The United States has officially designated the governments of Syria, Iran, North Korea and Cuba as state sponsors of international terrorism. On Tuesday, Ukraine‘s defense minister said Russia‘s actions on the battlefield following its invasion almost five months ago justify adding the Kremlin to the list.
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told an Atlantic Council briefing that Russia has been openly committing acts of terror that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian citizens, including the deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals, as its forces battle Ukrainian troops in the country’s south and east. The minister said the attacks on non-military targets amount to a deliberate plan to use terror as a weapon in the war.
“Moscow has no interest in any particular chunk of Ukrainian land,” he said. “It wants us to cower in terror because terror is the source of the Kremlin’s power.”
He said Russian forces have abducted Ukrainian citizens and sent them from their homes to Russia. The U.S. government has called on Moscow to halt the forced deportations that have uprooted between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian civilians, including 260,000 children, often sending them to isolated regions in the Far East.
Russian forces continued their pounding of Ukrainian cities even as Mr. Reznikov spoke. The Associated Press reported that Russian missiles struck cities and villages in eastern and southern Ukraine Tuesday, hitting, among other targets, homes, a school and a community center. In Kramatorsk, an eastern Ukrainian city considered a prime target of advancing Russian forces, one person was killed and 10 wounded in an airstrike that hit a five-story apartment building, regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko told the wire service.
Russian officials have denied targeting civilian sites, accusing Kyiv of putting military and security services in the heart of populated cities. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin on Tuesday slammed Ukrainian demands for a special war crimes tribunal against Russia, calling the charges groundless and saying it was Ukraine that was guilty of laying landmines and bombing civilian sites in Russian-allied cities in eastern Ukraine.
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“Many Western partners prefer to turn a blind eye to [these facts], and stick to their own vision of the events that contradicts reality,” Mr. Vershinin told reporters in Moscow.
Both sides have accused the other of abuses, but the questioning of Russia‘s tactics in the war received global attention when evidence emerged of brutal tactics and mass killings of civilians in Ukrainian towns that were briefly under Russian military control.
“There are reports that some individuals targeted for ‘filtration’ have been summarily executed, consistent with evidence of Russian atrocities committed in Bucha, Mariupol, and other locations in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
In addition to accounts of murder, rape and forced deportations, Russia is using its control over natural resources, such as grain and oil, as a means to blackmail other countries, Mr. Reznikov said. He also accused the Kremlin of engaging in cyberwarfare against the West and “weaponizing” migrants by pushing large numbers toward the Baltic States. Today, Russia still holds hostage the staff at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe.
“There is no line in Ukraine where Russia will stop of its own free will. It will only be stopped by resistance. Russia is a terrorist state that poses a problem for the whole world,” he said. “It is an attempt to establish a ‘new world order’ [that] would be based on terror.”
In June, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, introduced a bill calling on the State Department to formally declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. But the White House has yet to act on the resolution.
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Ukraine has managed to blunt its invasion for five months when many thought the country would be overwhelmed within days, Mr. Reznikov said. But he added it was imperative that the U.S. and its allies step up the size and pace of military shipments to help Ukrainian forces continue to resist and begin to reclaim territory in the disputed Donbas region seized by Russian forces.
“We are much stronger now than we have been. But in order to win we need weapons,” Mr. Reznikov said. “We need weapons fast and in sufficient quantities.”
He credited long-range firepower sent to Ukraine, such as the M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, with helping to stem the tide of Russia’s invasion. It has given Ukraine the ability to make precision strikes at critical points such as Russia’s logistics centers and command posts.
“We need long-distance systems to stop the enemy. We also need armored vehicles to begin a counter-offensive [such as] tanks and armored personnel carriers,” Mr. Reznikov said. “We need them fast because wherever we stop the enemy, they begin to dig in. This will increase our losses during a counter-offensive.”
Ukraine, he noted, is defending a front line that extends more than 1,500 miles — about the distance from Barcelona to Warsaw.
“Russia has no interest in just gaining more territory. It is interested in destroying Ukraine completely,” he said. “Their assurances are not worth the paper they’re written on. They need to be defeated. Only after that would they be open to a serious conversation.”