17 Senators Urge Defense Department to Cut Ties with Russian Arms Dealer
Washington, DC – A bipartisan group of 17 U.S. Senators today released a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta expressing grave concern that the Department of Defense is conducting business with Rosoboronexport, the same Russian state-controlled arms export firm that also provides the Syrian government with the means to perpetrate widespread and systematic attacks on civilians. The letter was led by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). It was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), James Risch (R-ID), Marco Rubio (R-FL), David Vitter (R-LA), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The Senators urged Secretary Panetta “to use all available leverage to pressure Russia and Russian entities to end their support of the Assad regime,” including by ending all business dealings with Rosoboronexport. Human Rights First strongly endorses the Senators’ letter and urges the Obama Administration to use the full array of U.S. foreign tools to pressure Russia and other enablers of the atrocities in Syria. Over 7,500 Syrians have reportedly been killed in the attacks by Assad’s military and credible accounts of atrocities – mass executions, torture, indiscriminate shelling and sniper fire – continue to stream out of Homs each day. Despite these developments, Russia has not backed away from its support of Assad and remains a primary source of weapons to the regime. Human Rights First’s research has shown that Russia sold Syria $1 billion worth of arms in 2011 alone, and arms sales have continued unabated throughout Assad’s ongoing crackdown. Disturbingly, this same Russian company also entered into a contract valued at nearly $1 billion with the U.S. Department of Defense last year after the popular uprising in Syria started. “It’s hard for the United States to have credibility in pushing for a cease fire in Syria when it’s buying arms from the same company supplying those carrying out the ongoing atrocities there. The United States should stop doing business with companies that are so clearly enabling atrocities,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. Earlier this month, Human Rights First urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to use his authority to block companies from supplying the Syrian government with goods needed to perpetuate its ongoing human rights abuses. For example, the group urged Geithner to use his Office of Foreign Assets (OFAC) authority to address and disrupt Rosoboronexport’s plan to fulfill its contract to sell the Syrian government 36 combat jets capable of attacking ground targets. For more information or to speak with Hameed, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at [email protected] or 202-370-3323.