Since the beginning of the occupation of Crimea, Russian propaganda, special services, punitive structures, the investigation and the court have been constantly practicing “detecting and exposing terrorists” in the Crimea.
At the same time, the so-called “identified terrorists”, as a rule, Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists, as well as “other, not yet caught, extremists”, did non commit any real “terrorist acts” in the Crimea “for some reason”.

This approach to the fabrication of fake “terror” by the Russian occupiers on the peninsula is not surprising, especially after the real mass terror of Russian troops and mercenaries in the war zone.

An expert of the Association, associate professor Alexey Plotnikov, described the situation
The Russian Federation is headed by a terrorist. Unlike exalted movie villains, here we are dealing with a cold-blooded, highly educated terror professional who draws on more than a hundred years of experience from his predecessors, as well as his own many years of practical experience. The Russian FSB is a direct descendant of the VChK-GPU-OGPU-NKVD-KGB, which, in turn, continued the ideas of revolutionary terror of the 19th century.
The roots of the thinking of the modern Russian leadership are in Nechaev’s Catechism of a Revolutionary, who “severed all connection with the civil order and with the entire enlightened world and with all the laws, decency, generally recognized conditions, morality of this world … if he continues to live in it, then only so that he rather destroy it” [1].

If these assumptions may seem too radical, it is only because the format of the article does not allow us to trace in detail how the terror of radical groups of the 19th century evolved into state terror of the 20th century and international terrorism of the 21st century. For a more detailed study of this issue in the literature, we recommend [2], [3], [4].

We will not explore all the theories related to the coming to power of the Russian dictator, but only state that with his appearance in the Kremlin, terrorism both in Russia and in the world has reached a new level, and the manipulation of the terrorist threat has become one of the main instruments of his power inside country and one of the main arguments in the international arena.

This is succinctly and accurately described in a report submitted to the US Senate in 2018: “Vladimir Putin gained and solidified power by exploiting blackmail, fears of terrorism, and war. Since then, he has combined military adventurism and aggression abroad with propaganda and political repression at home, to persuade a domestic audience that he is restoring Russia to greatness and a respected position on the world stage” [5].

It should come as no surprise that Putin’s military policy includes a significant amount of terrorism against people today. This includes both organized, by highly trained forces, terror as a tool of establishing domination in the seized territory, and unorganized, by promoting or tolerating systematic and overwhelming violence against the civilian population.

The other part is terror against the population of the unoccupied territory, which aims to push this population to decisions that are favorable for the aggressor, for example, to put pressure on their own government. About terrorism as a method of war, see, for example, [6], about the use of terror by Russia in the war against Ukraine we recommend journalistic materials [7] [8], as well as more thorough publications [9] [10].

The use of terrorist tactics in conflict has sharply increased recently, to the expense of strictly military ones. The ongoing shelling of residential areas in Kharkiv [11], rocket attacks on Kiev [12], Odessa [13], Zhytomyr [14], the attack on the Kremenchug shopping center [15], and other attacks can all be explained within the logic of deterrence but are difficult, if not impossible, to do so using military logic.

The recent replacement of the “Syrian butcher” Dvornikov with the commander of the Russian aerospace forces, S. Surovkin, is an easy explanation for the strengthening of the component of precision air terror with the aid of missiles and aircraft. The latter has just as much right to be considered a butcher because Surovkin and the janitors collaborated to destroy the Syrian cities. Only the actions’ general nature has altered. Janitors favor artillery attacks and strikes, which is how Russia’s brutal and largely unsuccessful assault on Severodonetsk came about.

Surovkin likes to attack enemy cities from the air. We don’t believe the new approach will be more effective. We underline that there are certain differences between the “style of Surovkin” and the “style of the Dvornikov” before returning to the declared subject of this piece, terror. The latter destroyed the cities where the Ukrainian Armed Forces units were stationed and which were on the artillery front line.

Here, Russian invaders may point on so called “justifiable military necessity” to “rationalize” the destruction of civilian property. It is far more challenging to identify such a “need” in rocket strikes on hinterland cities, though. Even if we consider that the targets might be significant military or infrastructure structures, the ratio of destroyed civilian items to actually hit military objectives is obviously not in the latter’s favor.

In any case, the shelling of isolated civilian targets that may be of military significance (such as a bridge) and that are situated among many civilian targets (such as shopping malls) does not allow for the achievement of a clear military superiority, but rather puts psychological pressure on the civilian population.

From the point of view of international law, such acts can be considered as terrorism. According to the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, terrorism is considered, among other things, “any act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act” [16].
In theory, this definition is adequate to raise the issue of Russia’s official responsibility for terrorist activities. The International Court of Justice has already acknowledged that it has jurisdiction in this case [17] and is currently looking into Ukraine’s claim that Russia violated the aforementioned Convention by supporting terrorist organizations in the occupied territories and destroying a civilian aircraft in the summer of 2014. Nothing stops Ukraine from bringing a fresh complaint or presenting new evidence to the Court about the Russian Federation as a state’s violation of this international agreement.

Bringing particular people to criminal culpability creates a little more complexity. Law in Ukraine permits this. A comprehensive set of standards for combating terrorism and financing it is present in the existing criminal law [18]. If the perpetrators of the missile terror against Ukrainian cities are brought before Ukrainian court, it will be feasible to demonstrate that their conduct had all the necessary components of terrorism under these standards and the accepted definition.

More difficult with international criminal law. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court does not include the concept of terrorism. It contains the following war crimes:

– intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities;
– intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives;
– intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated.

From a practical standpoint, it is difficult to tell these activities apart from the definition of terrorism given above. The primary distinction is in the character of the offender’s intent. Terrorism is defined as an act designed “to terrify a population or to compel a government or an international organization to do or refrain from doing any act” by the Financing of Terrorism Convention. Such a specification is avoided by the Rome Statute. For him, the mere fact that there was an intention to harm people or property without mentioning any menacing intent is sufficient.

Does this imply that we should no longer punish terrorists as terrorists on a global scale and that the accusation of “terrorism” should be dropped in favor of charges of war crimes? No. In the form of Article 51 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, a link exists between the definition of terrorism in the Convention and the description of these war crimes in the Rome Statute.

This article establishes a general duty to protect civilians and lists the same crimes against civilians as the Rome Statute, including indiscriminate attacks that are not directed at military objectives, or that affect both military goals and civilians, as well as attacks on civilian objects without a distinction between them. The article’s second section states that “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited”.

International law has also recognized the link between indiscriminate assaults on civilians and terrorism. Thus, in the case of Stanislav Galich, the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia examined the development of viewpoints on the definition of terrorism as a strategy for warfare and noted that terror need not be the sole objective of an act of terrorism; rather, the intent to commit acts of terrorism against civilians can be connected to other objectives in armed conflict [20].

This result appears to simplify the inclusion of terrorist-related offenses in an international criminal charge generally, as there is, at the very least, no requirement to establish that the attack’s main motivation was terrorism. This enables any action to be classified as a terrorist act, despite the defendant’s assertion that his intention was to gain military dominance.

In the case of Radovan Karadzic, the Tribunal for Yugoslavia provided useful guidance on establishing the perpetrator’s intent to commit precisely an act of terrorism. In the opinion of the Tribunal, “The intent to spread terror can be inferred from the circumstances surrounding the acts or threats of violence, including their nature, manner, timing, and duration. While, as stated above, the actual infliction of terror on the civilian population is not a legal requirement of this offence, the evidence of actual terrorisation may contribute to establishing other elements of the offence, including the specific intent to terrorise.

The Appeals Chamber has also affirmed that the indiscriminate nature of an attack can be a factor in determining specific intent for terror”. Regarding what is considered civilian intimidation. The Tribunal stated that “the civilian population of Sarajevo and individual civilians therein experienced extreme fear, anxiety, and other serious psychological effects resulting from the campaign of sniping and shelling by the SRK. Indeed, the Chamber found above that the citizens of Sarajevo in fact felt terrorised during the siege of their city. The Chamber finds that this psychological harm formed part of the acts of violence directed against a civilian population or individual civilians in Sarajevo” [21] .

Therefore, under international criminal law, Russian war criminals cannot be accused of directly committing acts of terrorism. The International Criminal Court will charge individuals with violating the laws and norms of war in future trials. Terrorism-related issues can be very important when determining the elements of the crimes as well as the intent to do them. The prosecution’s case will be significantly strengthened and the guilt of the criminals will be increased by the knowledge that the attack on the civilian population was not an accident or an incident of the combat but rather a planned campaign of terror.

Let’s not forget that terrorism is a weak person’s weapon. No terrorist group has ever in recent history succeeded in achieving its political objectives. Terrorists can succeed tactically on an individual level, but they cannot win the war. Additionally, the employment of terror tactics instantly reduces the influence of any group and, in theory, prevents agreements from being reached with it. Russia will not win the conflict if it uses terror as part of its military strategy; instead, it will simply strengthen its position, add to its national duty, and make more people feel guilty. The more terror the aggressor exhibits, the closer he will be to being defeated, and the worse the punishment for the crimes committed.