Sen. Richard Blumenthal has co-sponsored a resolution (SR623), introduced on May 9, calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate the Russian Federation a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a call is long overdue.
For nearly three decades Russian military and security forces have been murdering civilians on three continents, and the West has offered only token opposition, often in the form of diplomatic condemnations, to the massacres.
The text of SR623 includes a chronicle of Russian crimes dating back to the Chechen Wars in the 1990s, however, Russia’s continuing full-scale military assault on Ukraine has given new urgency to calls to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.
Since February, the Russian military has consistently and deliberately targeted Ukrainian civilians and civil structures, including hospitals, schools, and museums. Russian artillery and air strikes against densely-populated cities such as Mariupol and Kharkiv have left tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians dead.
Liudmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian Parliament’s Ombudswoman for Human Rights, has described (in Ukrainian) how Ukrainian civilians trapped in the rubble of Mariupol have “uncovered dozens of corpses of peaceful residents” beneath the ruins of every building in the destroyed city. She has said that this “gives support to suspicions that the official count of human losses in Mariupol will far exceed 20,000” dead. Mass graves in the suburbs of Mariupol, dug since the end of March, may contain as many as 9,000 bodies of murdered Ukrainian civilians.
Denisova has also described how, since February 24, Russian military and security forces have illegally deported nearly 1.2 million Ukrainian citizens from Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine to the Russian Federation. Most of these Ukrainians are forced to pass through so-called “filtration camps” where they are subjected to barbaric conditions and dehumanizing interrogations and searches. Those imprisoned in filtration camps are left without sufficient food, water, or sanitation for their numbers.
Those who are “cleared” from the camps face an uncertain future involving either forced labor, forced service in the Russian military, or forced resettlement to Siberia. Petro Andriushchenko, an advisor to Mariupol’s mayor, stated on April 16 that an estimated 5-10% of filtration-camp-prisoners “fail” and are removed to Dokuchaievsk or Donetsk, Ukrainian cities occupied by Russian military forces since 2014. What becomes of them afterwards is unknown.
Russian forces are also committing mass rape of Ukrainian civilians in what is part of a “consistent pattern appearing to be the result of orders” from Russian military commanders. Liudmyla Denisova has stated in an interview that her office has documented at least 400 cases rape or sexual abuse committed by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian women, children, and men. This number may be only a small fraction of the total count of sexual assaults committed by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian civilians.
Mass rape is certainly consistent with Russia’s targeted destruction of the Ukrainian civilian population. In parts of northern Ukraine which fell under Russian military occupation through March and April, Ukrainian journalists and investigators have uncovered mass graves of local civilians. Many of the bodies buried in these graves show signs sexual abuse and torture.
Throughout the occupied areas, Russian forces have abducted and tortured local officials, educators, medical workers, journalists, and even children, apparently to coerce them, their relatives, and their neighbors into collaborating with the invading army. As the Ukrainian Armed Forces liberate more of occupied Ukraine, more evidence will emerge of Russian violence and terror against Ukrainian civilians.
Russian crimes against Ukrainian civilians are part of a strategy to terrorize Ukrainians into submission to Kremlin tyranny. While observers have argued (and Kremlin officials have admitted) that Russia’s goal is to destroy much of the Ukrainian population, it is clear that Russian armed forces intend to terrorize those Ukrainians whom they cannot kill.
Since 2014, Russian force structures have terrorized Ukrainian citizens in occupied Crimea and occupied Donbas. Russia’s recent full-scale assault has expanded its zone of occupation and its scope for violence and terror against Ukrainian civilians. Had the State Department designated Russia a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 2014 or 2015, when academics such as Alexander Motyl and Taras Kuzio first called for it, Russia would have fallen under a strict sanctions regime that may have prevented, or would have slowed, its military expansion and modernization. It certainly would have prevented Russia from acquiring the dual-use technologies which give flight to its warplanes and guided missiles.
However late it arrives, no opportunity to punish the Russian Federation for its cruelty should be overlooked. Sen.Blumenthal, in co-sponsoring SR623, has once again demonstrated his commitment to the rule of law and his friendship towards Ukraine. I urge all readers of the Connecticut Mirror to contact Senator Blumenthal to thank him for sponsoring SR623, and to urge him and the rest of Connecticut’s Congressional Delegation to continue to support Ukraine and its people as they fight for their survival.
Peter Koropey lives in Granby.