In December 1988, Pan Am flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people. Most of the dead were students taking advantage of discounted travel from Europe to the U.S. for the Christmas holidays. It was a pure terrorist attack.
Arrest warrants were issued for two Libyans in 1991, with a single conviction in 2001. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi accepted responsibility in 2003 – paying $2.7 billion to the families of the victims – but denied having ordered the attack.
Payment of compensation saved Gaddafi, whose country was already one of the few that the U.S. and the West considered sponsors of terrorism.
How far are we from repeating this sequence of events in the case of Russia – from terrorist acts to the declaration of the nation as a state a sponsor of terrorism? Not far.
Eight years have passed since Malaysian airlines flight MH-17 was shot down while flying over the Donbas territory in eastern Ukraine, then controlled by Russian paramilitary forces. Moscow repeats that it has nothing to do with shooting down the plane and the death of 298 people, instead blaming the incident on Ukraine. Yet it would be reasonable to trust the findings of the Dutch investigation, which established that the plane was shot down by a Russian army missile, transported from Russian territory with a goal that was later fulfilled.
With this single act, Russia meets the criteria to be declared a state sponsor of terrorism. Moreover, it did not sponsor anyone else to shoot down MH-17 on its behalf. It did so by itself, using its own military resources. Since then, Russia has given the world many more reasons to be labeled a state sponsor of terrorism.
Russia’s on-going and brutal military actions in Ukraine, apart from being illegal, provide fresh evidence of terrorist activities on an almost daily basis, primarily through continuous attacks on civilians, with the intention of achieving a political goal. This is one of the basic definitions of terrorism.
The Russian state treats its aggression against Ukraine as a decisive battle against the West, and its top officials threaten Europe and U.S. with “judgement day”. Indeed, the former President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, recently threatened the West using those very words, if there was an attempt to return Crimea to Ukraine by using weapons.
The rhetoric is overwhelmingly reminiscent of ISIS leaders’ threats to the West if they continued to prevent them from establishing a Caliphate. We don’t even need an analogy with ISIS here, the Russian state already has people and units within its regular military composition, who consider the operation in Ukraine to be a “jihad” and a war against “Satan”.
Recently, Apti Alaudinov, the commander of the Chechen units in Ukraine, explained on Russian state television that they are participating in a “holy war” under the command of Vladimir Putin, against the “Antichrist”.
The only thing separating Russia from joining Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism, is the signature of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. On July 11, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed an amended resolution asking the Secretary of State to designate Russia accordingly. The list of reasons is extensive and they date back long before the recent full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Take for example the brutal use of force against civilians in the Second Chechen War, support for the violent actions of separatists in Donbas, the suffering of innocent civilians in Syria during attacks on markets, medical facilities and schools, and the spread of terror in many parts of the world through private military structures, under the control of the Ministry of Defense (Wagner group). In all these places and situations, as well as today in Ukraine, Russia has committed and continues to commit war crimes in which countless civilians, including men, women and children suffer.
While the decision is being made in Washington as to whether Russia will be declared a terrorist state, there is no doubt that it has already earned the name “rogue state”, which also exists in U.S. nomenclature of enemies of world peace. The late American diplomat and political scientist Madeleine Albright defined them precisely and briefly as “states that do not participate in the international system and strive to sabotage it.” In 2002, George W. Bush referred collectively to such states as the “axis of evil”, referring specifically to North Korea, Iraq and Iran.
Today’s Russia deserves to be in this company of wolves. It has already been expelled from many important international organizations, and it no longer shows a desire to participate in global affairs within the framework of traditional multilateral institutions. Instead, it follows its own mythical path of rebuilding the empire and subjugating all those who oppose it, if necessary, with military force, as is the case with Ukraine. Worse still would be nuclear weapons, which Putin’s propagandists continue to call for with fervor in their eyes.
There are no fundamental obstacles to declaring Russia a terrorist state. There are more than enough reasons. Given that this “title” is awarded only by the U.S., the only obstacle mentioned is that this measure would be only symbolic, since almost all possible sanctions have already been imposed on Russia. However, the symbolic designation alone would have a huge global effect, especially in anticipation of future international trials related to war crimes committed in Ukraine.
The impact would also be significant on Western public opinion, especially in Europe, where attention to the Ukrainian tragedy is increasingly “cooling down”, and the price of gas, heating, gasoline and food supply emerge as much bigger concerns. Some governments in European countries would then have to explain to their citizens why they do business with a “terrorist state” and comply with its blackmailing demands.
Russia and Putin will not be too concerned about whether the West designates them as terrorists or not. Their aggressive plans and actions have long ignored everyone, except their own mystical ideas about the realization of the great “Russian world”.
Russia should be labeled as a state sponsor of terrorism in order to preserve the civilized consciousness of the rest of the world, which must no longer have a dilemma as to the true evil nature of modern Russia.
Dr. Orhan Dragaš is a Serbian expert on security and international relations. He is the founder and director of the International Security Institute, based in Belgrade; author of numerous expert articles, newspaper columns, as well as the books “The Modern Intelligence-Security Community, Utopia or Reality”; and; “Two Faces of Globalization – Truth and Deceptions.”
The views expressd in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.
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