Congress Aims to Label Russia ‘Aggressor State’ 

Congress is working to condemn Russia as an “Aggressor State” rather than a state sponsor of terrorism.  

The Biden administration has been working with Congress over the last several months on legislation that would formally designate Russia as an “aggressor state.” 

Congressional leadership is working quickly to introduce a bill that condemns Russia amid its plans for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to visit Washington, D.C. 

The designation as an “aggressor state” would provide the U.S. with new sanctions authorities to target in Russia. 

The “aggressor state” label is less hawkish than the “state sponsor of terrorism” label that many lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had been pushing the Biden administration to impose on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The state sponsor of terrorism label would isolate Moscow internationally and compel the U.S. to impose costs on countries engaging with the Kremlin. 

Sanctions related to the state sponsor of terrorism designation include restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, a ban on defense exports and sales, some controls over exports of dual-use items, as well as other financial restrictions. 

The White House has long resisted designating Russia as a state sponsor of terror, citing the negative consequences such a label could have on the ongoing diplomacy between the US and Russia on issues such as prisoner swaps, the United Nations-brokered deal to allow grain out of Ukraine, cross-border aid to Syria and other humanitarian efforts.

The Biden administration has stopped short of the terrorism designation, saying that it would tie the U.S.’s hands in engaging with Russia in general and would ultimately hinder any diplomatic efforts to end Russia’s war against Ukraine. 

An aggressor state designation, unlike the label state sponsor of terrorism, is not an official State Department category that would trigger specific US sanctions, and critics say it would be easier for the president to rescind that designation than the state sponsor of terrorism one.

But it would give the U.S. additional authorities to impose more sanctions against Russia. Zelensky may still endorse the label when he addresses Congress on Wednesday evening. 

“We’re working with Congress right now on legislation that would help us get around some of the challenges of using the state sponsor of terrorism designation, which … has some unintended consequences,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this month. 

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