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September 26, 2013

Urge President Obama to Target Assad's Enablers of Mass Atrocities

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, President Obama advocated a broad effort to end the Syrian conflict by renewing peace negotiations.  Such a plan must target those who are propping up the Assad regime with weapons, money, fuel, military aid and diplomatic cover.

We must focus not only on those who are perpetrating atrocities in Syria, but also on those who enable them.

Bashar al-Assad does not stand alone. Russia’s state-run arms dealer, Rosoboronexport, has sold the Assad regime about $5 billion worth of weapons since 2008.  Other entities—individual, commercial, and state—have supplied him with weapons, ammunition, fuel, shipping and financial services. Moreover, banks in Russia and many other countries are reported to be sheltering the Assad family fortune.

Please urge President Obama to lead coordinated international action against these enablers.  He should begin at home, by ordering the Pentagon to stop ordering helicopters from Rosoboronexport.

The United States has purchased over $1 billion worth of Mi-17 helicopters from Rosoboronexport for Afghanistan, ignoring mounting opposition from Congress and human rights groups like ours.  The Pentagon keeps buying, even while Rosoboronexport supplies Assad’s forces with the weapons that kill Syrian civilians.

Now, the Pentagon wants $350 million more to buy 30 more Mi-17 helicopters from Rosoboronexport for Afghanistan.  That would send Russian President Vladimir Putin – and his client, Assad – exactly the wrong message.

American taxpayers should not swell the profits of Assad’s chief arms supplier. The United States must not rely so heavily on Russian-made military equipment that we can’t afford to stand up for our principles – or even our best interests. 

In addition, Russian banks, Ukrainian shipping companies and other enablers are helping the Assad regime circumvent U.S. and EU sanctions by holding Syrian money or enabling weapons sales while continuing to do business, legally, in the Europe Union and the United States. The Treasury Department has warned Russian banks to stop – but if they have done so, it’s unclear where the Syrian money went.

We cannot stop companies or governments from shipping weapons to Assad. But we can bar those who do business with a regime that has used chemical weapons against its own people from having access to our banks and our vital capital markets.