U.S. senators introduce bill to designate Russia state sponsor of terrorism

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senators Graham and Blumenthal speak during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Democratic and Republican U.S. senators introduced legislation on Wednesday that would designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, a label pushed for by Ukraine but opposed by President Joe Biden's administration.

"The need for this measure is more pressing now than ever before," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of the bill's sponsors, told a news conference, citing the killings of civilians and other "brutal, cruel oppression" in Ukraine since Russia's invasion.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, another bill sponsor, said the designation would send a strong signal of support for Ukraine to Kyiv but also to U.S. allies, while imposing stiff penalties on Russia like allowing it to be sued in U.S. courts for its actions in Ukraine and tightening sanctions.

It was not immediately clear when or whether the measure might come up for a vote. But the two senators have been advocating for the designation for months, visiting Kyiv in July to promote it.

They have been joined by other lawmakers in voicing support for the idea. Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in July the designation was "long overdue."

Biden has said he does not plan such a designation for Russia. Administration officials say they do not feel that the designation is the most effective way to hold Russia accountable and that it could hinder deliveries of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told a news briefing that the administration was discussing with lawmakers measures "analogous" to those that would be imposed on Russia's economy by the designation.

"We have to take into account the consequences, intended and unintended" by such a designation, he said. "We are engaging with Congress on tools that would continue to have analogous implications for the Russian economy, for the Russian government, that would not have those unintended consequences."

Moscow has told Washington that diplomatic ties would be badly damaged and could even be broken off if Russia were added to the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, which currently includes Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Syria.

Blumenthal and Graham's bill includes a provision that would allow a U.S. president to waive the designation for national security reasons after certifying to Congress that Russia is no longer supporting acts of international terrorism.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Simon Lewis; Editing by Bill Berkrot)