Petras Auštrevičius, Member of the European Parliament, ex-Vice Speaker of the Lithuanian Seimas, in an interview with Rika Zimmer, spoke about the peculiarities of creating a legal instrument of influence on states that are terrorist and support terrorism. The presence of the specified tool will allow sanctions against Russia to be introduced automatically, without additional approvals, and assets to be confiscated for the benefit of the affected parties.
Rika Zimmer: Welcome everyone to another episode of Unlock Ukraine where we talk about Ukraine, EU politics and more. This is a podcast of Promote Ukraine and Promote Ukraine’s advocacy team works very hard to shed light on very important topics. Today we will talk about state-sponsored terrorism or more specifically Russia as a terrorist state.
I am Rika, and I have the honour today to have here in Station Europe with me Petras Auštrevičius. Did I pronounce it correctly?
Petras Auštrevičius: Very well!
Rika Zimmer: Is it OK if I just continue with “Petras”?
Petras Auštrevičius: Yes, please!
Rika Zimmer: Perfect!
Petras Auštrevičius: Should I act accordingly? I mean if you call me “Petras”, and I still have this tie, it will not be really natural [takes off the tie].
Rika Zimmer: We’re just having a relaxed conversation.
Petras Auštrevičius: Yes, we are.
Rika Zimmer: Thank you! So, you are a member of the European Parliament, you are from Lithuania, right?
Petras Auštrevičius: Yes!
Rika Zimmer: In November 2023 the European Parliament had a resolution on declaring Russia a terrorist state. And I’ve heard that you had quite a role in the whole thing. Would you like to walk me through?
Petras Auštrevičius: Let’s unlock Ukraine! And let’s explain the things as they are.
Indeed, it happened in November, last year when the major, I mean mainstream political groups in the European Parliament saw it necessary to have a well-stated “by-resolution” declaring Russia as a state sponsoring terrorism and using terrorist-like actions. This is again an important aspect to consider.
I have to tell you that there is no legal description, no legal instrument in the European Union so far when it comes to terrorist states, states sponsoring terrorism or terrorist actions taken by some states. That’s why it was a kind of novelty in Brussels politics, but there is nothing new for us once we look at Russia, how Russia acts, particularly against Ukraine, already for almost a decade.
We saw it necessary to declare that Russia is such a state, very unpredictable, very aggressive, that uses a lot of hybrid (that is important) ways and instruments to impose or impact third countries. Of course, Ukraine’s case was used as a primary one in order to push the European Commission with the initiative to come up with a clear definition of a state sponsoring terrorism and using terrorist actions. That’s why it was a very productive session, and many things were negotiated, not necessarily in public. We had a long negotiation session, which, if I am correct, was close to four hours.
Rika Zimmer: Wow!
Petras Auštrevičius: It’s normal! When you look at the resolution, it’s full of very substantial things, statements, explanations, and so on. That’s why we did a very good job, and I was pleasantly surprised by the solid support we received in the plenary and later that month.
Rika Zimmer: Did you receive any reactions from Ukraine? How were the reactions on the resolution? And especially for you because you were a negotiator, as I understand, in that.
Petras Auštrevičius: Look, I mean we stayed in constant contact with our partners in Ukraine, from the Verkhovna Rada, from the presidential office, from the government – all over. We are in kind of a very well-connected network, with ongoing contacts. And indeed, it should be mentioned in addition that Ukraine’s media took a great interest in this action. So, all of us, my colleagues who negotiated this and myself, have been interviewed many times to explain it to people, once again, what it means, what the following actions are. And I see it as normal because, you know, if we look back at least half a year, a year ago, would anybody even believe that we would come up with such a, I would say, radical (but in a positive sense), a radical statement recognizing Russia as it should be? Finally, we call things as they are.
Rika Zimmer: As you said, it was immensely important. However, as I understand it’s still more symbolic because unlike, for example the US, the EU does not have a legal framework or mechanism to actually follow up on a declaration like that…
Petras Auštrevičius: Right!
Rika Zimmer: So, what would you consider a possible framework or mechanism to look like? What would you like to be the consequences? Because again it was a great start. What would you like to follow after that?
Petras Auštrevičius: Well, this is the most important part of our deliberations and decision-making. Politically, we have made it clear that Russia is a terrorism sponsoring state, using terrorist instruments against third countries. We have already had ten packages of sanctions. Ten! How many more do we need to act proportionally and adequately? Fifteen, twenty?
Rika Zimmer: Infinite number…
Petras Auštrevičius: Probably the fewer – the better. I hope that each package of sanctions is substantially limiting the Russian economy, politics, travel, and imposes more and more restrictions of all kinds. That is about using this kind of instrument against a state sponsoring terrorism.
But if the European Union had had this kind of legal instrument and framework, we probably wouldn’t need ten packages. By the fifth one, we could impose such limitations, such restrictions, such cuts-offs of all our economic ties, that it would become evidently clear to everybody what we are doing and why. The instrument I’m dreaming about and waiting for is like the one that the US has. The US has a very formal description of this kind of instrument, which is implemented after the declaration is made, and it’s really something what we need to have as soon as possible.
Rika Zimmer: How likely do you think that would happen in the near future? It is an immense work to come up with even the basis for a legal framework. How likely do you think that we will see something anytime soon?
Petras Auštrevičius: I hope that the European Union woke up from the Russian aggression against Ukraine with a different understanding of what is going on around. If we naively believe that we do not need anything extra and we can handle the situation with our previous instrumentarium, we are wrong. We need to look at more efficient and timely instruments that are proportional to the situation in order to react effectively and stop aggression or take preventive measures to indicate to some countries that they are on the wrong path.
Discussions on this matter may not result in unanimous agreement, especially regarding sanctions. Unfortunately, some member states, such as Hungary, and its government under Orban, may not want a more strict policy against the Russian Federation. They might not be very willing…
But as a Union, we have to consider let’s say a kind of more distant future. And we have to prevent some countries – with this instrument as a preventive measure. If you know what is waiting for you if you did something wrong, it might stop you on the right time. I hope we will start with the negotiations with the European Parliament, European Commission, and Council… I am meeting soon with Mr Jake Sullivan, who is in charge of the sanctions policy line (he is the High Representative for this). We will see. One thing is clear: the European Parliament is not going to give up this policy line.
Rika Zimmer: The US declared the Wagner Group a criminal organization, not a terrorist organization. What do you think about it from a European perspective? What do you think the EU should do?
Petras Auštrevičius: In my opinion, the Wagner Group and probably other groups of that kind in Russia and around the world are not just criminals. They are interlinked with the state institutions, and implement the state policy line. If we call Russia a state that sponsors terrorism, so we should call in a proper way all the implementing bodies. And one of those is the Wagner Group. They are definitely terrorists. They spread terrorism, they use terrorism as a tool, they kill, they destruct, they threaten. They threaten not just individuals, but they threaten a state, local people as a community. That’s why to my opinion, they deserve the highest condemnation. They are not just terrorists, but also murderers. They crossed lines which are incompatible with the United Nations declarations.
Rika Zimmer: So, by recognizing Russia as a terrorist state what would be the possibilities for example to freeze or cease Russian assets and confiscate things?
Petras Auštrevičius: I think it would be just another argument. I mean Russia is committing war crimes, including the crime of aggression, which is an absolutely top crime against third countries. Using terrorism as a tool is quite a collection. That might probably encourage those who still have doubts to move faster. We have to move from declarations to actions in this regard, we need financial support for Ukraine, it’s an existential war for Ukraine indeed. And it costs money. And Ukraine needs that money now – to win the war, not in the future. To reconstruct their country. I hope those big talks about hundreds of billions frozen will be proved not just by numbers but by actions, and we have to move as fast as possible.
Those criminals, those terrorists who are supported by Russian Federation must face justice, not just by legal justice, but by financial justice as well. As soon as possible! This will serve as a very example for others who probably are so willing to join and to commit crimes, followed by the crimes committed before. That will serve as a preventive example as well. Of course, we need confiscation, we need delivery of this money and financial support to Ukraine as much as possible.
Rika Zimmer: Ideally you would like to see Putin in the Hague…
Petras Auštrevičius: I guess we might have a special cell for him. With some books to read… In Ukrainian.
Rika Zimmer: If it is not a secret, I would like to ask what would be your next steps? What is planned already towards the mechanisms that are needed to take action upon Russia recognised as a terrorist state?
Petras Auštrevičius: In the past year, a very difficult year for Ukraine, the European Parliament has adopted 21 resolutions, declarations, and urgencies on this particular matter. It shows that the European Parliament remains very much involved. And we will, by the way. It is not a matter of choice for us.
We see what is happening in Ukraine, and what is against Ukraine. It is as a matter of strategic importance for us because we consider Ukraine being our partner, our trusted future member state. I’m sure about this.
We have to be more efficient in translating our political messages into concrete actions rather than to increase our speed on changing even EU legislation. I know it’s time consuming.
Sometimes we have to be a bit patient, but be sure we never forget about this promise for Ukraine. I mean to have all the instruments to push Russia to its own limits. And this terrorism-related instrument is one of those. It’s not invented by us – I mean Russia itself gave us a very solid argument to make this decision. And we will do everything possible, along with financial and fiscal commission and the Council to come up with instruments we are speaking about.
Rika Zimmer: Thank you so much, Petras. On behalf of Ukrainians, I take the freedom to say “thank you” for your important work. Also, of course, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. I understand you’re very busy, so we’re already very happy you managed to join. Don’t forget to put on your tie again if you have other appointments!