We Americans and Europeans are used to thinking of terrorism as something involving fertilizer bombs or improvised weapons, and of terrorists as fringe extremists who operate conspiratorially in irregular gangs. When we speak of state-sponsored terrorism, we are usually talking about clandestine groups that are supported, covertly, by a recognized state, in the way that Iran supports Hezbollah. But Russia’s war in Ukraine blurs the distinction among all of these things—terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, war crimes—for nothing about the bombing of Serhiivka, or Kremenchuk, or Kharkiv, is surreptitious, conspiratorial, or fringe.
Instead Russia, a legitimate, recognized world power—a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council—is directing constant, repetitive, visible terrorist violence against civilians, many of whom are nowhere near the fighting. The attacks are not errors or accidents. The planes carrying bombs can be tracked on radar screens. Occasionally, Moscow issues denials—the shopping-mall bombing was, like many others, described by Russian state media as “faked”—but no apologies. The Russian army will not punish the murderers. On the contrary, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has already awarded medals to the brigade that committed so many atrocities in the town of Bucha.