Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Lindsey Graham on Tuesday introduced a resolution to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism in a bid to drive the Kremlin further to the fringes of the international community, as Moscow’s assault on Ukraine shows no sign of relenting.
“By now we should have learned that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is a thug and a bully,” Mr. Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, told reporters. “He will … become an increasing threat to Europe and the world unless he is stopped. Designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism will embolden other European countries and the world to treat him as a bully and a thug and to avoid dealing with him.”
President Biden has so far resisted calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and members of Ukraine’s parliament to lump Russia in with Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Syria — the only four countries that currently carry the designation. But Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Graham, South Carolina Republican, hope to force the issue by attaching the measure to the nearly $40 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine up for consideration in Congress.
The lawmakers cite a list of grievances beyond Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including the Kremlin’s targeting of civilians during the Second Chechen War and the Syrian Civil War, as grounds for the designation.
The resolution also cites Russia’s use of mercenaries from the Wagner Group, which the Treasury Department has labeled as “a designated Russian Ministry of Defense proxy force,” to carry out acts of violence against civilians in Ukraine, Syria, Sudan and Libya.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers last month that while he had “no doubt” that “the Russians are terrorizing the Ukrainian people,” he said State Department lawyers were still determining “that we actually meet the statutory requirements of that designation.”
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When asked about the proposal on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted the steps that the White House has taken to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, including “crippling economic sanctions, sanctions on individuals, other restrictions for the country.”
“And obviously, making the country a global pariah is part of that objective,” she said.
Mr. Blumenthal acknowledged on Tuesday that the designation does little to add to the sanctions that the U.S. has already passed. But he said he hoped more Russian banks would be cut off from the SWIFT international transaction and messaging system.
Beyond leveling further economic blows to Russia, both lawmakers say the measure sends a strong message of solidarity with Ukraine and draws a line in the sand as to where the U.S. stands with the Kremlin.
“If the United States Congress could put into the supplemental aid package that designation of Russia being a state sponsor of terrorism, it would send the strongest signal yet that Putin as a leader of Russia is no longer considered legitimate,” said Mr. Graham. “We’re trying to delegitimize Putin. This would be the strongest statement yet that he’s not a legitimate leader in the eyes of the United States Congress [and] the Biden administration.”
“We should be all in, and making sure that Putin is marginalized and his country is marginalized as long as they engage in the behavior they’re engaging in,” he said.
The lawmakers also said the move could deter other U.S. adversaries from stepping out of line.
“The Chinese don’t want to be in this club,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “They’re watching. And if we act to put Russia in this club, it will be another deterrent to China.”
Mr. Graham said the measure would get “90 plus votes” in the Senate if included in the larger aid package, which is expected to move quickly through both chambers.
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