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November 29, 2022

To Designate or Not? Russia and SST Status

By Jocelyn Trainer

As Ukraine implores the world to condemn Russia to pariah status, a live question is whether the United States should designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism (SST). Proponents of the SST designation are compelled in part by the mounting accounts and images of mass atrocities and graves in Ukraine, while skeptics question if the designation could produce more secondary consequences than positive leverage. Policymakers supporting Ukraine face a sense of increased urgency to impair Russia’s ability to wage war in Ukraine or threaten its neighbors in the future as Russia employs increasingly aggressive tactics, including targeting civilians and energy infrastructure and issuing veiled threats of nuclear war.

The United States is unlikely to expend its political and financial resources to impose additional secondary sanctions as part of its Russia sanctions regime

However, an SST designation is not the appropriate economic or diplomatic tool to use in this context. The United States should not designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism because the designation is a largely symbolic tool that provides minimum additional economic leverage beyond the sanctions and export controls already imposed and entails harmful consequences, such as prioritizing U.S. plaintiff access to frozen Russian assets and narrowing the diplomatic space globally. Instead, U.S. policymakers should create a new designation, such as “aggressor state,” to condemn Russia for its actions against Ukraine while circumventing harmful measures under an SST designation. Under a new aggressor state designation, the United States could leverage maximum diplomatic and economic tools, create a blueprint for coordination with partners, and have a mechanism to discuss a phased delisting.

Read the full article from Lawfare.

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