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Putin’s Russia as a State Sponsor of Terrorism

Putin’s Russia has become what the US Department of State calls a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

Here’s how: After the Anschluss of Crimea, Putin had three options. He could invade all or parts of Ukraine, or hope that pro-Russian demonstrators would flood Ukraine’s streets and assert their “people power.” The first option has not been pursued, perhaps because it’s too risky. The second failed, as the vast majority of Ukraine’s southeastern citizens have remained indifferent or opposed to unification with Russia.

That left Putin with one remaining option: terrorism.

Here’s why Putin’s Russia qualifies as a state sponsor of terrorism. According to 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.

There is overwhelming evidence of Russia’s direct and indirect involvement in the violence that rocked several eastern Ukrainian cities on April 12–13. Russian intelligence agents and spetsnaz special forces are directly involved; the weapons and uniforms worn by the terrorists are of Russian origin (a point made by the US ambassador to Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt); and the assaults on government buildings in Slavyansk, Mariupol, Makiivka, Kharkiv, Yenakievo, Druzhkivka, Horlivka, Krasny Lyman, and Kramatorsk were clearly coordinated by Russian intelligence. As EU High Representative Catherine Ashton delicately put it in a statement yesterday (pdf):

I am gravely concerned about the surge of actions undertaken by armed individuals and separatist groups in various cities of Eastern Ukraine…. I reiterate the EU's strong support for Ukraine’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity and call upon Russia to do so as well. To this end, the Russian Federation is urged to call back its troops from the Ukrainian border and to cease any further actions aimed at destabilizing Ukraine. (Emphasis added.)

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Wesley Clark was more blunt, stating that the attacks were not spontaneous and represented the second stage of Russia’s plan to occupy Ukraine (the first being the occupation of Crimea).

Does the behavior of the pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine involve “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets”? Obviously. Does this violence involve “citizens or the territory of more than one country”? Yes, it does. The violence therefore qualifies as international terrorism, and its perpetrators are obviously “terrorist groups.” QED.

By the way, the European Union’s far more detailed definition of “terrorist acts” should dispel any lingering doubts one may have had that the violence in eastern Ukraine qualifies as terrorist:

“Terrorist acts” mean intentional acts which, given their nature or context, may seriously damage a country or international organization and which are defined as an offence under national law. These include:

  • attacks upon a person's life which may cause death;
  • attacks upon the physical integrity of a person;
  • kidnapping or hostage taking;
  • causing extensive destruction to a Government or public facility, a transport system, an infrastructure facility;
  • seizure of aircraft, ships or other means of public or goods transport;
  • manufacture, possession, acquisition, transport, supply or use of weapons, explosives, or of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons,
  • participating in the activities of a terrorist group, including by supplying information or material resources, or by funding its activities in any way, with knowledge of the fact that such participation will contribute to the criminal activities of the group.

In order for these acts to constitute terrorist acts, they must be carried out with the aim of seriously intimidating a population, or unduly compelling a Government or an international organization to perform or abstain from performing any act, or seriously destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organization.

In light of Russia’s direct and indirect promotion of international terrorism in eastern Ukraine, Russia obviously qualifies as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and, after formally being declared as such, must be immediately subjected to the sanctions the United States is legally bound to impose on state sponsors of terrorism. (Naturally, the EU should follow suit.) Here’s the State Department:

Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act. Taken together, the four main categories of sanctions resulting from designation under these authorities include restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

Designation under the above-referenced authorities also implicates other sanctions laws that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with state sponsors. Currently there are four countries designated under these authorities: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

That list should now consist of five rogue countries—unless, of course, both Washington and Brussels prefer to supplement their weak-kneed response to Putin’s violation of international norms with an implicit endorsement of terrorism.

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