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A Russian flag in a pre-trial detention center in Kherson. According to Ukrainian authorities, Russian troops used the facility to torture people

'The Kremlin’s escalating acts of terror against Ukrainian civilians' The European Parliament declared Russia a state terrorism sponsor. Will this change anything?

Source: Meduza
A Russian flag in a pre-trial detention center in Kherson. According to Ukrainian authorities, Russian troops used the facility to torture people
A Russian flag in a pre-trial detention center in Kherson. According to Ukrainian authorities, Russian troops used the facility to torture people
Murad Sezer / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

On November 23, the European Parliament adopted a resolution recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. The document accuses Russia of destroying civilian infrastructure and committing serious violations of international and humanitarian law, which the legislators say amount to acts of terror and constitute war crimes. The deputies also called on the European Council to add the Wagner Group, the 141st Special Motorized Regiment (the “Kadyrovites”), and "other Russian-funded armed groups, militias and proxies" to the EU’s list of terrorists.

How significant are European Parliament resolutions?

Resolutions are documents the European Parliament uses to express its position on a given issue; they can address any topic. But resolutions are not binding for EU member states. Researchers call them a tool of “soft law”: though they’re not mandatory, they can have practical consequences.

In June, for example, the legislative body adopted a resolution on “Violations of media freedom and the safety of journalists in Georgia.” The document didn’t have direct legal consequences, but it allowed European deputies to show that Georgia had still not met the criteria for joining the EU, and it described the conditions the country would have to meet for that to change.

Will this change anything for Russia?

Because the term “state sponsor of terrorism” doesn’t exist in EU legislation, the decision itself will not have legal consequences for Russia. However, the deputies called on EU member states to develop a new legal framework for designating countries “state sponsors of terrorism” and “states that use means of terrorism.” This, they note, would “trigger a number of significant restrictive measures” and “have profound restrictive implications” for the EU’s relationship with Russia and other states included on the list, although the resolution doesn’t specify what these measures would entail.

The UK Parliament is also discussing declaring Russia a “terrorist state.” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly recently told members of parliament that there were “grounds” for such a designation but that he did “not want to speculate in public about future designations.”

On October 13, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) also passed a resolution calling on its member states to declare Russia a “terrorist regime.” International law expert Gleb Bogush told The Insider that the measure was a “political gesture” that will have no legal consequences.

Additionally, the parliaments of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and the Czech Republic have all in various ways declared Russia to be a state supporter of terrorism, though in none of those countries did the measure carry significant legal weight. The Latvian Saeima’s statement, for example, called on EU countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian and Belarusian citizens and expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

Will declaring Russia a 'state sponsor of terrorism' ever actually change anything?

Yes — if the U.S. does it.

If Russia were added to the U.S. government's list of state sponsors of terrorism, it would trigger the freezing of Russian assets, new sanctions, visa restrictions, and — most importantly — the removal of ​​foreign sovereign immunity. That means American courts would be able to consider legal claims against Russia (and use seized Russian assets to satisfy them). The U.S. currently considers Cuba, China, Iran, and Syria to be state sponsors of terrorism.

Several bills calling on the U.S. State Department to declare Russia a state terrorism sponsor have already been introduced in Congress, though none have passed. Experts have speculated that if Russia were added to the list, the U.S. would lose some flexibility with its sanctions policy, since Washington wouldn't be able to lift specific restrictions without removing Russia from the list. The measure could also lead to further escalation, as experts at the RAND Corporation have warned.

Explainer by Petr Sapozhnikov

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