Turkey are just a few of the U.S. allies that should be included on this list. Saudi Arabia is also on the list, with Crown Prince Mohammed “Slice’n Dice”, bin Salman as its leader, and well-known for his crimes of murdering and dismembering critics. The Kingdom is more repressive domestically and has killed more people internationally than even Russia.

These loose standards allow you to argue that the U.S. should be included on the same list, as its wars in the past two decades have caused far more civilian death than Russia’s in Ukraine. Washington supported Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s murderous aggression on Yemen. Bush II invaded Iraq in false pretenses and caused chaos. This led to a civil war that claimed hundreds of thousands civilian lives. America’s U.N. ambassador earlier admitted to the calculated killing of a half million Iraqi children through economic sanctions: “we think the price is worth it,” she infamously declared. Vladimir Putin doesn’t speak coldly about mass murder of innocents.

The most obvious reason to not include Moscow is to prevent misuse of a designation that was originally intended to cover what most people understand to be terrorism. Terrorism was considered a terrible crime and deserves special treatment. If a country has sponsored terrorist acts, the label is no longer relevant. It is better to stop naming terrorist countries as state sponsors than continue to dilute the label.

By separating the act and the classification, Washington made the label a special-interest contest that was used only to please the influential and clamorous. This reduces the effectiveness of the label even when properly applied.

Republican Presidents placed Cuba on the List to Win Votes in Southern Florida. While Saudi Arabia and UAE were perpetrators in mass war crimes against Yemeni civilians, they lobby for the Yemeni Houthis to be added to the List. There is now substantial support from Capitol Hill for the addition of Moscow to the list by law.

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Among the most avid proponents of targeting Russia is Sen. Lindsey Graham, who declared: “To me, Putin is now sitting on top of a state terrorist apparatus.” Graham should know, since he wanted America to intervene in every war he spied–including Iraq, Libya, and Syria. He even spoke positively about attacking North Korea and triggering a nuclear conflict; at least the deaths would be “over there,” he declared, and not in America. The total number of casualties could easily reach the thousands, or more. Is there a terrorist in the first place?

Including Moscow on this list will have two major negative effects on U.S. foreign policy. It would first affect our relationships with Russia. Graham seems enthused at the possibility of declaring economic war on the entire world, proclaiming: “It means that doing business with Russia, with that designation, gets to be exceedingly hard.” Imbued with hubris from years past, he would treat the rest of the world as a conquered province.

Washington will immediately cross-border with European countries that are still negotiating with Moscow regarding energy. Furthermore, Washington could be in financial battle almost anywhere due to the fact that most countries outside of America have refused to sanction Moscow. This includes Europe and U.S. allies, in Asia. The Global South will likely be united on this matter. They have grown tired of the hypocrisy displayed by the U.S. Many people blame Washington for the current economic problems they face. They are likely to resist any additional restrictions. This forces the Biden administration decide on how many enemies it will confront simultaneously.

This designation would also make it more difficult to reach a settlement for the ongoing war. Who wants to speak to terrorists? It would be more challenging to create and promote humanitarian agreements, like the one that was reached to transport Ukrainian grain to market. Anyone seeking to make a deal with Moscow would be more vulnerable to the sort of demagoguery routinely employed by Republicans going back to the Bush administration’s dishonest-but-effective campaign for the Iraq invasion. The reputational damage caused by Bush’s lies, which were numerous and expensively exposed later on did not heal.

Peace often involves making compromises with unsavoury people or movements. Yet negotiations with Moscow might be further impeded by the almost complete breakdown in relations if Russia acted on threats to close America’s embassy or break diplomatic relations. Both have not happened since the Cold War’s worst days. But bilateral relations continue to deteriorate. U.S. officials claimed responsibility for sinking Russian vessels and killing Russian generals in Ukraine. Their goal was to weaken Moscow. To that end they called President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, and demanded his resignation. He would be considered a terrorist by Washington, which is the most serious designation Washington uses. This could push him further towards rupturing all aspects of the U.S.-Russian relations.

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Some supporters of Russia’s terrorism designation seem to be unaware of the consequences. It is, in their opinion, another way of showing solidarity with Kiev. However, Congress can pass a resolution. A proclamation of friendship could be issued by the president. However, declaring Russia a terrorist country would only further erode the idea of meaning and make negotiations for an end to this conflict more difficult. Only those who want to defeat Russia until the end are the West’s only beneficiaries, regardless of what the consequences might be for Ukraine.

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Finally, Americans must reclaim their legislative and political processes from outsiders looking to control U.S. policies. Acting as if he were a Senate colleague of Graham’s, Ukraine’s Zelensky in June declared “the urgent need to enshrine [the terrorism designation] legally.” Doing so might be in Kiev’s interest, but America’s interest is what the president and Congress both should be defending.

Zelensky bravely rallied his nation to resist Russia’s invasion. His political demands, however, have exceeded the limits of any sovereign state. Graham and his fellow Americans should always think of America first when making U.S. policy. policy.

Russia committed a serious crime in invading Ukraine. Washington has defended Ukraine and provided the appropriate assistance. Moscow, however, is not a terrorist state like many of Washington’s allies. Terrorists should not be given terrorist status. Biden should look to increase, and not decrease, the chances of ending conflict in Ukraine.

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