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In a twisted turn of events, the Kremlin and President Joe Biden are now on the same page about something over six months into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Biden said this weekend he doesn’t think that Russia should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, and now the Kremlin is lavishing praise on the president, announcing Tuesday that Moscow is grateful for Biden’s stance that the United States should avoid designating Russia.
The Kremlin “appreciates” that Biden is not recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terror, according to TASS.
“It is good that the U.S. president responded in this way,” Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said on RBC TV, according to TASS. “The very formulation of the issue is monstrous.”
If the United States were to designate Russia, Moscow would join the ranks of North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Cuba.
The news of Biden’s interest in avoiding designating Russia a state sponsor of terrorism comes as Russia appears desperate for any wins. Ukrainian forces have begun a counteroffensive in southern Ukraine targeting Kherson, which Russian forces seized in the first several days of the war. Russia's defense minister has announced Russia is slowing down in the war. Putin is working to form a new army fighting group, but has had to lean on recruiting prisoners and eliminating an age ceiling.
A key Russian general, the director of Russia’s national guard, told Putin just last week that Ukrainians support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in an apparent attempt to reassure a visibly shaken Putin.
And over six months into the war, Putin’s military-industrial complex is struggling to keep up with manufacturing to support Russian forces in Ukraine. In a sign of how desperate Russia has become, it is turning to fellow pariah state North Korea for millions of artillery shells and rockets, two U.S. officials told The Daily Beast Tuesday.
The White House National Security Council said it is concerned about cascading consequences from potentially designating Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.
“This designation could have unintended consequences for Ukraine and the world. According to humanitarian experts and NGOs we have spoken to, it could seriously affect the ability to deliver assistance in areas of Ukraine,” NSC Spokesperson Adrienne Watson told The Daily Beast in a statement, adding that the White House maintains concerns about whether a designation would undercut the Biden administration’s ability to support Ukraine at a negotiation table.
The White House said it is working with Congress to come up with new ways to hold Russia accountable in the meantime.
“We have been engaging with Congress on this and want to work with them on how we might craft new accountability mechanisms that fully express our outrage on Russia’s war crimes, atrocities, and aggression while effectively holding Russia accountable for these atrocities,” Watson said.
Biden’s commentary comes weeks after Russia warned the United States against designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Designating Russia, a step that would bring about new sanctions and defense export restrictions, would send diplomatic relations between Moscow and Washington to an all-time low, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry North American Department director, Alexander Darchiev.
“Washington would have to cross the point of no return, with the most serious collateral damage to bilateral diplomatic relations, up to their lowering or even breaking them off,” Darchiev said in a TASS interview last month. “The U.S. side has been warned.”
While Biden might be heeding the warning, the legislative branch is not on board. Pressure from Capitol Hill has, in recent months, pushed the Biden administration to help Ukraine better respond to Russia’s invasion, including by sending advanced rocket launch systems, or High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), to Ukraine.
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), one of several lawmakers behind a proposal in the House of Representatives to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, told The Daily Beast he doesn’t think Biden’s stance here is the correct one.
“The tangible support we’re providing Ukraine and sanctions against Russia are far more important than any symbolic designation,” Malinowski told The Daily Beast. “But Russia does merit it, given its support for violent extremists and proxies like the Wagner Group, so I continue to think we should put them on the list and then move on.”
Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican Leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lambasted Biden’s stance.
"President Biden’s flippant and outright dismissal of a state sponsor of terrorism designation for Russia is unacceptable,” McCaul told The Daily Beast. “The mounting evidence of widespread Russian war crimes in Ukraine and Putin’s willingness to threaten nuclear catastrophe at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant require the U.S. and its allies to do everything in their power to isolate and hold the Putin regime accountable for its unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”
Momentum has been slowly building in Congress to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism—and to push Biden further than he wants his administration to go. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Rob Portman (R-OH) pushed through a non-binding resolution in the Senate that urges the State Department to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. All 100 senators have stood behind the resolution.
The House measure, which Malinowski supports, along with Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Joe Wilson (R-SC), and Jared Golden (D-ME), goes a step further and would circumvent any sluggishness in the Biden administration to take the next steps, with or without the State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has previously said that Russia is “terrorizing” the Ukrainian people, but has indicated he doesn’t consider the move relevant right now.
“The costs that have been imposed on Russia by us and by other countries are absolutely in line with the consequences that would follow from designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. So the practical effects of what we’re doing are the same,” Blinken told reporters in late July.