The European Parliament, the EU’s parliamentary arm, has just voted to recognize Russia as a terrorist state. This conclusion is actually long overdue but welcome nonetheless, as it accurately expresses the nature of the Russian state and its policy. Congress too, if not also the White House, should follow suit and emulate this action, thereby triggering the penalties for this designation embodied in US law.
Such a decision would contribute to the war effort against Russia in Ukraine by enhancing existing sanctions and would also be desirable for other reasons.
This designation of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism is long overdue because there existed abundant pre-war evidence that the Kremlin’s behavior merited such legislative action.
Russia has long been and continues to be a principal armorer of Iran, itself a state sponsor of terrorism, and through it Syria and the unquestionably terrorist groups of Hezbollah and Hamas. Since 2013 Russia has been shipping arms and providing intelligence to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Russian arms, sold to Venezuela, went with the Kremlin’s full agreement to the Colombian insurgent-terrorist group, FARC. Russia’s vast arsenal of unregistered weapons has been a source of massive arms transfers to African forces of all kinds. Russia’s so-called private military corporation, Wagner, which really is an arm of the state, has conducted massacres of Africans in the Central African Republic and Mali, while looting those countries’ resources. Russian war crimes in Syria, e.g. the bombing of hospitals, is also well known and many of these operations occurred at the behest of the present commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, General Vladimir Surovikin. Finally, Russia has carried out assassinations and attempted assassinations of dissidents in Great Britain, Austria, Germany, and the Middle East.
Inasmuch as all these activities transpired before or outside of the war in Ukraine, they denote a pattern of behavior that certainly fulfills the requirements for naming a government as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Neither should we be surprised. Obviously, many, if not all, of the actions unconnected with Ukraine were matters of high policy and the crimes committed in Ukraine that amount to an intentional genocide — torture, mass murder, mass rapes, mass deportations, particularly of children, the wanton destruction of Ukraine’s infrastructure, and ransacking of its cultural treasures — are clearly also not incidental, but are likewise state-sanctioned policies.
Indeed, these war crimes and the stated intention to destroy the idea and physical basis of Ukrainian nationhood and statehood, while the slaughtering of dissenting Ukrainians comes right out of Putin’s 2021 essay denying the validity of an independent Ukraine. When a government is guilty of habitual crimes abroad, and the resurrection of the Gulag and the cult of Stalin at home lights this match, the ensuing fire becomes utterly predictable.
Thus, in a sense, Russia’s qualifications for the title of state sponsor of terrorism are overdetermined. Likewise, as it is now deliberately perpetrating a genocide in this war, Russia, its leaders, and those who have committed war crimes must be held accountable for crimes against humanity, i.e., the same charges as were leveled against the Nazis in Nuremberg. The scale and nature of these crimes evoke not only the Holocaust but also the Russian civil war, Soviet collectivization, and the great purges under Stalin; in short, much of the range of Nazi and Soviet crimes.
While the US may be reluctant to impose this label of state sponsor of terrorism upon Russia for political reasons — given the penalties that must then be imposed under this law — doing so is not only a matter of moral clarity to use an old phrase, but also equally a requirement of strategic-political clarity.
Not only must we hold Russia to account for moral reasons but also we cannot expect peace in Europe until Russia acknowledges its past and present crimes, as did Germany and, in a different context, South Africa. Nobody today fears German power, nor is South Africa regarded as a threat because in both these states, albeit through different paths, they publicly came to terms with their past and acknowledged their responsibility for past crimes.
Until Russia acts similarly, it will continue to glorify Lenin and Stain’s crimes along with Putin’s more recent atrocities, to regard itself as both a victim of the West and as a providential state foreordained to be an empire. Thus, it will be a threat to all of its neighbors and impose a permanent state of siege, if not war, upon all its foreign relations.
We must, for both our values and our interests, emulate the EU’s decision. Russia today is not just a state sponsor of terrorism. It also is an outlaw state. Indeed, many experts on Russia have likened its government to a crime syndicate, a reputation that Putin and his sidekicks seem to embrace.
This outlaw state must be defeated and held accountable for its actions, not just for rudimentary reasons of morality, but because it is in the US interest, and that of our democratic allies. Otherwise, we will have to repeat this entire process again from a worsened strategic position and pay an even higher price than is now the case.
Stephen Blank Foreign is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.