OPD 15 Sept 2022, edited by Michelle Bisson
*Editor’s note: On March 4, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.”
The Senate has introduced a bill designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have created a stir by introducing a bill designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, despite reluctance on the part of the State Department and the White House. Such a radical step would be reckless and short-sighted. Avenues for communication and cooperation between the two major nuclear powers must remain open, despite disagreements between Moscow and Washington.
This marks Graham’s second bizarre legislative initiative in a matter of days. Just recently he surprised even his fellow Republicans by proposing a nationwide ban on abortion. As a practical matter, the bill has no chance of succeeding. Republicans themselves have doubts about bringing such a bill to life, to say nothing of Democrats. Even if Republicans win the midterm elections and secure a majority in both houses, which is less and less likely, President Joe Biden would hardly sign such a bill into law.
On Wednesday, Graham, together with Blumenthal, proposed adding Russia to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would put the Russian Federation on a par with North Korea, Iran, Syria and Cuba. Graham thinks Russia has earned it. Graham is a hawk, and he generally takes a more belligerent stance on Moscow than most senators, but he has supporters for this bill. On July 27, the Senate even passed a resolution calling on the State Department to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Both Graham and Blumenthal have a military background, although neither ever saw combat.
In July, Politico reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Secretary of State Antony Blinken that this is a necessary measure. But then Pelosi is every bit as capable of engaging in risky behavior as Graham.
In any event, this is inconsistent with the official position of the White House. Biden has indicated with ample clarity that he does not intend to designate the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Considering Pelosi’s penchant for trying to unite her party (see Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 21, 2022), it is possible she was not acting alone. But it is not at all clear that the Senate really wants to put Russia on a par with North Korea. Taking such a step could turn out to be quite costly. A breakdown in diplomatic relations with Moscow is almost inevitable if Graham’s and Blumenthal’s initiative succeeds.
Though there may be certain advantages as well. For instance, it would give the United States the ability to take $300 billion in Russian gold and foreign exchange reserves. Bear in mind that it was Kyiv that asked America to add the Russian Federation to its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
“On the one hand, there is interest in the White House — shared by Biden’s military advisers — in helping Ukraine,” opined Nikolai Popov, a leading researcher at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. “On the other hand, Washington must be aware that completely severing ties with Russia would not be to America’s advantage, and, come what may, there needs to be some space to pursue compromise.”
In a conversation with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, he emphasized that the White House will not want to exacerbate relations with Moscow on the eve of the November elections, now that the Democrats’ prospects at the polls have improved. On the whole, voters are more interested in domestic policy, and that is precisely where Biden is putting his efforts at the moment.