Latvia’s parliament has moved to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine—and the Kremlin does not appear to be taking it well.
Russia is committing a “genocide against the Ukrainian people,” Latvian MPs said in a statement Thursday, according to AFP. Russia “uses suffering and intimidation as tools in its attempts to weaken the morale of the Ukrainian people and armed forces, and to paralyze the functioning of the state in order to occupy Ukraine.”
Over 40 countries have already committed to helping document and investigate Russia’s suspected war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine, from the senseless killing of civilians, to rapes, to mass graves. The International Criminal Court might be putting forward a case as soon as this winter.
Already, Russian officials and lawmakers are indignant at the news that another government believes the country’s behavior on the world stage is as vile as terrorists’ behavior, and claiming there's no evidence behind it.
“Given that there are no facts behind this decision but only savage xenophobia, the authors of this idea should be called nothing but neo-Nazis,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, claimed on Telegram.
The Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building Andrey Klishas suggested Russia ought to retaliate, according to TASS.
"The toughest economic and political measures should be taken,” Klishas said, suggesting other nations should be designated as state sponsors of terror instead.
The First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, Dmitry Novikov, suggested the United States itself seemed too daunted to designate Russia in the same way.
Latvia has made a decision “that would please Washington, but that Washington itself has not yet dared make,” Novikov told TASS, adding he thinks Russia needs to respond as well. “I am confident that the Foreign Ministry has been drafting proposals on how to react to these developments, and I am sure there will be a reaction."
It’s not clear if hackers have taken the call to action seriously, but Latvia’s website for parliament, Saeima, was down Thursday in an apparent Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, leaving the site inaccessible. Latvia’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) claimed actors supporting Russia’s aggression were responsible for the DDoS, which consists of pummeling a site with so much traffic that it gets overwhelmed and can’t function.
“The Saeima has adopted a statement in which Russia is recognized as a country that supports terrorism,” the CERT said in a statement. “There is a large-scale DDoS attack against the Saeima's resources by activists supporting RU aggression.”
The work of parliament hasn’t been impacted, the CERT said.
Latvia has begun calling on other nations to step up their scrutiny of Russia, calling on European Union governments to take action as well. Just this week, Estonia joined up with Finland and Latvia to block Russians with tourist visas from visiting their countries. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said she expects further restrictions to be discussed in the future at the European Council and European Union leaders' summits.
Latvia is not the only country that has taken steps on designating Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. Some members of U.S. Congress have been working to push the United States to label Russia as a state sponsor of terror as well. Last month, the Senate passed a resolution that called on the State Department to designate Russia with the label. And Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have been urging the Biden administration to take that step in the meantime.
Some have gone even further. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Secretary of State Antony Blinken that if the State Department didn’t step in, Congress would designate Russia first, according to Politico. And a group of bipartisan lawmakers, including Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Jared Golden (D-ME), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), introduced a bill that would jump ahead and create a path to label Russia as a state sponsor of terror without the State Department taking action.
“The United States must use every tool we have to stop Russia from its violent aggression in Ukraine,” Lieu said in a statement. “Russia supports proxies conducting terrorism against civilians around the globe, from Syria to Ukraine. By designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, this legislation increases consequences on Putin’s murderous behavior.
The designation would put Russia on the United States’ short list of state sponsors of terrorism: North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Syria.
And it’s not just about Ukraine.
“Putin has used chemical weapons on NATO soil, aided in the downing of a civilian airliner over Ukraine, and has supported despots like Bashar al-Assad in Syria,” Kinzinger said.
Ukrainian officials, who have been pressing allies for months to designate Russia, welcomed Latvia’s news Thursday. Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, said Latvia’s decision to move forward was a “a timely move.”
“Grateful to Latvian parliament Saeimas and all of its members for recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Kuleba said. “Russia has long deserved this status with its actions in Ukraine and beyond. Ukraine encourages other states and organizations to follow suit.”