05:12 GMT29 January 2020
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    On Wednesday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill asking the State Department to determine whether Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism along with Iran and North Korea. Moscow slammed the decision, describing it as "Russophobic politics in one's own opportunistic goals, and not even in one's interests".

    A bill, known as the "Stopping Malign Activities from Russian Terrorism (SMART) Act", gives the US State Department a maximum of 90 days to determine and report to Congress whether Russia, according to American law, can be designated as a "state sponsor of terrorism". This designation has to be made by the secretary of state.

    Jo Jakobsen, a professor of political science and international relations at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, believes this just shows that US lawmakers generally view Russia as an adversary.

    "The bill is one of many similar pieces of legislation, the majority of which seek to use US economic power to change Russia's behaviour with respect to Ukraine, Syria, energy exports, election interference, and assassinations allegedly conducted by Russian intelligence services", the professor said.
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    Mr Jakobsen explained that since overt military power is ruled out in virtually any conflict, Washington seeks to exercise its policy through geoeconomic measures like the terrorism bill and others.

    "The risk for Russia, however, is a significant strengthening of US sanctions and secondary sanctions, which these recent bills indicate might be in the cards. Iran’s economic troubles are indicative of the economic effects that sanctions can have if the US goes all in. But Russia is a great power, and its economy is much more robust than Iran's", he said.

    In addition, the scholar noted that some of these bills will not pass all the hurdles they need to, and the presidential veto is one of them.

    But with respect to the "terrorism designation bill", Professor Jakobsen argues that this will not change much if anything.

    "It is ultimately the State Department’s and president’s decision, and they do not wish to put Russia, powerful and important as the country is, on par with North Korea and Iran. Such a designation would also complicate ongoing discussions about a settlement over eastern Ukraine (and probably Syria and Libya as well), and it would prompt Russian retaliation on some level", he stated.

    While the political science professor thinks the costs are higher than the gains for Washington, the strengthening of sanctions is possible, but "it would be far away from reaching an 'Iranian' level".

    Another requirement of the bill is for the State Department to determine whether the militias in eastern Ukraine can be designated as "foreign terrorist organisations".

    And according to Mr Jakobsen, if in the hypothetical scenario the rebels in Ukraine are defined as terrorists and Russia is designated a "state sponsor of terrorism", this would "change the situation drastically".

    "It would, as per US law, demand of the US to increase the level of sanctions significantly. It would also demand of the US to put pressure on other countries – including European states – to sanction and punish Russia, which would officially, in Washington, be labelled as an outlaw or rogue state".
    DPR withdraws heavy military equipment from Donetsk Region
    © Sputnik / Sergey Averin
    DPR withdraws heavy military equipment from Donetsk Region
    "This would seriously increase the tensions between Washington and Moscow. This is also the fundamental reason why all this is unlikely to happen (though not impossible)", the expert stressed.

    Nicolai Petro, Silvia-Chandley Professor of Peace Studies and Nonviolence and Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island, has agreed that the bill will not affect Russia "in any serious way".

    "This designation is currenlty required for all strategic exports, arms exports, and foreign assistance. It makes countries so designated ineligible for debt relief and financing from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Since Russia is not looking for foreign assistance, and arranges it financing through commercial lenders, it is not affected in any serious way".

    He continued: "Why then bother to enact such legislation? It follows the pattern now typical for U.S. sanctions, which is to enact sanctions by default whenever the immediate cost to America is deemed low, and the public relations value to the individual politician is deemed high. The long term interests of the United States in having better relations with other countries, meanwhile, simply gets lost in the shuffle".

    Professor David Woodard, a Clemson University political scientist and former political consultant for Republican congressmen, for his part, explained that Trump's foreign policy approach is "us versus them":

    "Putting Russia as a state-sponsored agent of terrorism helps define both the US and Russia. The State Department is - not surprisingly - unsympathetic with this policy", he said.

    According to the scholar, Trump thinks people negotiate only when they are forced to change. “This pugnacious approach makes Obama-era supporters unhappy, but it is crucial to the president's identification of the US as determined, strong, and different", Professor Woodward concluded.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Terrorism, Iran, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), Russia, United States
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