Blueprint Details Steps for U.S. to Cut Ties with Russian Arms Dealer at Heart of Syrian Atrocities

Washington, DC – Human Rights First today said the United States must stop doing business with Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport and it released a blueprint detailing steps Congress and the Department of Defense should take to cut ties with the company. Despite the facts that Rosoboronexport is the primary supplier of weapons to the Assad regime and Congress has explicitly banned contracts with the company, the Pentagon is spending millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to purchase helicopters for Afghan forces. Human Rights First cites State Department cables that indicate that the money will flow directly into the pockets of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cronies, who control Rosoboronexport.

“The United States is now in the bizarre position of purchasing weapons from the very supplier that is arming Assad at the same time we’re supplying weapons and aid to Assad’s opponents,” said Human Rights First’s Sonni Efron, author of the blueprint “How to Stop Doing Business with Russia’s Arms Exporter.”

“The United States is also enriching a Russian arms supplier while at the same trying to persuade the Russian government to stop its lucrative arms sales to Syria. It’s a schizophrenic, self-defeating policy, and it’s incredibly wasteful.”

The blueprint documents how U.S. taxpayer money has flowed to a Russian state-owned firm that is controlled by a close associate of President Putin, his former KGB colleague Sergey Chemezov, and that has supplied at least $4.9 billion in arms to Syria. It also recommends longer-term steps the Defense Department could take to ensure that U.S. procurement does not enrich companies or individuals who supply the weapons, ammunition, spare parts or other material that enable mass atrocities.

The Defense Department insists that only the Russians can make a helicopter that is inexpensive, can fly at high altitude, withstand high temperatures and be easy to repair.

“Where is the U.S. defense-industrial complex when we need it?” Efron asked.

The recommendations and findings come just weeks after the Office of the Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued an audit report declaring that Afghanistan is not ready to fly or maintain the Russian helicopters, which are costing American taxpayers a total of $1.1 billion. According to SIGAR, the Pentagon signed a new contract with Rosoboronexport on June 16, 2013, just 13 days after it received the recommendation that the contract with Rosoboronexport be suspended and two days after an amendment sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro demanding the Pentagon stop doing business with Rosoboronexport passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 423-0.

“Congress is clear that the United States should cut ties with Rosoboronexport and stop supporting those who continue to arm the Assad regime’s offensive against Syrian civilians. It’s time for the Pentagon to get serious about finding a way to address Congress’ concerns instead of finding loopholes to work around them,” Efron observed.

Last year, Congress passed an amendment (Section 1277) to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (NDAA) that expressly prohibits the use of U.S. funds to enter into any contracts or agreements with Rosoboronexport; the NDAA was enacted in January. In spite of the new law, Members of Congress received information in March 2013 that the U.S. Army intends to enter into a new contract with Rosoboronexport to procure 20 additional helicopters for the Afghan military. House and Senate members protested vigorously, but the Department of Defense declared the deal to be an urgent national security priority.

In May, Human Rights First released a private letter from the Army Supply Bureau of the High Command of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) to Rosoboronexport. The letter appears to show new orders for rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, mortar rounds, ammunition and other goods the Syrian Army needs to carry out its ongoing operations against civilians. This came amid news reports that Rosoboronexport has signed a contract to supply advanced air defense systems to Syria.

“Afghanistan needs helicopters for counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics missions after the United States military leaves, but Afghanistan’s security should not come at the expense of Syrian civilian lives,” Efron said. “The Pentagon claims that Rosoboronexport is  the only company capable of supplying the helicopters Afghan forces need to sustain operations after American troops are gone and that these helicopters are needed urgently.  The Russian arms supplier’s involvement in Syria is well-documented, and former Secretary of State Clinton raised concerns more than a year ago about its weapons being used against Syrian civilians.  Last year, President Obama created the Atrocities Prevention Board to take a whole-of-government approach to preventing exactly the kind of mass atrocities that we’re now seeing in Syria. The Department of Defense has promised Congress to look into alternatives; it owes the American people a Plan B for acquiring these aircraft without enriching the Russian arms dealer that is killing Syrians.”

The blueprint recommends practical steps the U.S. Congress and Department of Defense can take to unwind dealings with Rosoboronexport and make sure that future contracts do not inadvertently fuel conflicts or enable atrocities. These steps include:

  • Congress should enact legislation that explicitly orders the Department of Defense to cancel all contracts with Rosoboronexportincluding but not limited to contracts for helicopters, spare parts and maintenance. This would include the contract extension signed on June 16, 2013. There are at least two opportunities for such legislative action: the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act and the FY14 Defense Appropriations bill.  This legislation should include a specific prohibition on the use of FY12 or other funding to fulfill previous contracts.
  • Congress should pass an amendment to prohibit the use of a national security waiver unless Rosoboronexport cooperates with all U.S. auditing agencies and law enforcement inquiries, pledges not to deliver S-300 air defense systems to Syria and suspends contracts that have been signed between Rosoboronexport and the Government of Syria since January 2013.
  • Congress should request immediate notification of what FY 2012 funds have already been transferred to Rosoboronexport under the June 13, 2013 contract extension, and how many Mi-17 helicopters and parts have already been paid for.
  • From this point forward, preference should be given to sourcing helicopters and spare parts from suppliers in countries that are U.S. NATO allies, such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary, all of which contributed troops to the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.
  • Congress should enact legislation that requires the office of the DOD Under Secretary of Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics office to review  all defense procurement contracts with foreign entities to assess the risk that the contract might enable the flow of arms into areas where they are being used or are likely to be used to commit mass atrocities.
  • The Department of Defense  should report to Congress within 60 days on the subject of modifications to the Mi-17 cockpits, including details of such modifications,  the benefits to the United States, and the estimated cost if the cockpits must be returned to Russian standard before turning the craft over to the Afghan Special Mission Wing.
  • The Pentagon has repeatedly promised Congress to look into alternative suppliers for helicopters able to perform the functions of the Mi-17.  In light of department’s repeated insistence that access to this Russian product is vital to Afghan national security and the new developments in Syria and Russia, the Pentagon should within six months perform a study to determine the options and costs of alternatives to Rosoboronexport.
  • To prevent recurrence of the type of problem spotlighted by the Rosoboronexport contract, the office of the Department of Defense Under Secretary of Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics office should review defense procurement contracts to assess the risk of the contractor enabling the flow of arms into areas where they are being used or are likely to be used to commit mass atrocities.

Published on July 23, 2013


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