EU lawmakers set to name Russia a ‘state sponsor’ of terrorism – DW – 23/11/2022

European lawmakers seem ready to declare Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism”, in line with calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“Russia is directing attacks against the civilian population and targeting civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, medical facilities and schools,” reads a document prepared by the European Parliament’s research service.

If passed as a resolution in a vote on Wednesday, the designation would be a largely symbolic condemnation of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and beyond. The US government has so far resisted the Russia label, citing potential unintended consequences under its legal system.

Soldiers watch as firefighters put out a fire in a building after a Russian mine exploded
The invasion terrorized Ukrainians, but does that make Russia a sponsor of terrorism?Image: Bulent Kilic/AFP

What does the “state sponsor” designation mean?

It depends on the jurisdiction. In the United States, there is a specific legal instrument listing states that have “repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism”. Currently, only Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria participate.

Inclusion means restrictions on foreign aid, a ban on defense exports to these governments, controls on exports of technology for potential military use, and financial restraints. Crucially, it also has implications for Russia’s sovereign immunity in US courts.

Canada also has a similar instrument condemning “states that support terrorism”.

On the other hand, the European Union currently has no centralized list of “state sponsors of terrorism” and no equivalent tool, as acknowledged in the European Parliament’s motion for a resolution published last week. Essentially, there would be no definitive legal consequences. The European Parliament has a limited weight in foreign policy, which remains under the control of the 27 Member States.

Has any country called Russia a “public sponsor”?

A number of US lawmakers have pushed the Biden administration for such a list, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. In a statement in September, Graham said lifting Russia’s immunity would allow “civil claims from the families of victims of its state-sponsored terrorism.”

But other US officials say the designation is not the best way to hold the Kremlin to account. Putting Russia on the list could undermine humanitarian initiatives, as well as the ability of the United States to help Kyiv at the negotiating table, President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said last month. . In the United States, the designation has implications for third countries that interact with listed states.

So far, the parliaments of several of Ukraine’s staunchest EU supporters – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – have said they regard Russia under President Vladimir Putin as a sponsoring state. terrorism. These resolutions were not binding. The Kremlin has accused Latvian lawmakers of xenophobia. The lower house of the Czech Parliament also made such a statement.

The Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly last month called on its 46 member states to declare Russia, under its current government, a terrorist regime.

State Sponsors of Terrorism vs. Terrorist States

Under US law, countries designated as state sponsors are accused of supporting international terrorism. For example, the United States accuses Iran of supporting “proxies and partner groups in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, including Hezbollah and Hamas.”

Graham said Putin had “engaged in state-sponsored assassinations, the Russian-backed Wagner Group terrorizes the world, and the war crimes committed daily in Ukraine shock the conscience”.

There is no widely accepted definition of the term “terrorist state”, said Lisa Musiol, a European analyst with the non-governmental organization Crisis Group. It involves a country using violence against its own citizens or other states, but its use is highly political, she said.

When it comes to the European Parliament’s resolution on Russia, the labels seem to be used quite interchangeably, Musiol said. Neither really has legal consequences in the European Union, she added.

The motion for a resolution focuses largely on Ukraine, but also mentions the Wagner group. Last year, the EU imposed sanctions on the Russian-based private military entity, which is linked to activities in Libya, Syria, Ukraine and the Central African Republic.

If everything is symbolic, why bother?

Zelenskyy has called on allies, primarily the United States, to label Moscow a terrorist state or sponsor of terrorism since shortly after the full-scale invasion of Russia in February. But Musiol said it was not necessarily a major priority for Kyiv compared to other more concrete aid.

In an email, a spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the right-wing parliamentary group that tabled the motion, said a vote in parliament describing Russia’s actions as terrorism would send “a strong signal”. ECR lawmakers expect the resolution to pass on Wednesday, the spokesperson added. “The symbolic value of such a resolution cannot be underestimated,” the spokesperson said.

The motion for a resolution invites member states to consider adopting the label and also suggests putting in place a system that could pave the way for prosecution.

But Crisis Group analysts have also opposed using available US measures against Russia, sharing concerns with the Biden administration. In an article published in August, two analysts warned that the designation tends to cause more friction, for example in the case of Cuba, which was added in the last days of President Donald Trump’s presidency in 2021 “on the basis dubious links to terrorism.”

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Musiol said it made more sense for the European Union to focus on initiatives that have real consequences, such as new sanctions against Russia, arms deliveries, economic aid and military training for the Ukraine. Even as a symbolic gesture, offering the country candidate status for EU membership was far more meaningful, Musiol said.

Edited by: Andreas Illmer

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