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Russia is a terrorist state and should be recognized as one internationally

Ukrainian officials continue to call for recognizing Russia as a terrorist state: it terrorizes civilians, threatens nuclear catastrophe, and uses food supply to bargain. As of now, Parliaments of two countries recognised Russia as the terrorist state. Now the floor goes to the USA that will result in more economic penalties for Russia – as well as companies and governments that continue to work with it.

Ukraine named Russia a terrorist state back in spring, as well as recognized its actions as a genocide, and banned Russian symbols like “Z” and “V”. Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba, regularly call for other countries to condemn Russian crimes in a similar manner.

“Who among you does not agree that this is terrorism? If in any part of the world any organization killed any civilians just as Russia kills Ukrainians, it would definitely be recognized as terrorism. Such an organization would become an enemy to all mankind. Therefore, what is punished at the level of specific criminals and criminal organizations must not go unpunished at the level of a state that has become a terrorist,” – Zelenskyy said in his speech to the UN Security Council.

Lithuania recognized Russia as a terrorist state on May 10. “The Russian Federation, whose military forces deliberately and systematically target civilian targets, is a state that supports and perpetrates terrorism,” states the resolution passed unanimously by Lithuania’s parliament. It also calls for establishing an international tribunal to investigate Russia’s crimes.

Latvia made a similar statement on August 11. The resolution by Latvia’s parliament condemned Russia for providing support and financing for terrorist regimes and organizations for many years, directly and indirectly.

In Ukraine, Russia has chosen a similar, cruel, immoral, and illegal tactic, using imprecise and internationally banned weapons and ammunition, targeting disproportionate brutality against civilians and public places,” – the statement says. 

Update: on November 23, 2022, European Parliament recognized Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism and a state that uses means of terrorism. The resolution also states the need to establish an international tribunal for Russia’s crime of aggression, isolate Russia at all levels, create of compensation mechanisms for Ukraine, etc.

The next country on the list may be the United States: the discussion about designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism has been going on for months. In April, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “there’s no doubt in my mind … that the Russians are terrorizing the Ukrainian people”. But “the question is this – and again, this is something that the lawyers are looking at – to make sure that we actually meet the statutory requirements of that designation.” For now, four countries have the designation – North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and Syria – for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism.

In July, the US Senate passed a resolution calling on recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. The resolution was unanimously approved, but it is nonbinding – the final decision is on Secretary of State Antony Blinken. At the same time, there is another approach among American congressional representatives proved by the bill introduced in the US Senate on September 14, 2022, which demands to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, if adopted. 

Why is Russia a terrorist state

International law does not have a standard definition of terrorism. In the UN, acts it is described as “criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”

And those acts are under no circumstances justifiable.

Russia is terrorizing people in occupied territories

Russian troops occupied Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, and other towns around Kyiv for a month – and it is truly difficult to comprehend all the horrors that took place there. Ukrainians were beaten, tortured, raped, and killed with their hands tight behind their back.

In Mariupol, the number of civilian victims is counted in the tens of thousands. The city was besieged and later occupied by Russian forces – and for weeks, people had little to no access to fresh water and food. Mariupol was destroyed by 80-90%, and several mass graves were found near the city.

After most of the Kharkiv region was liberated from the Russian occupation in September, numerous new crimes were revealed. A mass burial site was found in Izium with more than 440 bodies, most of which have evidence of torture and violent death.

99% of the exhumed bodies in Izium have evidence of torture and violent death. Photo: Glib Garanich

Read more: Mass burial site was found in the city of Izium after the Russian occupation

Russians maintain a state of terror in occupied Kherson and other southern cities. Occupants kidnap, beat, and hold captive residents, especially journalists, activists, volunteers, and community leaders. In many places, Russians allow hardly any safe passages for civilians to escape. People are forced to risk their lives under shelling, undergo humiliating and dangerous checks at roadblocks, or leave through Crimea and Russian territory.

In addition, Russia sends to Ukraine not just regular armed forces but also private military companies like Wagner Group, mercenaries that are not used to following international humanitarian law. And Wagner Group has been recruiting people for assault units among convicts in Russian prisons.

Russia targets civilian objects

According to the Security Service of Ukraine, only about one in 20 Russian missiles strike a military object, while others hit residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure.

News about a shopping mall attack in Kremenchuk, where 20 people died, or a missile strike in Vinnytsia, that killed 26 people, shocked the world. But those events are not out of line for Russia: they are shelling peaceful Ukrainian cities daily. Every day residential buildings, dormitories, and bus stations are under attack. Every day civilians are killed.

“And if someone launched a missile attack on a medical center in Dallas or Dresden, God forbid, what would it be called? Wouldn’t it be called terrorism?” – said Volodymyr Zelenskyy after the attack in Vinnytsia.

Ukrainian critical infrastructure is also targeted by Russian missiles. On September 11-12,  Russian forces hit the largest heat power plant in Kharkiv, as well as critical infrastructure facilities near the city. People in the Kharkiv, Poltava, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, and Donetsk regions were left without electricity and, in some places, without running water. 

Just in a few days, on September 14-15, missile strikes on Kryvyi Rih damaged the hydraulic structures of the Karachuniv reservoir dam. That resulted in the water level rise in the Inhulets river. More than 100 residential homes were flooded.

Russia threatens the world with nuclear catastrophe

To begin with, by constantly reminding everyone about its nuclear arsenal – and about its willingness to use those weapons.

“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff,” – Vladimir Putin said on September 20. It is, however, worth mentioning, that his views on what is Russian land do not actually align with internationally recognized borders.

Russia is also endangering Ukrainian nuclear plants. First, the Russian forces took over the Chornobyl NPP and used the exclusion zone to store and transport its ammunition.

Zaporizhzhia NPP roof, damaged by the shelling. Photo: MAXAR

In early March, Russian troops also occupied Zaporizhzhia NPP, and it remains under their control. And that is nuclear terrorism of an unpresidential scale. With shelling of the infrastructure, mining of the site, and the unsafe storage of military equipment and ammunition near nuclear reactors, the power plant is constantly in great danger.  

Read more: What is happening with Ukrainian nuclear power plants? Part 2: an update on Zaporizhzhia NPP, consequences of a nuclear disaster

On September 19, Russian forces also shelled South Ukraine NPP, the National Nuclear Energy Generating Company of Ukraine reports. The missile landed 300 meters away from nuclear reactors, the shock wave damaged the NPP buildings and shattered over 100 windows.

Russia uses food as leverage

Before the full-scale war, Ukraine provided food for 400 million people worldwide. But since February 24, the Black Sea was blocked – and mined – by Russia, making it impossible to export grain, corn, sunflower, and other supplies on the previous scale. 

The war, started by Russia in Ukraine, threatens many other countries with food shortages and even famine. But it did not stop Russia from blocking Ukrainian ports for five months. Quite the opposite – it used food to bargain for an easing of sanctions.

Read more: Russian’s famine game

It is not just about Ukraine

Since 1991, Russia has started (or intervened in) several wars. Russian forces occupied part of Moldova, then part of Georgia, brutally suppressed the uprising in Chechnya, and supported Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria with troops and weapons.

Therefore, Ukraine is not the only one mentioned in the Senate’s resolution calling for recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. The resolution acknowledges that Russia’s actions in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine resulted “in the deaths of countless innocent men, women, and children.”

Russian troops in Syria. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Today, Russian officials still do not hesitate to use threads as a part of the country’s foreign policy. For instance, the decision of Finland and Sweden to join NATO was not taken well. They can join if they wish to, Vladimir Putin stated, but “if military contingents and military infrastructure were deployed there, we would be obliged to respond symmetrically and raise the same threats for those territories where threats have arisen for us”. 

Earlier, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the State Space Corporation “Roscosmos”, also “joked” about using a strategic missile system against Finland and Sweden if they were to join NATO.

In June, Russia conducted military exercises with simulated missile attacks against Estonia. In the same month, two other unpleasant occurrences took place: a Russian helicopter violated Estonian airspace without permission for two minutes and Vladimir Putin spoke about the Estonian town of Narva in a way very similar to his Ukrainian rhetoric. Putin stated that the Russian czar Peter the First didn’t conquer the town, but rather “took it back” from Sweden.

Lithuania also received its share of threats in June, after the county had banned Russian goods subjected to EU sanctions such as coal, metals, and construction materials from passing through its territory to Kaliningrad (this decision was later revised). The head of the Security Council of Russia Nikolai Patrushev warned Lithuania about the serious consequences of this, saying that Russia would “react to such hostile actions” and “their consequences will have a serious negative influence on the population of Lithuania”.

Oleg Tyapkin from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation also spoke about Poland in June. An official stated that Russia’s response to a build-up of NATO forces in Poland will be “proportionate and appropriate”. And earlier, Russian State Duma Deputy Oleg Morozov suggested that Poland “should be the next in line for denazification process after Ukraine”. 

Why does the designation as a state sponsor of terrorism matter?

Russia has already become the most sanctioned country in the world, but the USA’s official designation of such status can still have a significant impact. To begin with, on the country’s international image – if it even can drop any lower. But, more importantly, on opportunities to continue doing business “as usual”.

“And formal legal recognition of Russia as a terrorist state, in particular, recognition by the United States Department of State, is needed not as a political gesture, but as an effective defense of the free world. This decision will automatically make it difficult for the terrorist state to exist, and will automatically cut various political and business ties that Russia would maintain otherwise” – president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after Ukrainian prisoners of war were murdered in Olenivka.

The designation as a state sponsor of terrorism will allow private citizens of the USA to sue the Russian government, for example, in case their family members became victims of state-sponsored terrorism. The label will also result in restrictions on U.S. assistance to the country, limitations on the export of dual-use items, and miscellaneous financial consequences like freezing Russian assets in the United States.

Additional sanctions can be imposed not only on Russia, but on those who continue to do business with it. It will make banks, companies, and whole countries rethink their trade and other relations with Russia, as engaging in those may result in severe economic penalties from the USA.

Veronika Lutska