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Is Russia a State Sponsor of Terrorism?

VDV Russia
Russia's VDV Forces. Image Credit: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The U.S. is considering declaring Russia a state sponsor of terrorism for the war crimes and other atrocities Russian troops are committing in Ukraine.

In addition to the unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine, Russia and its forces have committed heinous war crimes against Ukrainian civilians and troops. The U.S. has already formally declared that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine.

What Is A State Sponsor of Terrorism? 

According to the State Department, countries that are determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism can be designated as states sponsor of terrorism in accordance with three U.S. laws (section1754((c)) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961), and suffer sanctions.

“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,” the State Department states.

In addition, if the U.S. goes forward with it and designates Russian a state sponsor of terrorism, any company, individual, or state that wins a court judgment against Moscow could access blocked or frozen Russian assets.

Designating a country as a state sponsor of terrorism falls to the State Department and Congress.

As of 2022, there are four countries designated as states sponsor of terrorism: Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Iran, and Syria.

Syria has the dubious honor of being the first country on the list when it was designated in 1979. Cuba (came out in 2015 but reinserted in 2021) and Iraq came next in 1982 (Iraq was removed and reinserted until finally coming out in 2004), followed by Iran in 1984 and Sudan in 1993 (it came out in 2020). North Korea brings up the rear when it entered the list in 2017.

An Ongoing Debate 

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the atrocities committed by the Russian forces against Ukrainian civilians, the U.S. is considering labeling Russia a purveyor of state-sponsored terrorism.

“For a country to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, the Secretary of State would have to determine that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. And only four countries have been designated to date — right? — Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Syria. The designation is defined by statute, meaning Congress has written into law the exact criteria under which a state would qualify as a state sponsor of terrorism,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

The Ukrainian government and President Volodymyr Zelensky have already asked for the U.S. to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.

When asked about a potential designation of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, said that “We are going to look at all potential options – options that are available to us under the law, options that would be effective in holding Russia to account – and if a tool is available and effective, we won’t hesitate to use it.”

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.