Russia Should Be Treated as a Terrorist State — by Stephen Hoffman

March 14, 2024
Russia is seeking to eradicate Ukraine’s sovereignty by terrorising its people and thus should be treated as a terrorist state and held accountable for it.
Photo credit: Getty Images

In the invasion and occupation of Ukrainian land since 2014, Russia has committed many acts of terrorism. It is guilty of mass murder, extensive destruction of civilian properties, mass abduction including the abduction of children on a systemic scale, rape, torture and environmental destruction. This proves that Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism and therefore a terrorist state.

I knew all of this before I was part of a UK Friends of Ukraine Parliamentary delegation to Ukraine in late February 2024. However, it’s very different to talk about Russian terrorism from the comfort of my sofa in the UK and then to see firsthand the devastating personal impact of Russian terrorism and the lives it has destroyed.

In Lviv region, I saw the destruction of a school where 1,200 schoolchildren studied. Thankfully, the terrorist attack happened during the school holidays, so nobody was murdered, but the school on is still destroyed and the lost months of education for those children can never be made up.

In Kyiv region, I saw destroyed apartment blocks and a school playground targeted by Russian missiles, causing the murder of many people. This was the deliberate targeting of Ukrainian civilians, with the purpose of trying to terrorise the Ukrainian people into submission.

The stench of death and destroyed families clung to me in so many places I visited in Ukraine and I thought of children playing in a playground who in a place full of joy, were murdered.

When I was in Chernihiv, I saw a youth club completely demolished by a Russian terrorist attack. Teenagers looking to enjoy life with friends, watch a movie, have a few drinks, think I took for granted as a British teenager. Yet, some will never be ever to enjoy the simple pleasures of enjoying the company of friends, because they were murdered due to Russian terrorism. Ukrainian teenagers still alive have the fear of being targeted by indiscriminate Russian terrorists when they go out to see friends.

Then I came to the village of Yahidne in the Chernihiv region What I and others on the UK Parliamentary delegation saw will haunt us forever. We heard from survivors of Russian terrorism in Yahidne. From 3 March 2022 to 30th March 2022 Russian occupiers locked in an underground basement in Yahidne 380 men, women and children, the youngest just over a month old and the oldest was 93 years old. Over 60 children were held in the basement. It included the 1 year old granddaughter of a lady who spoke to our delegation.

11 died, including 7 executed by Russian occupiers. Many children were held and tortured in incredibly cramped conditions, denied food, drink, medicine, light and toilet facilities. Many developed eye problems. Russian soldiers refused to let people leave and they weren't allowed to bring any possessions. Dead bodies would lie in the same cramped room as everyone else for days. Ukrainian forces would eventually liberate Yahidne and free the residents. They witnessed a destroyed village and ransacked homes. For 27 days the villagers experienced the barbarism and hell on earth that Russia wants to impose across all of Ukraine. There is no other way to describe what I saw as terrorism and that is why I am committed to UK Friends of Ukraine’s campaign calling on the UK Government to recognise Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Russia's terrorism continues right now. Nearly every hour of every day there is a Russian terrorist attack in both the occupied and unoccupied parts of Ukraine, involving terrorism in many forms such as mass murder, child abduction, rape, torture and ecocide. It’ about deliberately endangering the lives of Ukrainians and putting their health and safety at risk, with the aim of making their lives intolerable through indiscriminately targeting Ukrainian civilians, their property and their land.

Since the full-scale invasion began, according to figures provided by the Ukrainian Government, as of 23 February 2024 at least 10,582 Ukrainian civilians have been murdered, 19,875 civilians injured, 528 children murdered, 167,200 civilian buildings destroyed and 126,037 war crimes registered. Actual numbers might be considerably higher, as information from many locations with intense hostilities is not yet available or confirmed.

Actions specifically defined as terrorism by the UK Government in the Terrorism Act of 2000 include:

  • Serious violence against a person;
  • Serious damage to property;
  • Endangering a person's life (other than that of the person committing the action);
  • Creating a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public.

The legislation states that “The use or threat must also be for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.” Russia's actions in Ukraine since 2014 involving the mass targeting of Ukrainian civilians is state terrorism. The acts of terrorism are inspired by the Kremlin's ideological commitment through Russian imperialism to destroy the independence of Ukraine and subjugate it to Russia through terrorising Ukrainian civilians. Indeed, in a speech shortly before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Putin explicitly denied that "Ukraine had ever had “real statehood and that the country was an integral part of Russia’s “own history, culture, spiritual space.” Importantly the legislation recognises terrorism outside of the UK and state terrorism.

Unlike the USA, the UK does not currently have a mechanism for designating a country a state sponsor of terrorism. That does not mean the UK cannot introduce legislation to make it possible to designate a nation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Furthermore, in September 2023, the UK proscribed Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation. This Russian state controlled, mercenary organisation has committed barbaric acts in Ukraine on behalf of the Russian state and in at least six other African countries, including Mali, Libya, Sudan and the Central African Republic. Since the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, when Wagner fighters were assimilated into the command structure of the Russian military and rebranded as the African Corps, it acts fully as a terrorist arm of the Russian state. A state that commits terrorism on the citizens of Ukraine.

It is perverse that the UK Government have proscribed a terrorist group working directly for the President of a hostile country, but do not yet have a mechanism for said country to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. If the Wagner Group is a terrorist organisation, so too is the Russian state, who through its Army is conducting terrorism on a far greater scale than the Wagner Group in Ukraine.

I note that the EU Parliament passed a symbolic resolution in November 2022 declaring Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, following the lead of Parliamentary resolutions in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. However, we need more than symbolism and there are a number of policies, which I believe would help treat Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism and stop the funding of Russian terrorism.

Declaring Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism should come alongside concrete action to move from freezing sanctioned Russian assets to seizing them, as reparations to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction, through a dedicated reconstruction fund for Ukraine. Since the full-scale invasion, the UK has frozen £18 billion of Russian assets. This much needed funding would be equivalent to £650 being donated by every household in the UK.

There are far too many loopholes with sanctions on Russia, which are leading to Russia being able to continue its war of terrorism, imperialism and occupation. The UK sadly plays a leading role in the circumvention of sanctions. As pointed out in research by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), despite the established crude oil price cap by the EU/G7 countries, Russia continues to successfully replenish its military budget with fossil fuel revenues by relying on Western owned and insured oil tankers.

Between March 2022 and November 2023, the UK provided insurance to ships transporting Russian crude worth EUR 120.6 billion. CREA’s research showed, In the first 12 months since the adoption of the oil price cap (5 December 2022), EUR 46.4 billion of Russian oil has been transported on tankers using UK protection and indemnity (P&I) insurance. In short, 33% of all Russian oil (by volume) was transported on tankers insured in the UK since the sanctions were implemented until early November 2023.

As a key humanitarian and military donor to Ukraine, the UK Government is in a position and has a moral duty to address this sanctions loophole. Disappointingly, the Government has shown no signs yet of addressing this loophole, or putting pressure on the British Insurance industry to stop breaking sanctions in a way that funds the Russian terrorism I saw first hand in Ukraine. UK Friends of Ukraine will be working with our allies in organisations such as B4Ukraine to put pressure on the UK Government and the British Insurance industry, to address this flagrant sanctions loophole.

Additionally, I recognise that businesses worldwide, including in the UK, or those with a large UK base, continue to operate in Russia and are therefore helping to pay for Russian terrorism. Their money is going targeting Ukrainian’s and the infrastructure they live and work in. That is why UK Friends of Ukraine are supporting B4Ukraine in their work to pressure Mondelez International and other businesses such as Procter and Gamble from operating in Russia and in doing so stopping funding Russian terrorism.

Mondelez International are the owner of Cadbury chocolates and many other well-known international brands such as Milka, Toblerone and Oreo. Mondelez, continues to run 3 factories in Russia, making billions in revenue and paying millions in corporate taxes to the Kremlin. Considering the extreme militarisation of the Russian economy, Mondelez is indirectly financing the purchase of missiles and drones that fuels Russia's terrorism. What Mondelez is doing is relevant to the UK and UK citizens who overwhelmingly support Ukraine, as the UK is one of Mondelez’s largest consumer markets. Many people are unaware that an American snacking giant that is helping fuel Russian terrorism in Ukraine, is behind their favourite bar of chocolate.

The UK Government could do more to discourage businesses operating in Russia. In Late February 2024, the U.S. Department of State issued guidance to U.S. businesses that continuing to conduct business in Russia and in Russian occupied parts of Ukraine “poses serious legal, financial, and reputational risks.” I would like to see similar guidance from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, but amended to include businesses who have large bases and/or consumer markets in the UK such as Mondelez and Pepsi. Given the UK Government is an avowed ally of Ukraine, it should be doing everything it can to stop the flow of any funds fuelling Russia’s terrorist war machine.

By the Government's own definition of terrorism and legislation, Russia is guilty of state sponsored terrorism. That is why UK Friends of Ukraine are calling on the UK Government to become the first G7 nation to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism and for the UK Parliament to put pressure on the UK Government to do so by passing a vote in favour of recognising Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Alongside measures like seizing Russian assets, guidance against businesses operating in Russia and addressing sanctions loopholes, the UK Government should recognising Russia as the terrorist state it is, make them pay for their terrorism and ensure that the UK plays no role in funding Russian terrorism.

If you want to learn more about the campaign and find out how you can support it, please read our report on why Russia is a terrorist state and sign our petition.

Stephen Hoffman
Communications Manager of UK Friends of Ukraine and Director of Stephen Hoffman Consulting