Hagel and Kerry Urged to Cut off Russian Helicopter Contract
Washington, D.C. – When the U.S. secretaries of state and defense meet with their Russian counterparts on Friday, they should warn that the $1.1 billion deal to buy Russian helicopters for Afghanistan will end if Russia persists in supplying the weapons that Bashar al-Assad’s forces are using to murder Syrian civilians, Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino said Wednesday.
“This deal puts the United States in the untenable position of putting resources into both sides of the fight in Syria—helping the rebels fight Assad while funneling money into Assad’s primary arms supplier,” said Massimino. “However appropriate the contract may have been when it was initiated in 2010 during the period of ‘reset’ in relations with then-President Medvedev, Russia’s subsequent behavior in Syria and on other bilateral issues suggest it is no longer a reliable partner as a U.S. military contractor or in guaranteeing the future of Afghan security.”
Congress has repeatedly voted to cut off funding for Mi-17 helicopter purchases from Rosoboronexport, the state-owned Russian arms dealer that has long supplied the weapons behind Assad’s atrocities. U.S. officials have acknowledged that the Russian-supplied weapons have been used to murder Syrian civilians, but claim they can’t end their own dealings with Rosoboronexport because Afghanistan’s security needs trump the danger to Syrian civilians.
Yesterday, 13 senators from both parties sent a letter to General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asking him to reconsider the M-17 contract. The letter also expressed deep concerns about “DoD’s seeming blindness to the real risk of both Russian corruption in these deals and overreliance on a potentially hostile power.”
Last month, Human Rights First received industry documents that show Russia has nearly quadrupled its helicopter prices since 2008. Rosoboronexport is controlled by Sergey Chemezov, an intimate of Russian President Putin’s since their days together in the KGB in East Germany.
Human Rights First’s new blueprint, How to Stop Doing Business With Russia’s Arms Exporter, details multiple problems with the Russian helicopter contract and recommends steps the United States should take to develop policies that better meet U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Syria.