Strong congressional support exists for branding Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, senators say
Stars and Stripes September 26, 2022
WASHINGTON — Two key members of the Senate Armed Service Committee expressed support Monday for designating Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, a label rejected by the White House but pushed by Ukraine.
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said there is strong recognition in the Senate and the House that Moscow belongs on the state sponsor of terrorism list, which now includes Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Syria. The designation would allow for broader sanctions to be imposed on Russia and further isolate the country from the West.
“All we have to do is look at the scenes from Bucha and Izium, where they’ve uncovered torture chambers, mass graves,” Shaheen said during an event hosted by the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. “I believe, sadly, that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has been sponsoring terrorism, [using] rape as a weapon of war against the women of Ukraine.”
The White House has so far resisted calls from lawmakers to add Russia to the state sponsor of terrorism list, arguing it would do more harm than good and possibly hinder humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. Only the Secretary of State has the power to make the designation, though Congress has taken steps attempting to include Russia in the list.
A group of House lawmakers introduced a bill in July seeking to slap the terrorism-sponsor label on Russia, pointing to its long record of targeting civilians in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria and Ukraine as well as supporting and financing terrorist regimes.
A similar bill was introduced in the Senate earlier this month. In July, the upper chamber unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make the designation.
Moscow has warned the move would rupture its already icy relationship with the United States.
Shaheen on Monday acknowledged the White House’s concerns and agreed that lines of communication should remain open with Russia but said Putin needed to be held accountable for war crimes. A state sponsor of terrorism designation would open Russia’s government to lawsuits and other civil claims from the families of victims.
Tillis echoed that sentiment, noting the Kremlin’s “killing, raping and terrorizing” extends to Africa, where the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group has sowed violence.
“The administration does have to walk a fine line when you're talking about a nuclear power and you're trying to deescalate the situation,” Tillis said. “But I do believe that there is a strong recognition by members of Congress, in both the House and the Senate, that they are a state sponsor of terror and they should be held accountable in the same way that any other organization has been designated as such.”
The two senators, who are chairpersons of the Senate’s NATO Observer Group, emphasized their staunch support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion and said they will continue to advocate for more weapon shipments as winter, and a potential stalemate, nears.
They did not take a definitive position on sending the long-range Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, that the Ukrainians are requesting for the battlefield, though the senators said they are arguing with President Joe Biden’s administration to do “everything possible” for Ukraine.
Tillis said Ukrainian forces have demonstrated they are “quick studies” and “good stewards of the resources” sent to them but more sophisticated weapons come with logistical and resupply questions that need to be answered before the U.S. can commit them to the front lines.
Shaheen added the U.S. also needs to balance Ukraine’s needs with “our own needs for the defense of the United States.”
The two senators on Monday announced new legislation to establish a critical munitions acquisitions fund to better manage industry production lines and keep U.S. military stocks from depleting during future conflicts. The bill will be filed this week as an amendment to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets spending priorities for the Pentagon, the senators said.