Brussels, Belgium – The European Parliament has declared Russia as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” saying Russian atrocities against Ukrainians and destruction of civilian infrastructure violate international and humanitarian laws.
Parliament’s move on Wednesday “was welcomed by Ukrainian officials, who have been pushing EU and NATO countries to label Russia a terrorist state.
“Russia is a terrorist state: confirmed by the European Parliament. Russia has a history of terrorist acts against sovereign states, support for terrorist regimes and organizations, including Wagner, terrorist war against Ukraine, says Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted when he thanked the European Parliament for its “clear position” on Russia.
But the European Parliament’s Russia label is not legally binding.
The EP Plenary has 🗳️voted and declared 🇷🇺 Russia a state sponsor of terrorism
— European Parliament Audiovisual Service (@europarlAV) 23 November 2022
“The EU has no centralized list of state sponsors of terrorism and no corresponding mechanism. So there will be no immediate legal consequences. The European Parliament has limited influence on foreign policy decision-making, which is under the competence of the 27 EU member states,” said Sajjan M Gohel , counter-terrorism expert and visiting lecturer at the London School of Economics (LSE), told Al Jazeera.
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, the parliament also called on EU leaders to include the Russian paramilitary organization The Wagner group of mercenaries, known for some terrible atrocities in Syriaand Russia’s 141st Special Motorized Regiment, the Kadyrovites – notorious for brutal operations in Syria and Ukraine – on the EU terror list.
This list was established 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 imposed sanctions on them.
Members of the European Parliament hope their position on Russia, announced at its headquarters in Strasbourg, will spur a move towards a legal structure that would allow states to be labeled sponsors of terrorism and then include Russia on such a list.
Bruno Lété, senior fellow at The German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, told Al Jazeera that parliament seeks to isolate Russia internationally.
“Firstly, through this communication, the European Parliament is keen to push EU member states to take a stronger stance towards Russia compared to its transatlantic ally, which has yet to call Russia a terrorist state,” he said.
“Secondly, there has been a lot of talk about establishing a separate court to investigate war crimes and human rights violations committed by Russia in Ukraine. Parliament’s declaration could speed up that process,” he added.
The Kremlin angrily retaliated.
“I propose to designate the European Parliament as a sponsor of idiocy,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram.
Hours after the declaration, Moscow fired a series of missiles across Ukraine — a sequence of events not lost on Ukrainian ministerial adviser Anton Gerashchenko, who tweeted: “Rockets hit Kiev just after European Parliament recognized Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
Rockets hit Kyiv just after the European Parliament recognized Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Confirmation received. pic.twitter.com/cwpI7ZJEKK
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) 23 November 2022
Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s website faced a “sophisticated cyber attack,” according to Parliament President Roberta Metsola.
“A pro-Kremlin group has claimed responsibility. Our IT experts are pushing back against it and protecting our systems. This is after we outed Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
My answer: #SlavaUkraini,” she said in a tweet.
Oleg Ignatov, the Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Russia, told Al Jazeera that a similar response from Moscow was unlikely as the mark is only symbolic.
“Moscow would be more hurt if this recognition came from the US. Such a decision would have concrete legal consequences. Individuals could then sue the Russian state in US courts and demand compensation from Russian state money and property abroad,” he said.
Split across the European political spectrum
Russia is the first state to be declared a sponsor of terrorism by the European Parliament.
But the vote did not pass unanimously, with members of right-wing political blocs in the European Parliament refusing to consider Russia 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 support and voting. Even here … we see that the political spectrum was quite divided,” Lété said.
“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 sometimes it was less.”
He said a similar voting pattern would likely occur if European officials tried to put other nations in the same bracket.
“I think it’s the same for … Syria or other countries. It all depends on the political support for such a decision. And I don’t see it happening right now for these other countries.
“You know, I think with Ukraine there is a very intense emotional bond and reaction here in Europe, less so with countries that are further away.”
So far, Washington’s terror list includes Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Iran as countries that “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.”
Ignatov explained that US President Joe Biden’s administration has resisted labeling Russia as this would likely close channels of dialogue with Moscow.
“Moscow has admitted that it may cut diplomatic ties with Washington if it makes such a move. Washington wants to leave the way open for Russia to exit the war in Ukraine through diplomacy,” Ignatov added.
It remains unclear what the European Parliament’s measures may mean for the EU and the continuing war in Ukraine.
While leaders from the Baltic nations – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and Poland have urged the rest of the EU to label Russia a terrorist state, no overall decision has yet been made.
“Each EU nation overwhelmingly supports Ukraine. But fundamentally, the vision of how to achieve peace is sometimes different. We see that countries closer [in distance] to Russia, like the Baltics and Poland, wants Ukraine to win the war. Whereas 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 down the road, the European declaration could make it difficult for EU nations to drop sanctions against Russia if a peace deal were to be reached.
“But peace depends on developments on the battlefield and not such declarations,” he said.