Zelensky arrives in the US and Russia leaves a warning

The US studies classifying Russia as an “aggressor state” instead of a “state sponsor of terrorism”, according to some sources

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends an online conference at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence on the outskirts of Moscow on November 22, 2022. (Photo: MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

The Biden administration has been working with Congress for the past few months on legislation that would formally designate Russia as an “aggressor state,” multiple sources familiar with the deliberations told CNN, and lawmakers are waiting to see if Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky endorses the proposal when he addresses Congress in person this Wednesday night.

If it does, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could introduce the legislation as a standalone bill this week, sources familiar with the deliberations told CNN. But it’s unclear how both chambers could pass it before the holiday is set, which would mark the end of the 117th Congress. Republicans will assume control of the House of Representatives when Congress returns in January.

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

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

“Right now we’re working with Congress on legislation that would help us get around some of the challenges of using the ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ designation,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview with CNN earlier this month. , adding that the label has “some unintended consequences”.

Sources familiar with the deliberations said the administration shared a white paper with lawmakers and officials in the fall outlining possible solutions, including designation as an aggressor state.

A senior administration official confirmed to CNN that “we are in contact with Congress about new accountability mechanisms that they are working on, ones that would not carry the unintended and detrimental global consequences of an OSH designation and would actually address the case of Russian atrocities and aggression in an effective manner”.

A draft of the proposal obtained by CNN calls for harsh new sanctions on senior Russian government officials the president determines are complicit in “aggressor state” tactics, such as undermining Ukraine’s democratic processes, threatening its territorial sovereignty, seizing misappropriation of Ukrainian assets and asserting its authority over any Ukrainian territory without Kyiv’s authorization.

Why some oppose: But Republican lawmakers and congressional aides who oppose the proposed legislation expressed concern that it would give the administration more leeway to remove sanctions unilaterally should Russia signal the opening of peace talks with it. Ukraine, and complained that the label has no real power to hold Russia accountable.

“The proposed ‘Aggressor State’ designation is a poor substitute for what Ukraine has asked for: a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation for Russia,” Republican Rep. Michael McCaul said in a tweet Tuesday. “This new designation does not hold Putin accountable for his heinous war crimes and unprovoked war against Ukraine.”

Aides told CNN that GOP staff members have told Zelensky’s office that they believe the appointment is inconsequential.

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