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4 reasons to label Putin’s Russia a state sponsor of terrorism

There is increased speculation that on May 9, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin will make a major announcement regarding the invasion of Ukraine, potentially including a formal declaration of war against the people of Ukraine.

The world’s response to his remarks must be consistent and firm. It is past time to label Putin’s Russia a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law, and we should encourage other nations to follow suit in making that declaration as well.


Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on April 29.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on April 29.
(Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is one of the most outrageous acts of the 21st century. It is nothing more than the result of a megalomaniac wanting to rewrite the map of Europe and recreate the former Russian Empire.

We are at a moment in world history where we must rise to the occasion and stop this madness.  

The case to declare Putin’s Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism is overwhelming and fits like a glove.  Under his brutal leadership, Putin’s Russia has terrorized innocent civilians all around the world. In Chechnya, Russian forces leveled the city of Grozny indiscriminately killing thousands of men, women, and children.  

In Syria, Putin has been supporting Assad, the “Butcher of Damascus”, in his efforts to murder his way into holding power by supplying the weapons necessary for Assad to commit unspeakable atrocities. Russian soldiers at the direction of Putin have been directly involved in these acts.  Targeting civilians in these endeavors is a campaign of terror if there ever was one.

U.S. aims to weaken Putin military Video

Putin’s terror mirrors actions that we saw nearly 80 years ago. Putin’s Russia has even established ‘filtration camps’ where they are forcibly removing Ukrainians from the besieged city of Mariupol.  In these camps, prisoners are interrogated and mistreated by Russians seeking to locate the source of Putin’s mysterious ‘Ukrainian Nazis’ who he tried to use to justify the initial invasion.

Putin’s use of proxy forces in addition to his military to commit acts of terror around the world must also be recognized. The Wagner Group, a pro-Putin  private military company identified by the Treasury Department as a designated Russian Ministry of Defense proxy force, has engaged in atrocities across the globe, from Libya to Syria to now Ukraine. It was recently reported that the Wagner Group dispatched more than 400 mercenaries to Kyiv with orders to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky and members of his government. The group is notorious for its brutality and Putin has repeatedly used these thugs to do his dirty work around the globe.

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Designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism would allow the United States to implement four main categories of sanctions on Russia.

First, it would restrict U.S. foreign assistance to Russia.

Second, it would ban U.S. defense and export sales to Russia.

Third, it would impose certain controls over U.S. exports of dual use items.

Lastly, it would allow the U.S. to impose additional financial and other restrictions on Russia.  Importantly, its designation is a clear message to the rest of the world that doing business with Russia is a bad idea and will come with severe consequences.  

Russia would be put in the same category as other state sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Iran.

Zelenskyy: 'Declaration of war doesn't change anything' in response to Russian offenses Video

Just this week the Ukrainian Parliament formally encouraged the United States Congress to urge the State Department to designate Russia as a designated state sponsor of terrorism, an action President Zelenskyy has been calling for since mid-April.

I have been working with both Republicans and Democrats urging the administration to make a formal declaration that Putin’s Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism. Hopefully, the Biden administration will support our call for the Secretary of State to place such a designation on Russia.      

Declaring Putin’s Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is only one of many elements of national power available to use in response to his continued escalations.   I fear we will see more escalations and more atrocities by Putin. As he does so, the freedom-loving world must be ready to escalate our response accordingly.

When Russian missiles strike Kyiv Video

If Putin were to use chemical weapons to bring to submission the brave people of Ukraine, I hope the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would immediately declare a no-fly zone to protect the international order.  If Putin were to explode a tactical nuclear device in Ukraine, I would hope that NATO would consider this an attack on NATO itself.  Radioactive fallout will not be confined to Ukraine and would impact millions of innocent civilians across the globe. This simply cannot go unanswered.


We must consider these scenarios so Putin knows in advance that every escalatory step he takes will be met with an equally forceful response. The Russian people should also understand that as long as Putin is their leader, their future is very dim.

Time is of the essence to not only deliver more economic and military aid to Ukraine but also impose and enforce crippling sanctions on Putin and his cronies.  


Keeping the pressure on Putin’s Russia is critical. Designating Putin’s Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism will continue to hurt Putin economically, as well as provide moral clarity on the world stage. I hope that over time actions like this will lead to a Russian rebellion against the murderous autocratic regime of Vladimir Putin.


Republican Lindsey Graham represents South Carolina in the United States Senate.

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