Senate resolution would urge Biden administration to designate Russia as state sponsor of terror

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Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2022.
Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

Two senators unveiled a resolution Tuesday calling on the Biden administration to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism for its war on Ukraine and conduct elsewhere under Vladimir Putin.

“Putin is a thug, and a bully, and he will continue being an increasing threat to Europe and the world unless he is stopped,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., as he announced the introduction of the resolution with Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican.

“If there is anybody who embodies terrorism, and totalitarianism and tyranny, it’s Putin,” Blumenthal said at a press conference.

The resolution, which comes in response to a request for such a move by Ukraine’s parliament, would ask Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism — possibly as part of a supplemental aid package for Ukraine set to be considered by Congress.

But so far, the Biden administration has resisted calls to add Russia to what is a tiny list of countries designated as terror sponsors: Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked Monday about imposing that designation.

Psaki noted that a number of the actions the United States would take if that happened, including imposing “crippling economic sanctions, sanctions on individuals” and other restrictions, as well as making a country “a global pariah … are all steps that we have already taken and implemented as it relates to Russia.”

She added, “We’ll see what happens in Congress.”

On Tuesday, Blumenthal conceded Psaki’s point that the U.S. has already punished Russia with many of the practical effects of a terror sponsor designation after it invaded Ukraine in late February.

However, Blumenthal said that one “really important” penalty for Russia would come from a terror sponsor designation: the lifting of sovereign immunity that currently protects Russia and most other nations from being sued by individuals for civil damages without the consent of those countries.

And Graham said it is important to label Russia as a terror sponsor to make clear that its conduct under Putin’s leadership is unacceptable, and to make clear how strongly the United States supports Ukraine in its effort to expel the Russian invaders.

“I can’t think of a stronger signal,” Graham said. “What are we trying to do here? “We’re trying to bolster the Ukrainians’ ability to fight for their freedom. We’re trying to delegitimize Putin.”

“Putin has engaged in war on multiple fronts for 20 years,” Graham said. “One of the most disruptive forces on the planet is Putin’s Russia.”

He estimated that if a vote is taken on the resolution, at least 90 senators in the 100-member Senate would vote in favor of it.

The proposed resolution cites more than the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. It calls for Russia to be added to the state sponsor of terror list for actions under Putin’s leadership that have included attempts to poison individuals whom he considers enemies, the attacks on the Chechen city of Grozny in 1999 through 2000 and the bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo in 2016, Blumenthal said.

Graham added that Russia is committing “war crimes on an industrial scale” in Ukraine.

The senators were asked at the press conference why they were not proposing a similar resolution that would ask that China be designated a state sponsor of terrorism, given allegations of the forceful harvesting of organs from people detained in Chinese prison camps, and for other human rights abuse claims against that nation.

While noting that they were focused Tuesday on Russia’s actions, particularly because of the ongoing war against Ukraine, both Graham and Blumenthal said that passing their resolution would put China on notice of what could happen if it invaded Taiwan or committed other acts of terror.

“The Chinese don’t want to be part of this club,” Blumenthal said of the state sponsors of terror list.

“I think they’re watching,” he said. “I think if we put Russia in this club, it will be another deterrent to China.”

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