Russia: The State Sponsor of Terrorism?

September 1, 2015
A man holds a sign at a January 2015 rally in Kiev's Maidan Square commemorating the deaths of 13 killed by Russian-backed fighters in Volnovakha | © Volodymyr Petrov, Kyiv Post

Russia’s recent vote to block formation of a tribunal to investigate the shooting down of Malaysian Airline flights MH17 last year was entirely predictable. Undoubtedly a tribunal would have assigned guilt to Russia where it belongs, denting Mosco0w’s claim that it is responsible to nobody for its actions. But this vote also shows that Moscow remains a state sponsor of terrorism and not only in Ukraine. Since that vote The British government has assigned direct responsibility for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko to President Putin, and both the Russian and Western press have published reports that Russia is allowing homegrown terrorists to depart for Syria and Iraq so that they do not make trouble at home. Whatever Moscow’s motives, these are the actions of a state sponsor of terrorism.

Neither are they the only examples of such behavior. Putin came to power through bombings in Russian cities in 1999 that strongly look like the handiwork of the FSB and which represented (and were so described at the time) acts of terror against the Russian population in Moscow and other cities. Litvinenko’s murder was hardly the only act of political assassination abroad carried out by Russian agents. Russian agents are permitted by Russian law to conduct such operations abroad and have carried out political “hits” in Doha, and even in the United States. Many political refugees in London also claim to have received death threats. Neither does Russian sponsorship of terrorism abroad stop at political assassinations. Former President Jose Mojica of Uruguay wrote in his memoirs that Hugo Chavez told him in 2008 that Putin gave his support for a war against Columbia, a US ally at that time. We should remember that in 2008 Viktor Bout, who enjoyed high-level political protection in Moscow, was convicted of running guns to the FARC rebels in Colombia, Igor Sechin and Nikolai Patrushev were traveling around Latin America calling openly for an anti-American alliance and intelligence cooperation among friendly pro-Moscow Latin American states, and Moscow was selling Chavez’s Venezuela billions of dollars in weapons.

In the Middle East Moscow has been the main source for the sale of the chemical weapons that Bashar Assad (and his enemies) continue to use in their civil war despite the supposed removal of those weapons in 2013-14. Moscow also is a major if not the major purveyor of arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon and has supplied them and Hamas weapons through Syria and Iran. Moscow still recognizes Hamas as a legitimately elected government despite its refusal to renounce its calls for the destruction of Israel and continuing terrorist bombings and operations against Israel. Indeed, in 2007 its ambassador to Israel, Andrei Demidov, stated that it is essential for Israel to talk with Hamas no matter what it does. But when asked about Russia’s refusal to talk with Chechen terrorists he stated that this is because the Chechen problem is an internal Russian one and “we decide how to settle the problem.” Moreover, in complete defiance of the facts, he claimed that Moscow has settled it by peaceful means and created a government, parliament, and judicial system there. He even recommended that Israel learn from Russia in this regard.

Thus we should not be surprised that Moscow is allowing terrorists to move from Russia to Syria and Iraq so that it can export its terrorist problem abroad. But Moscow’s conduct in its anti-Jihadist counterinsurgency in the North Caucasus partakes of the same tactics that terrorists habitually employ. Thus Russian forces operating in the North Caucasus carry out most of the a abductions and kidnappings there, evidently with full impunity — actions which are essentially tantamount to state-sponsored terrorism. In Ukraine it is not only the shooting down of MH-17 that is grounds for labeling Rusisa a state sponsor of terrorism. Indeed, terrorism has been an important part of Moscow’s overall strategy in Ukraine. Thus Russian supported forces have carried out bombings in Odessa, Kharkiv, and other Ukrainian towns as part of the ongoing effort to destabilize the entire Ukraine.

The sum total of all these activities, dating back to 1999 and Putin’s rise to power, show that terrorism is an accepted and habitually employed instrument of Russian power and strategy and that it is deployed at home and abroad in order to serve state interests. The record shows also that Russia, as befits an outlaw state, refuses to accept any legal or moral responsibility or constraints upon its actions and demands that it be free to act with impunity. Allowing international terrorism to flourish, whatever its origin, is a recipe for plunging the world into anarchy. We certainly have imposed sanctions on Iran and are fighting the Taliban, ISIS, etc as other states are also fighting other terrorist groups.

Apart from the fact that Russia is clearly an international aggressor as far as Ukraine and Georgia are concerned, should we not also draw the other appropriate conclusion that Russia, like Iran, is a major sponsor of state terrorism at home and abroad and act accordingly to sanction it as we have sanctioned Iran and other terrorist groups?