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EU lawmakers plan to designate Russia as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in line with requests from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“Russia is directing attacks against the civilian population and is targeting civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, medical facilities and schools,” reads a document prepared by the European Parliament’s research service.

If passed as a resolution on Wednesday, the appointment would be a largely symbolic condemnation of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and beyond. The US government has so far resisted the label for Russia, citing possible unintended consequences under its legal system.

Soldiers watch as firefighters put out a fire in a building after a Russian mine explosionThe invasion terrorized Ukrainians, but does that make Russia a sponsor of terror?Image: Bulent Kilic/AFP

What does the term “government sponsor” mean?

That depends on the jurisdiction. The United States has a special legal instrument that lists states that have “repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism.” Only Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria are currently included.

Inclusion means restrictions on foreign aid, a ban on arms exports to such governments, controls on exports of technology with potential military use, and financial restrictions. Crucially, it also has implications for Russia’s sovereign immunity from US courts.

Canada also has a similar instrument condemning “state sponsors of terrorism”.

In contrast, the European Union does not currently have a centralized list of “state sponsors of terrorism” and no corresponding instrument, as acknowledged by the European Parliament’s motion for a resolution published last week. Essentially, there would be no hard and fast legal consequences. The European Parliament has limited influence over foreign policy, which remains under the control of the 27 member states.

Has any country called Russia a “state sponsor”?

A number of US lawmakers have pressed the Biden administration for such a listing, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. In a September statement, Graham said lifting Russia’s immunity would allow “civil claims by the families of victims of state-sponsored terrorism.”

But other US officials say naming isn’t the best way to hold the Kremlin accountable. Listing Russia could undermine humanitarian initiatives as well as the US ability to help Kyiv down the line at the negotiating table, President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said last month. In the US, the designation has implications for third countries interacting with listed states.

So far, parliaments in several of Ukraine’s most ardent EU supporters – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – have declared that they view Russia under President Vladimir Putin as a state sponsor of terrorism. These resolutions were non-binding. The Kremlin accuses Latvian MPs of xenophobia. The lower house of the Czech parliament also issued such a statement.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe last month called on its 46 member states to declare Russia a terrorist regime under its current government.

State sponsors of terrorism vs. terrorist states

Under US law, states designated as state sponsors are accused of supporting international terrorism. For example, the US accuses Iran of supporting “proxies and partner groups in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, including Hezbollah and Hamas.”

Graham said Putin “is implicated in state-sponsored assassinations, the Russia-backed Wagner Group terrorizes the world, and the war crimes being committed daily in Ukraine shock consciousness.”

There is no universally accepted definition of the term “terrorist state,” said Lisa Musiol, EU analyst at the non-governmental organization Crisis Group. It implies that a country uses force against its own citizens or against other states, but its use is highly political, she said.

When it comes to the European Parliament’s resolution on Russia, the terms seem to be used quite interchangeably, Musiol said. Neither have any real legal consequences in the European Union, she added.

The motion for a resolution focuses largely on Ukraine but also mentions the Wagner Group. Last year, the EU imposed sanctions on the Russia-based private military entity linked to activities in Libya, Syria, Ukraine and the Central African Republic.

If everything is symbolic, why bother?

Zelenskyy has called on his allies, most notably the US, to designate Moscow as either a terrorist state or a sponsor of terrorism since shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February. But Musiol said it’s not necessarily a top priority for Kyiv compared to other, more concrete relief efforts.

In an email, a spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the right-wing group that tabled the motion, said a parliamentary vote to label Russia’s actions as terrorism would send “a strong signal”. ECR lawmakers expect the resolution to pass on Wednesday, the spokesman added. “The symbolic value of such a resolution must not be underestimated,” said the spokesman.

The motion for a resolution calls on member states to consider adopting the label and also proposes setting up a system that could pave the way for law enforcement.

However, analysts at the Crisis Group have opposed using existing available US measures against Russia as well, and share the Biden administration’s concerns. In an article published in August, two analysts warned that expulsion tends to create more friction, as in the case of Cuba, which was added in the final days of President Donald Trump’s 2021 presidency “due to questionable links to terrorism.”

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Musiol said it makes more sense for the European Union to focus on initiatives that have real consequences, such as further sanctions on Russia and arms supplies, economic aid and military training for Ukraine. Also as a symbolic gesture, it makes much more sense to offer the country the status of an EU accession candidate, said Musiol.

Edited by: Andreas Illmer

EU Legislators Could Call Russia A “state Sponsor” Of Terrorism – DW – 23.11.2022 – S Chronicles

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