Feb 19, 2023 - World

Lindsey Graham: U.S. should designate Russia state sponsor of terrorism

The U.S. should designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism and begin training Ukrainian pilots on the use of F-16 fighter jets, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told ABC's "This Week" in an interview that aired Sunday.

Why it matters: Graham's view clashes with that of the Biden administration, which has consistently opposed naming Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, citing unintended drawbacks that would accompany the decision.

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a September press briefing that the designation would not be the "most effective or strongest path forward" to holding Russia "accountable."
  • Jean-Pierre said the label could carry "unintended consequences," such as driving "critical humanitarian and commercial actors away from facilitating food exports" and jeopardizing the Ukraine grain deal.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the White House's position on the issue during an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper in December.

State of play: Speaking as part of the large congressional delegation attending the Munich Security Conference, Graham said there was "virtually unanimous belief" that the U.S. should be training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets and added that he believed a decision to begin doing so would be "imminent" upon return to Washington, D.C.

  • Graham criticized Vice President Kamala Harris for her announcement Saturday that the Biden administration had formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity during the war in Ukraine.
  • "How can she say that — and she is correct — and not give the victim of the crime against humanity the defensive weapons they need to stop the crime?" Graham asked.

Earlier in the same program, Blinken told host Martha Raddatz that the U.S. was concerned that China could be considering "providing lethal support to Russia in the war against Ukraine."

  • "We need to do two things quickly," Graham said. "Make Russia a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law, which would make it harder for China to give weapons to Russia, and we need to start training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 now."
  • Graham added that under the designation, if China were to provide weapons to Russia, they would be subject to sanctions.
  • "Don't worry about provoking Putin. Worry about beating him," Graham said.

The big picture: The European Parliament declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism in December, after several European nations, such as Lithuania and Latvia, had already done so.

  • In September, Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) had introduced a bill to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the West to speed up their weapons deliveries to Ukraine and provide Western fighter jets.
  • The call for jets has been met with opposition by some European leaders, after the U.K. announced this month that it would begin training Ukrainian fighter jet pilots.
  • When asked last month whether the U.S. would provide Ukraine with F-16 jets, President Biden replied with a firm "no."
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