Centre for Defence Strategies

Europe needs the US to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism

With the support from

Mariia Kovach-Butsko is a nonresident fellow at the Center for Defense Strategies

On June 6, the Russian armed forces blew up the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant dam in Ukraine, leading to the flooding of territories downstream of the Dnipro and putting the lives of more than 16,000 people at risk.

In addition, unique ecosystems were destroyed, the region’s economy suffered enormous damage, and it is impossible to resume water supply to the temporarily occupied Crimea. The catastrophe occurred on the territory of Ukraine, but its consequences will have a negative impact on many countries in the world, including the Global South highly reliant on Ukraine’s ability to sustain its food production.

Despite numerous speculations, Russian had a clear motive, that is the expected counteroffensive by the Ukrainian army in that area and had prepared in advance. A week before the terrorist attack, the Russian government adopted a decree allowing the state to refrain from investigating man-made accidents and disasters at industrial facilities in the occupied territories, in particular, at hydraulic facilities. 

Numerous war crimes committed by the Russian occupiers in Ukraine illustrate the terrorist nature of Russia’s actions. The mass graves in Bucha, Borodyanka, and Irpin are testimony to this. After the autumn de-occupation of the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, evidence of war crimes committed by the Russian military increased significantly.

Having lost Kherson, the Russians intensified terror from the air. In recent months, the Russians have significantly intensified their missile terror, attacking Ukrainian cities and villages almost every night. Terror tactics are not new to Russia. Similar atrocities took place earlier in Chechnya, Georgia, and Syria

It was, however, the atrocities committed in Ukraine that have provoked a broad response from the international community aiming at isolating and punishing the aggressor. Currently, many European parliaments have recognized Russia and its regime as terrorists. This was joined by 46 PACE countries, NATO PA, as well as the European Parliament. Yet, all these resolutions are mostly of political nature. European states’ national laws do not provide any punishment for Russia. Today, the definition of a state sponsor of terrorism is only enshrined in the legal framework of the United States and Canada. 

Debates on the recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism have been continuing in the US almost since the beginning of a full-scale Russian invasion. It is in the United States and Canada that this status has specific implications.

According to American law, including a country in the list of states which sponsor terrorism imposes a number of sanctions on it. Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that the White House does not exclude the possibility of including Russia in the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Considering the blow-up of the Kakhovka dam and a series of other terrorist acts, such a move by Washington would be a powerful response to the aggressor. Recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States would lead to even greater economic and political isolation. This would be an effective mechanism and demonstration of US determination to accelerate Ukraine’s victory in every possible way – a signal that is not out there yet.

The US position that can be characterized as the ‘boiled frog’ strategy vis-à-vis Russia, including moderate economic sanctions, salami-slicing security assistance and cautious verbal deterrence, is in no way assisting in sending Moscow the right message, that is of America’s ‘all-in’ in Ukraine. Coupled with Biden’s administration hesitation towards Ukraine’s NATO-membership before the summit in July, this does not contribute to a robust Western deterrence strategy. Finally, the US stance on the creation of an International Tribunal on the crime of aggression is also regarded by Europeans as a litmus test on whether the US indeed peruse a hard-line policy towards Russia.

Whether they admit it or not, European allies are still looking towards the US in many issues related to the present war. No doubt, a firm American stance would trigger resolute actions from the European side too. Therefore, in the case of Russian terrorism, it is indeed in the hands of the American leadership to set the tone and foster a bolder reaction of the collective West.

Undoubtedly, this would trigger the EU to move faster on several tracks. By far the most important and symbolic in relation to the Kakhovka dam explosion are the sanctions on Rosatom and the nuclear industry, an issue stuck in the EU for month now. Apart from that, the EU would be emboldened to adopt a comprehensive regulatory framework with a clear definition of states sponsoring terrorism and states that use means of terrorism. Finally, the developments around the creation of the International Tribunal on the crime of Russia’s aggression could gain new momentum.

It is obvious that terrorism has become a state policy for Russia. Therefore, Western democracies should demonstrate leadership and act from a position of strength towards the Kremlin – the only language spoken there. The key point in implementing these steps is time. While the allies seek compromise solutions, people are dying daily in Ukraine. 

Source: Ukrainska Pravda