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December 23, 2013

Spearheading the Effort to Cut U.S. Ties to Assad’s Top Arms Supplier

Since the beginning of the civil war in 2011, Russia’s state arms dealer Rosoboronexport has been selling arms to President Bashar Al-Assad’s government. Rosoboronexport has provided arms worth billions of dollars, including weapons the regime has used to commit mass atrocities. The U.S. government has blasted Russia’s support for the Assad regime via Rosoboronexport. At the same, however, it has continued to buy weapons from Rosoboronexport. The Pentagon had a $1.1 billion contract to purchase Mi-17 helicopters for use by the Afghanistan military.

We put this issue on the political map, and worked with a strong bipartisan coalition in Congress  to end the Pentagon contract with Rosoboronexport. And last year, the House and Senate voted to do just that.

But the ban applied to Fiscal Year 2013 funds, so the Department of Defense—ignoring the clear intent of Congress—used Fiscal Year 2012 funds to keep purchasing the helicopters from Rosoboronexport. Along with members of Congress like Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) we continued to call on the U.S. government to end its relationship with Assad’s favorite arm dealer.

In the summer of 2013, the Pentagon informed Congress that it will not use the $345 million dollars requested in the 2014 budget to buy more helicopters from Rosoboronexport. Not only does this move save the government money, it makes U.S. policy toward Syria internally consistent and aligns it with respect for human rights. And while no one should overstate its immediate impact—the conflict in Syria wears on with no end in sight—it could set a precedent for targeting enablers of mass atrocities.