Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three 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). 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. Currently there are four countries designated under these authorities: Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Iran, and Syria.
|Cuba||January 12, 2021|
|Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)||November 20, 2017|
|Iran||January 19, 1984|
|Syria||December 29, 1979|
On Oct 5, 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday said Russia should not be designated a state sponsor of terrorism, a label Ukraine has pushed for amid Russia’s ongoing invasion while Moscow has warned it would rupture U.S.-Russian ties, AP reported.
Asked if Russia should be designated a state sponsor of terrorism, Biden told reporters at the White House: “No.”
According to Crisis Group, Should the U.S. make this designation, Russia would join a very small group of countries on a list that the U.S. government has traditionally reserved for those nations it considers pariahs – a designation that by all appearances is often based at least as much on overall enmity as on a country’s specific relationship to terrorism. The list presently includes Cuba, Iran, Syria and North Korea; past designees have included Sudan, Libya and Iraq.
The reason for the push is clear: civil society groups, opinion leaders and politicians in the U.S. have urged Washington to levy additional penalties in response to its massive February invasion of Ukraine. The calls grow louder as the war drags on and as journalists and civil society groups circulate graphic, well-documented accounts attributing atrocities to Russian forces in Ukraine. Proponents of the state sponsor of terrorism designation hope it will further stigmatise and isolate Russia for launching a brutal war on its neighbour. But the concrete implications of a designation could be highly counterproductive – narrowing space for diplomacy if and when the moment for peace talks arrives, driving up already dangerously high tensions and impeding multilateral efforts to address conflict situations and humanitarian crises around the world.
In July 2022 Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) led a bipartisan group of Members in introducing the Russia is a State Sponsor of Terrorism Act. Rep. Lieu introduced the bill, which will deem Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism for invading and attacking Ukraine, with Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Jared Golden (D-ME), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ).
Document says that the Government of the Russian Federation has and continues to promote acts of international terrorism against political opponents and nation states.
Under the orders of President Putin, the Government of the Russian Federation engaged in a campaign of terror, utilizing brutal force targeting civilians during the Second Chechen War.
Actions by the Government of the Russian Federation against civilian centers, such as Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, left countless innocent men, women, and children dead or wounded.
Since 2014, the Government of the Russian Federation has supported separatists engaging in acts of violence against Ukrainian civilians in the Donbas region.
The Government of the Russian Federation provides material support to Syria, a nation currently designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, that has been used to target the Syrian people.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the Russian Federation spreads terror throughout the world through private military networks of mercenaries, such as the Wagner Group, in an effort to ‘‘project power cheaply and deniably’’. The Wagner Group collaborates with the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation to support the foreign policy objectives of the Russian Federation.
The Department of the Treasury identifies the Wagner Group as ‘‘a designated Russian Ministry of Defense proxy force’’ and states that ‘‘Wagner’s activities in other countries, including Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, and Libya, have generated insecurity and incited violence against innocent civilians’’.
It was reported in February 2022 that more than 400 Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group were dispatched to Kyiv with orders from the Kremlin to assassinate President Volodymy Zelensky and members of the Government of Ukraine.
On March 1, 2022, Jason Blazakis, the director of the Department of State’s Counterterrorism Finance and Designations Office in the Bureau of Counterterrorism from 2008 to 2018, wrote in reference to white supremacist groups that ‘‘Russia provides sanctuary to a U.S.-designated terrorist group, the Russian Imperial Movement, which operates with impunity in Russian territory.’’.
On March 17, 2022, President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the world to acknowledge the Russian Federation as a terrorist state.
The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has appealed to Congress to encourage the Department of State to recognize the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism noting that ‘‘the Russian Federation has for years supported and financed terrorist regimes and terrorist organizations, including being the main supplier of weapons to the Assad regime in Syria and supporting terrorists in the Middle East and Latin America, organizing acts of international terrorism, including the poisoning of the Skripal family in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the downing of a civilian Malaysian airliner and other acts of terrorism’’.
On May 24, 2022, Ukrainian prosecutors accused two Wagner Group mercenaries of committing war crimes against civilians near Kyiv.
On July 18, 2022, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence confirmed that the Wagner Group plays a central role in recent fighting in Ukraine, including Russia’s capture of Popasna and Lysyschansk.
The United States has a range of tools available to hold the Russian Federation account- able, reduce its war machine, and isolate it economi- cally and diplomatically, including by designating it as a state sponsor of terrorism and imposing cor- responding sanctions.