The European Parliament has declared Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism”, saying Russian atrocities against Ukrainians and destruction of civilian infrastructure violate international and humanitarian law.
Parliament’s decision on Wednesday “>was welcomed by Ukrainian officials, who have urged the European Union and NATO countries to label Russia a terrorist state.
“Russia is a terrorist state: confirmed by the European Parliament. Russia has a history of acts of terrorism against sovereign states, support for terrorist regimes and organizations including Wagner, terror war against Ukraine,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. tweeted while thanking the European Parliament for its “clear attitude” towards Russia.
However, the European Parliament’s Russia label is not legally binding.
The EP plenary voted 🗳️ and declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism
🎥Watch and download the voting video: https://t.co/rtimidIhST pic.twitter.com/QGfwl6u9pt
— Audiovisual Service of the European Parliament (@europarlAV) November 23, 2022
“The EU has no centralized list of state sponsors of terrorism and no comparable mechanism. So there are no direct legal consequences. The European Parliament has limited influence over foreign policy decision-making, which falls within the competence of the 27 EU member states,” Sajjan M Gohel, counter-terrorism expert and visiting lecturer at the London School of Economics (LSE), told Al Jazeera.
The parliament’s statement “is largely a symbolic indictment of Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” he said.
While the statement focused mainly on Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Parliament also called on EU leaders to suspend Russia’s paramilitary organization the Wagner group of mercenaries, known for some horrific atrocities in Syria, and the 141st special motorized regiment of Russia, the Kadyrovites, involved. for brutal operations in Syria and Ukraine – on the EU terror list.
This list was created by the bloc in 2001 as an anti-terrorism initiative in response to the September 11 attacks in New York.
So far, the EU has declared 13 individuals and 21 groups and entities, including ISIL and al-Qaeda, as terrorists and has imposed sanctions against them.
Members of the European Parliament hope that their position on Russia, announced at headquarters in Strasbourg, will spur a move towards a legal structure that allows states to be labeled as sponsors of terrorism, and Russia then place it on such a list.
Bruno Lété, a senior fellow at The German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, told Al Jazeera that parliament is trying to isolate Russia internationally.
“Firstly, with this announcement, the European Parliament wants to put pressure on EU member states to take a stronger stance on Russia than its allies on the other side of the Atlantic, who have not yet declared Russia a terrorist state. “, he said.
“Second, there has been much talk about setting up a separate court to investigate Russia’s war crimes and human rights abuses in Ukraine. Parliament’s statement could speed up that process,” he added.
The Kremlin retaliated furiously.
“I propose to designate the European Parliament as a sponsor of idiocy,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram.
Hours after the statement, Moscow launched a series of missiles across Ukraine – a sequence of events not lost on Ukrainian ministerial adviser Anton Gerashchenko, who tweeted: “Missiles hit Kiev right after the European Parliament recognized Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
Rockets hit Kiev just after the European Parliament recognized Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Confirmation received. pic.twitter.com/cwpI7ZJEKK
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) November 23, 2022
Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s website suffered a “sophisticated cyber-attack,” said Parliament President Roberta Metsola.
“A pro-Kremlin group has claimed responsibility. Our IT experts resist and protect our systems. This after we declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.
My answer: #SlavaUkraini,” she said in a tweet.
Oleg Ignatov, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Russia, told Al Jazeera that a like-for-like response from Moscow was unlikely as the label is only symbolic.
“Moscow would be more hurt if this recognition came from the US. Such a decision would have concrete legal consequences. Individuals can then sue the Russian state in US courts and claim damages from Russian state money and property abroad,” he said.
Divides across the European political spectrum
Russia is the first state declared a sponsor of terrorism by the European Parliament.
But the vote was not passed unanimously, with members of right-wing political blocs within the European Parliament refusing to view Russia as linked to terrorism.
An overwhelming number of lawmakers – 494 – voted “yes”.
But 58 voted “no” and 44 abstained.
“Resolutions can only be passed depending on the support and the mood. Even here … we see that the political spectrum was quite divided,” said Lété.
“The central parties, the parties in the middle, the liberals, the socialists, they all voted overwhelmingly.
“But [on the] extreme spectrum, you can see that it was sometimes less.”
He said a similar voting pattern would likely emerge if European officials tried to get other countries on the same page.
“I think that’s the same for…Syria or other countries. Everything depends on the political support for such a resolution. And I don’t see it happening for these other countries right now.
“You know, I think with Ukraine there’s a very intense emotional connection and reaction here in Europe, less so with countries further away.”
So far, Washington’s terror list lists Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Iran as countries that “repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism”.
Ignatov explained that US President Joe Biden’s administration has resisted labeling Russia as it would likely close channels of dialogue with Moscow.
“Moscow has admitted that it could sever diplomatic ties with Washington if it took such a step. Washington wants to clear the way for Russia to exit the war in Ukraine through diplomacy,” Ignatov added.
It remains unclear what the move by the European Parliament could mean for the EU and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
While leaders of the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and Poland have called on the rest of the EU to label Russia a terrorist state, a joint decision has yet to be made.
“Every EU country overwhelmingly supports Ukraine. But in essence, the vision of how to achieve peace is sometimes different. We see countries getting closer [in distance] Russia, like the Baltic States and Poland, wants Ukraine to win the war. While France or Germany want peace. And of course these are two very different strategies, two very different visions,” Lété told Al Jazeera.
He added that the European statement could make it difficult in the future for EU countries to lift sanctions against Russia if a peace deal were sought.
“But peace depends on developments on the battlefield, and not on such statements,” he said.