Graham, Blumenthal call to designate Russia state sponsor of terrorism: ‘Putin is sitting on top of a state terrorist apparatus’

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Thursday called for the Biden administration to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, renewing calls for the president to get even tougher on Moscow.

The senators spoke at a press conference in Washington one day after the Senate unanimously passed a resolution urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism (SST).

Graham said the designation would make it harder for countries and people to do business with Russia, enact more sanctions on Russian entities and waive sovereign immunity to open up lawsuits against Moscow in U.S. courts.

“Sanctions have been effective, but we need to do more,” Graham said. “This designation would be a nightmare for Russia, it would be an encouraging event for the people of Ukraine, and more importantly it would be a statement to the world that the United States, in a bipartisan fashion when it comes to Russia, is not forgiving and not forgetting.

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is sitting on top of a state terrorist apparatus, and it is now time to speak truth to power,” Graham added.

Russia’s devastating war in Ukraine has prompted an international outcry against Putin, who is pressing the fight more than five months after the invasion began.

Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky has urged the U.S. and the United Nations to designate Russia an SST after its forces have been accused of brutal war crimes, including executing civilians in the town of Bucha, flattening the port city of Mariupol in relentless shelling attacks and bombing maternity hospitals and theaters.

“We need to act immediately and do everything to make Russia stop the killings of children, people, everyone,” Zelensky said in an address last month. “Who among you does not agree that this is terrorism?”

The U.S. definition for an SST includes a nation that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” Only four countries fall under that designation: Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria.

Blinken has resisted pressure from both U.S. and Ukrainian officials to designate Russia an SST.

During a press conference Wednesday, Blinken said “the costs that have been imposed on Russia by us and by other countries are absolutely in line with the consequences that would follow from designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.”

“So the practical effects of what we’re doing are the same,” he said, citing economic sanctions imposed on Russia across the globe. “We’re basically doing everything that we would need to do and want to do.”

Experts told The Hill that designating Russia an SST could be more hurtful than helpful, citing a concern with victims of Russian war crimes who sue Russia under the SST designation. If they freeze Russian assets in court, that could handcuff America’s ability to negotiate for peace.

Still, the usually divided Congress has been unified in condemning Russia and pushing for the SST designation. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said the designation is “long overdue.”

Blumenthal on Thursday said the designation “puts Russia in a very small club” that are “outside the bounds of civilized countries.”

“That is exactly the designation Russia deserves for what it has done in Ukraine,” the senator said. “On this point, Americans are united.”