It’s about time we declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism

Sanctions are working, but the EU can maximise their impact by recognising Russia as a state responsible for terrorist acts
Rally for Ukraine, an anti-war protest in Glasgow, Scotland | Photo: Alamy

By Vladyslav Vlasiuk

Vladyslav Vlasiuk is an advisor to the Office of the President of Ukraine and the First Deputy Head of Task Force UA, a working group focused on the prosecution of persons involved in Russia's war

07 Oct 2022

Since 24 February, the Russian army has killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and it continues to carry out mass acts of terror in the occupied territories and territories controlled by the Ukrainian government. With the participation of international investigators, Ukraine has already documented more than 34,000 war crimes committed by the Russian Federation.

The severity of these crimes, which include the discovery of mass graves in cities such as Izium, increasing civilian casualties, extrajudicial killings, acts of torture, rape and sexual violence, forced deportation of children and enforced disappearances, has been confirmed by the Independent UN Commission on Human Rights.

According to international laws and declarations, State Sponsors of Terrorism (SSTs) are those whose governments have “repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism”, with terrorism being characterised as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets”. Given the dire situation on the ground in Ukraine, Russia most definitely meets the above criteria.

If the EU were to label Russia as a terrorist state, it would likely deter any reputable, international entity from carrying out business with Russia.

While the recognition of Russia as an SST is a US-focused designation, other countries in the sanctions coalition, including the European Union, must issue legally binding declarations or pass resolutions that hold Russia accountable for its terrorist acts and alienate its financial institutions and political influence from the rest of the world.

In July, Russia’s state budget ran a deficit of 30 per cent, suggesting that the financial resources for the war against Ukraine are running out. While some companies have been able to circumvent sanction policies until now, if the EU were to label Russia as a terrorist state, it would likely deter any reputable, international entity from carrying out business with Russia. This would prevent Russia from enlarging its war chest by profiting off international goods and technologies, while also increasing economic and political pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Our heroes in Ukraine are fighting not only for the integrity of Ukrainian land, but for the freedom of Europe as a whole. The EU’s support and cooperation are crucial to help minimise Russia’s ability to finance its gruesome war against Ukraine and prevent it from spilling over into Nato territory – an undesirable outcome for all.

Over the past month, Russian troops have significantly retreated from Kyiv and moved further from the Kharkiv region. Ukraine’s Armed Forces are also fighting successful battles in Donetsk, Luhansk and the southern region. Yes, these advancements are a consequence of the Ukrainian Army’s professionalism and extended artillery aid from the West, but they are also a result of effective sanction policies that are draining Russia’s economy and budget. Cutting Russia from the global financial system is proving to be working, but we must do more.

Cutting Russia from the global financial system is proving to be working, but we must do more.

If the EU holds Russia accountable for its terrorist acts, the courts could also work to award monetary compensation to victims of terrorism and confiscate diplomatic assets of the Russian Federation. It will provide an opportunity to isolate Russian-owned properties and state-controlled companies and enforce secondary sanctions on countries and individuals in the EU that are still cooperating with Russian entities.

What are the risks of the EU legally characterising the Russian Federation as a terrorist state? Perhaps it could result in further diplomatic and economic deterioration between Russia and the EU, whereby Russia will continue to weaponise energy supplies to the EU. Russia attacked Ukraine because it was convinced that the EU would be too divided and dependent on Russian energy to act. Despite Russia’s attempts to sow division and put pressure on European households with high energy bills, the Member States have taken the necessary measures to reduce their reliance on Russian gas by diversifying supplies, cutting back on gas consumption and rapidly filling up gas storage.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen very aptly said this in her State of the Union speech: “Russia has unleashed this war not only against Ukraine. This is a war against our energy, against our economy, against our values. This is a war against our future”. Officially labelling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism remains the only appropriate and proportionate response to Putin’s barbarism against Ukraine, its people and potentially wider Europe.

This is the firm position taken by the International Working Group on Sanctions Against Russia, also known as the Yermak-McFaul Group. Since its establishment earlier this year, the Group emphasised the importance of this step in its Action Plan and focused on this recommendation in its fifth working paper.

The Group’s experts, myself included, call on the European Parliament, European institutions and governments of the US, Canada, and other countries of the sanctions coalition, to officially label the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism.