Syria: The Big Unanswered Question
By Sadia Hameed
The Senate Armed Services Committee will convene tomorrow morning to hear Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey discuss the crisis in Syria. While attention will focus on Sen. John McCain’s call for the United States to support a no-fly zone and organize targeted air strikes in Syria, Senators should make sure to ask why the U.S. Department of Defense is providing capital to a company that is arming the Syrian regime.
Put another way: Russian state arms dealer Rosoboronexport is enabling atrocities, and the United States is doing business with Roboronexport.
Russia remains the top supplier of weapons to Syria, and recent reports from human rights monitoring organizations confirm that Russian weapons have been found at the site of atrocities in Homs. According to Thomson Reuters, at least four cargo ships have left a Russian port used by Rosoboronexport for the Syrian port of Tartus since December 2011, and another Russian ship carrying ammunition and sniper rifles, a weapon Syrian forces have used on protestors, docked in Cyprus in January before delivering its cargo to Syria. In January, Rosoboronexport signed a deal with the Syrian government to sell 36 combat jets capable of hitting ground targets, and the company’s chief spokesperson Vyacheslav N. Davidenk recently declared his intention to continue supplying arms to Syria.
Rosoboronexport benefits from a nearly $1 billion contract with the U.S. Department of Defense—signed on May 26, 2011, months after the crackdown began. The U.S. signed a no-bid, fixed price foreign sales contract worth $375 million to purchase the Mi series of rotorcrafts and spare parts with an estimated completion date of March 26, 2016. The contract comes with an option for $550 million in additional purchases, raising the total to nearly $1 billion. Public contract records show ongoing business between the U.S. Army and Rosoboronexport, with a transaction as recent as November 3, 2011. The United States can withdraw from this contract at any point.
The U.S. government is conducting business with—funding –the company directly supplying the Syrian government with weapons. This is unacceptable. Tomorrow senators on the Armed Services Committee will have an ideal opportunity to ask the administration about it.