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Home / Press Release / Pentagon Cuts Ties with Russian Arms Dealer Enabling Syrian Atrocities
November 13, 2013

Pentagon Cuts Ties with Russian Arms Dealer Enabling Syrian Atrocities

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today praised the Department of Defense (DoD) for canceling plans for a $345 million purchase of 15 additional helicopters from Rosoboronexport, the Russian arms dealer that continues to supply the weapons used in Bashar al-Assad’s war against Syrian civilians. The organization also praised Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) for his tireless efforts to keep the United States military from contracting with a weapons dealer that has enabled mass atrocities.

“This is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do,” said Human Rights First’s Sonni Efron. “It will save American taxpayers money while showing that the United States will not keep doing business as usual with firms that are profiting from enabling gross human rights violations.”

Last year, with the bipartisan support of members such as Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Cornyn, as well as Representatives Rosa de Lauro (D-CT) and Kay Granger (R-TX), both the House and Senate voted to end the $1.1 billion U.S. contract to purchase Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan from Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-owned arms exporter.  That ban applied to Fiscal Year 2013 funds, but DoD used FY 2012 funds through this year to continue its controversial Russian helicopter purchase, in contravention of Congress’ intent.

Until now, DoD had insisted that there was no alternative to buying new Mi-17s from Rosoboronexport to stand up Afghan air defenses despite mounting evidence that the new Mi-17s are overpriced, despite an Inspector General report spotlighting problems with the Rosoboronexport contract, and despite a U.S. criminal investigation into the procurement process at the Army office in Huntsville, Alabama, that handles these contracts. The continuing helicopter deal also put the United States in the untenable position of buying arms from the chief weapons dealer supplying Assad, while at the same time supplying arms and aid to the rebels fighting Assad.

Now that the Pentagon has informed Congress that it will not use the $345 million requested in the President’s FY2014 budget to buy more helicopters from Rosoboronexport, Human Rights First urges Congress to codify the ban on using U.S. taxpayer money to do business with atrocities enablers, including Rosoboronexport.

“It’s not enough to slap sanctions on those who commit mass atrocities, the perpetrators,” Efron said. “We have to look more closely at the companies that feed the supply chains of war, those who enable mass atrocities and other gross human rights violations by providing weapons, financing, insurance, surveillance technology and all the other materiel needed for repression.  And that begins with making sure the U.S. government itself isn’t rewarding such companies with contracts.”

For more information or to speak with Efron, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.

For background on the Rosoboronexport issue and why it matters to U.S. global leadership on human rights, please see:

Blueprint: How to Stop Doing Business with Russia’s Arms Exporter
Press Release: Cornyn, Blumenthal Make Senate Floor Call for Pentagon to Cut Ties with Syrian Enabler Rosoboronexport
The Atlantic: While Obama’s Snubbing Putin, How About Ending this Terrible Defense Contract, Too?
Press Release: Pentagon Overpaying for Weapons from Russian State-Owned Arms Dealer
Reuters: Pentagon opens criminal probe of Russian helicopter deals
Wall Street Journal: New Push to Block Purchases of Russian Helicopters