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Putin's War on Civilians Defines Terrorism

Russian President Vladimir Putin is rapidly cementing his reputation as a sponsor of terrorism in Ukraine. One could, with some stretch of the imagination, have qualified the earlier violence perpetrated by his proxies in eastern Ukraine as mere “separatism.” In a blog post on April 14, 2014, however, I suggested that it qualified as terrorism, and that Putin’s Russia was therefore a state sponsor of terrorism. I then provided the definition of terrorism found in Section 2656f(d) of Title 22 of the United States Code:

(1) the term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country;

(2) the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents; and

(3) the term “terrorist group” means any group practicing, or which has significant subgroups which practice, international terrorism.

The recent bombings of purely civilian targets in Kharkiv, Odessa, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhya provinces are terrorism, pure and simple. When bombs are intended to kill regular folk and then do so, the civilized world denounces such barbaric behavior as terrorism and rightly condemns its perpetrators as criminals. Or, at least, it should—even if the perpetrator runs a huge state with nuclear weapons and bank accounts in the West. If it fails to do so, it loses the right to condemn terrorism and terrorists anywhere.

The perpetrators of Putin’s terrorism are welcome to call themselves “partisans,” and their leader, “Rudolf,” insists they are acting on their own initiative. That’s about as believable as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s repeated statements that there are no regular Russian forces in the Donbas. Just as the Donbas proxies are creatures of the Russian security services and armed forces, so too the only possible rational working assumption has to be that the terrorists in southeastern Ukraine are the creatures of Putin. Given his ruthless mendacity and duplicity, it would be absurd and naïve to assume otherwise.

“Rudolf” claims that the terrorists number 10,000 in Odessa Province, 12,000 to 15,000 in Kharkiv Province, and 5,000 in Zaporizhzhya Province. The numbers are obviously greatly inflated. There could be that many sympathizers, in which case the actual number of active terrorists is probably in the hundreds. That makes them a tiny minority within populations that overwhelmingly reject everything the terrorists and Putin stand for. But terrorists always are small minorities who know that they don’t stand a chance in an open political competition and therefore need to terrorize.

The emergence of a Russian-sponsored machine expressly intended to kill Ukrainian civilians has several important implications—for Ukraine, the terrorists and their Kremlin sponsors, and the world.

Ukraine will have to get used to the fact that it has become the Israel of Eastern Europe. Terrorism will remain a threat to the security of its people as long as Putin rules the Kremlin. To live that way is terrible, but Ukrainians may console themselves with the fact that Israel has thrived despite terrorism.

The terrorists and Putin will fail to achieve their goals—whatever they happen to be. Terrorists may cause mayhem, but in the long term they rarely destabilize the states they attack. Rather, their pursuit of terror reliably creates a strong counter-terrorist security service and police force in the targeted countries. Ukraine’s security forces, which have already begun to crack down on the terrorists, will get better at their job as time passes. Just as Putin’s aggression in eastern Ukraine has led Ukraine to acquire a real army, so too his proxies’ bomb-throwing is leading Ukraine to acquire a real security apparatus.

Finally, it is time for the world and the West in particular to recognize that Putin is not just a warmonger and imperialist, but also a terrorist—no different than Muammar Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, or Osama bin Laden. They all kill civilians with abandon; they all engage in “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets.” Russia should be declared a state supporter of terrorism, and Putin should be shunned by every democratic leader who believes in the intrinsic value of human life. Anything else is to tolerate and encourage the barbarian in the Kremlin.

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