Zelensky asks Biden to name Russia a state sponsor of terrorism

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made a direct appeal to President Biden that the United States should designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, one of the most powerful and far-reaching sanctions in the US arsenal.

Zelensky’s request, which has not been previously reported, came during a recent phone call with Biden, which centered on the West’s multifaceted response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to people familiar with the conversation.

Biden did not commit to specific actions during the call, these people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive dialogue between the two leaders. The president has told his Ukrainian counterpart that he is willing to explore a number of proposals to put more pressure on Moscow, they added.

Even during the Cold War, Washington refrained from designating the Soviet Union in this way, despite Moscow’s support for groups considered terrorist actors through the 1970s and 1980s.

Such a measure could have a number of effects, including the imposition of economic sanctions on dozens of other nations that continue to do business with Russia, the freezing of Moscow’s assets in the United States, including real estate, and a ban on a variety of exports that has both commercial and military uses ..

Zelensky’s proposal comes as Washington seeks to hold together its delicate network of alliances amid rising energy prices and rising inflation, which have been exacerbated by the unprecedented series of sanctions against Russia.

“Adding Russia to the list of state sponsors of terrorism would be the nuclear economic option,” wrote Jason Blazakis, a former State Department official and expert on terrorist designations, in a recent essay.

Since 1979, Republican and Democratic administrations have used the term terrorism sparingly and only at a handful of pariah states where the United States has limited interests.

The label, which requires a statement from the foreign minister, can be applied to any country that has “repeatedly supported international terrorist acts,” according to a Foreign Ministry fact sheet. The list currently mentions four countries: North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Syria.

Some right-wing Republicans in Congress have pushed for the Biden administration to add Russia to the list. But officials from the administration have been non-committal and only said they would consider the proposal, said a congressional assistant familiar with the talks.

When asked by Secretary of State Antony Blinken directly about US support for the nomination at a news conference last month, he said: “We are and we will look at everything.”

“Our focus is first and foremost on doing everything we can to help bring this war to a rapid end, to stop the suffering of the Ukrainian people,” he told Foreign Ministry reporters.

Zelensky’s declaration of support for the measure adds momentum to the push as world leaders seek to support the Ukrainian president through increasingly powerful military, economic and diplomatic means.

But some of Zelensky’s requests have been rejected in the past, including his demand for MiG-29 fighter jets, which some NATO countries said risked starting a broader Russian war in Europe. He has also called on European countries to close their ports to Russian ships and stop buying Russian oil, which they continue to do.

In fact, it may be easier to pinpoint Russia than it was for nations currently on the list. Cuba was added by the Trump administration in January 2021, shortly before Biden took office, for its refusal to extradite an American convicted of killing a New Jersey state troop in 1973, as well as its support for a Colombian guerrilla movement. Opponents criticized the move for using the term for political purposes.

On the other hand, Russia’s killings of civilians in Ukraine and Syria, its alleged assassinations and assassination attempts on dissidents and spies in foreign countries, and its support for separatists in Ukraine accused by the United States of murder, rape and torture could more easily fit the State Institute’s criteria.

“This proposal is not without value,” said Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council Eurasia Center. “The question is economic, what are the consequences?”

The decision to add a country is important because countries are rarely removed once they are on the list. Such a move typically requires an extraordinary event, such as a regime change – which led to the removal of Iraq from the list in 2004 following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein – or a major turning point in US policy.

Cuba was removed from the list during the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Havana, a move that was reversed by the Trump administration. Sudan was taken off the list after 27 years as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to reward countries that normalize relations with Israel.

“The list has no room for improvement other than perfection,” wrote Daniel Byman in an analysis of the Brookings Institution measure, “so states that dramatically reduced their support [for terrorism] but preserving some remaining bonds does not benefit. ”

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