There is only one problem with this idea: Russia is not a state sponsor of terrorism. Of course, the Putin regime is evil, it brutally invaded the country of its neighbor. There was no justification for Russian aggression, although Allied violations of multiple security guarantees and NATO expansion to Russia’s borders help explain his decision. Moscow is a criminal actor. However, this does not mean that it is a terrorist state.
Zelensky’s desire to get as much as possible for his country from the West is understandable. In a similar situation, any American president would have done the same. Indeed, in seeking independence, the American colonists lobbied diligently for help from the French monarchy, which proved to be decisive for their victory. Ironically, Paris’s war with Britain ended up being disastrous for France, causing financial damage to the monarchy and thus contributing to the subsequent French Revolution. Another proof that no good deed goes unpunished, which Washington must remember today.
The designation of terrorism is largely meaningless, and there will be modest economic sanctions compared to those already in place. The bill would jeopardize Russia’s sovereign immunity, but any additional impact is likely to be negligible. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “The costs that have been imposed on Russia by us and other countries are absolutely consistent with the consequences that will follow the inclusion of Russia in the list of state sponsors of terrorism.” To call a state or a movement “terrorist” is, first of all, symbolic, a little name-calling to discredit what is being discredited.
This could be justified if those who are called terrorists were actually terrorists. However, this label has been repeatedly applied to regimes and movements that have not engaged in terrorism or have long abandoned this practice – Cuba, North Korea, Yemen (Ansar Allah, or Khutis), Syria, Sudan, Iraq, and even Iran. In these cases, Washington labeled regimes it did not like, often for very good reasons. But successive US administrations have demonstrated that the name of a state sponsor of terrorism has nothing to do with terrorism.
Indeed, many countries could be included in the list of state sponsors of terrorism by current standards, such as Myanmar/Burma, China, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Rwanda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, to name but a few. Several US allies also deserve to be included in such a list: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Turkey and Egypt. Saudi Arabia, led by Crown Prince Mohammed “Slice ‘n Dice” bin Salman, known for killing and dismembering his critics, the kingdom is more repressive domestically and has killed more people internationally than even Russia.
By these loose standards, one could even argue that the US, whose wars over the past two decades have resulted in far more civilian deaths than anything Russia has done in Ukraine, should make the same list. After all, Washington helped Saudi Arabia and the UAE in their murderous aggression against Yemen. The Bush II administration invaded Iraq under false pretenses, devastating the country and sparking sectarian conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of civilian lives. The US ambassador to the UN has previously confessed to the calculated murder of half a million Iraqi children through economic sanctions: “We believe the price is worth it,” she ingloriously declared. Not even Vladimir Putin speaks so coldly about the massacre of innocents.
The most obvious reason for not including Moscow on the list is to stop misusing a designation that was originally intended to apply to what most people understand as terrorism. The practice of terrorism has been recognized as a particular horror and is believed to deserve unique treatment. This designation loses its meaning when used for reasons other than the fact that a particular country sponsors terrorism. It would be better to simply abolish the practice of labeling countries as state sponsors of terror rather than continue to blur that label.
By separating classification from action, Washington has turned the label into another special-interest contest used to please loud and powerful people. This reduces the impact of the shortcut even when properly applied.
Republican presidents are listing Cuba in an attempt to win votes in southern Florida, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who have committed massive war crimes in Yemen, are lobbying for the inclusion of Yemeni Houthis. And now there is significant support on Capitol Hill to override presidential discretion and add Moscow by legislative decision.
Among the most vocal supporters of Russia’s inclusion on the list is Senator Lindsey Graham, who said: “I think Putin is now sitting at the top of the state terrorist apparatus.” Graham should know, as he wanted America to intervene in every war he spied on – including Iraq, Libya and Syria. He even spoke positively about the attack on North Korea and the outbreak of a nuclear conflict. At least the deaths would be “out there,” he declared, and not in America. Of course, the total number of victims could be in the hundreds of thousands or even more. Who is the real terrorist?
The inclusion of Moscow on the list would have two significant negative effects on US policy. First, it will damage our relations with other countries dealing with Russia. Graham seems to be elated about the possibility of declaring economic war on the world, declaring: “It means doing business with Russia with that designation is going to be very difficult.” Infused with the arrogance of the past, he will treat the rest of the world like a conquered province.
Washington would immediately cross the path of European countries still dealing with Moscow in the field of energy. Moreover, with much of the world outside of America, Europe, and US allies in Asia withdrawing sanctions on Moscow — abstentions include notable states such as China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Brazil — Washington could be drawn into in the financial struggle almost everywhere. On this issue, the Global South is likely to present a united front. Its members have long been tired of US hypocrisy. Many blame Washington for their current economic difficulties and are likely to resist additional restrictions, forcing the Biden administration to decide how many adversaries it is willing to face at once.
The listing would also make it more difficult to resolve the ongoing war through negotiations. After all, who wants to talk to “terrorists”? Even humanitarian agreements, such as an agreement to supply Ukrainian grain to the market, will be more difficult to develop and promote. Anyone who tries to make a deal with Moscow will be more vulnerable to the demagoguery that Republicans have regularly used since the Bush administration’s dishonest but effective campaign to invade Iraq. The subsequent exposure of the administration’s many and costly lies has not repaired the damage done to the reputation of Bush’s political opponents.
To achieve peace, one often has to make difficult compromises with unreliable people and movements. However, talks with Moscow could be hampered by a near-total severance of relations if Russia follows through on threats to close the US embassy or sever diplomatic ties. Neither happened even during the worst days of the Cold War. However, bilateral ties continue to deteriorate. In Ukraine, American officials take credit for killing Russian generals and sinking Russian ships. They stated that their goal was to weaken Moscow; to do so, they called President Vladimir Putin a war criminal and called for his removal from power. By calling him a terrorist, which is the worst term in Washington’s official lexicon, they will further push him towards a complete severing of US-Russian relations.
Some advocates of labeling Russia “terrorist” seem oblivious to the practical implications of such an act. In their opinion, this is just another way to show solidarity with Kyiv. But Congress can achieve this by adopting an appropriate resolution. The president could issue a proclamation of eternal friendship. Unfortunately, declaring Russia a terrorist state will further deprive the concept of meaning and make it difficult to negotiate an end to the conflict. The only ones who stand to gain from this are those in the West who hope to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian, regardless of the devastating consequences for Ukraine.
Finally, it is important for Americans to win back their political and legislative processes from outsiders who seek to take over US politics. Acting as if he were Graham’s Senate colleague, Ukraine’s representative Zelenskiy spoke in June of the “urgent need to legalize [обозначения терроризма]It may be in Kyiv’s interests, but America’s interests are something that both the President and Congress must protect.
Zelensky bravely rallied his country to resist the Russian invasion. However, his political demands go beyond the boundaries of any sovereign state. Graham and his colleagues should think America first when shaping American policy.
Russia has committed a grave crime by invading Ukraine. Washington duly helped Ukraine in its defense. However, Moscow is no more a terrorist state than many of Washington’s allies. Terrorist status should only apply to terrorists. The Biden administration should seek to expand, not narrow, the options for ending the conflict in Ukraine.
1. Latvia recognized Russia as a sponsor of terrorism
2. Latvia resumed buying gas from Russia
So the US should impose sanctions on Latvia?