Why has the US not yet recognized Russia as a state that sponsors terrorism?
What do a Jesuit priest, a security guard of the Obama residence and a basketball player have in common? Each of them was kidnapped by the Kremlin, to later be exchanged for its citizens. This tradition has a long history: Jesuit Walter Cizek was sent to Stalin's camps as early as 1941, and only 22 years later he was exchanged for Soviet spies detained in the United States. However, the American women's basketball star Brittney Griner was kidnapped by the Russians a week before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and has not yet been returned.
Prisoner exchanges and a full scale invasion
Griner's kidnapping is hardly a coincidence. The CIA believes that Putin made the decision to launch a full-scale invasion in February. At the same time, a basketball player who came to the Russian Federation to play for the Yekaterinburg basketball club ended up in a Russian prison. In this way, the Russian security forces replenished the "exchange fund" in order to maintain influence over the United States during the war.
Brittney Griner faces up to 10 years in prison for possession of oil containing cannabinoids (the active substances in marijuana).
In addition, even before her abduction, it was known about at least two Americans who are in Russian captivity: Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan. Both are former US military. Reid got drunk at a party, and in the morning he was interrogated by the Federal Security Service. Whelan met his friend in a Moscow hotel, received a flash drive from him, and after that the Federal Security Service visited him.
In April, the United States and the Russian Federation conducted a prisoner exchange, thanks to which Trevor Reed was able to return home after three years in a Russian prison. He was exchanged for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, detained in Liberia. Therefore, the Americans hope that the Russians are ready for exchanges even during a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Prisoner exchanges and Russia is a sponsor of terrorism
"Svidomi" have previously explained why Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism and a terrorist state. This is not news for the United States either — American political scientist Alexander Motyl believes that Russia should have been recognized as a sponsor of terrorism back in 2014.
Immediately after the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian diplomacy began to pressure other countries to grant the Russian Federation the status of a terrorist state. Diplomats achieved significant success: on July 27, the US Senate called on the US Secretary of State to recognize the Russian Federation as a sponsor of terrorism.
Instead, Anthony Blinken is keen to avoid it. He stated that there will be no sanctions consequences from the recognition of Russia as a sponsor of terrorism, because these sanctions had already been implemented. However, Blinken is not looking for common ground with Russia. In April, the Secretary of State stated that the goal of the United States was the victory of Ukraine and the weakening of the Russian Federation. Joe Biden even told Blinken to tone it down, NBC News reported.
It seems that the reason for the delay in the process is that the State Department and the Special Envoy on Prisoner Affairs are trying to exchange Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. That is why the State Department offered to return Viktor Bout, an arms dealer and Russian intelligence agent, to Russia.
However, Russia was not satisfied with the 2-for-1 exchange format. Even Blinken's first call during the full-scale invasion to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergei Lavrov, did not help.
The Kremlin wants to get not only Viktor Bout, but also another Russian intelligence agent - Vadim Krasikov. In 2019, in Berlin, Krasikov killed Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a participant in the Second Russian-Chechen War. This blackmail attempt was unsuccessful.
"Exchanging two wrongfully convicted Americans for a Russian murderer in a third-country prison is not a serious counteroffer," said National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson.
Russia needs Viktor Bout. Just like Yaroshenko, who was exchanged earlier, Bout was engaged in transportation. In the 1990s and 2000s, he supplied weapons used in most of the world's conflicts until he was arrested in 2008 by the Thai police at the request of the United States.
Currently, Russia and Ukraine are competing for the remains of Soviet weapons and ammunition in African countries, Taras Chmut, the head of "Come Back Alive" NGO said. That is why Bout, an expert on arms procurement, and Yaroshenko, an expert on the movement of goods across the African continent, are now important for the Russian Federation.
It is not known what stage the American-Russian negotiations are at. While they are still ongoing, the US executive branch is unlikely to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
In addition, the cooperation between the Russian Federation and the United States will concern not only the exchange of prisoners, but also nuclear disarmament. Is such cooperation possible with a state recognized as a sponsor of terrorism? It is possible. For example, in 2014, the US exchanged five Taliban leaders for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. In 2019, Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. At that time, North Korea was among the state sponsors of terrorism.
Of course, the North Korean nuclear arsenal should not be compared with the Russian one in terms of size. However, under the conditions of a nuclear war, the number of missiles fired will not be of such great importance.
There is another way to designate Russia as a terrorist. At least this is the opinion of a bipartisan group of members of the lower house of the US Parliament. Congress previously gave the State Department the power to identify state sponsors of terrorism.
"However, that does not prevent Congress from continuing to legislate on it," Tom Malinowski said in an op-ed for Politico. So on July 28, the group introduced a bill to the House of Representatives to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. The review has not yet started.
Most likely, both houses of parliament support the initiative, but the bill must be signed by the President of the United States. In the past, Joe Biden was one of the first leaders to call Russia's actions in Ukraine genocide and Putin a war criminal. At the same time, it is likely that Blinken will try to influence the president's decision.
During the full-scale invasion, US foreign policy operated in a mode of self-correction and seeking the limits of escalation. Therefore, the final story about the recognition of Russia as a state that sponsors terrorism remains open.