New U.S. Sanctions on Russia Punish Putin Allies Involved in Syria Abuses
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today praised the Obama Administration’s decision to designate for sanctions Sergey Chemezov and other senior Russian officials and companies who have likely played an important role in enabling mass atrocities in Syria. For more than two years, the organization has called for the United States to stop doing business with Rosoboronexport, the Russian arms exporter that Chemezov controls, due to its role as chief weapons supplier to the Assad regime. This year, Russia has stepped up its military lifeline to Basher al-Assad, reportedly providing drones and guided bombs.
“This is an important step toward accountability for some of the Russian officials who have implemented Putin’s lethal Syria policies – even if the Obama administration isn’t saying so,” said Human Rights First’s Sonni Efron. “As the leader of Russia’s defense-industrial complex, Chemezov sits at the apex of the supply chain that has sent Russian weaponry to help Assad brutalize the Syrian people.”
The White House announced the sanctions against Chemezov and six other associates believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russia failed to live up to its agreements to defuse the situation in Ukraine. The administration also imposed additional efforts to deny export license applications for “any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities” and announced that existing export licenses for such items will be revoked. However, despite bipartisan opposition from Congress, the administration has not ordered the Pentagon to cut off its contract to purchase helicopters for Afghanistan from Rosoboronexport.
Chemezov is an old friend of Putin’s, having served with him in the KGB in East Germany in the early 1980s. He was head of Rosoboronexport before being promoted in 2007 to head the newly formed Rostec, an umbrella company of Russian defense and high-tech industries. A leaked State Department cable from 2007 described the Russian defense industry as “an important trough at which senior officials feed.” Chemezov ranked #10 on Forbes Magazine’s 2013 list of the wealthiest people in Russia. He remains on the board of Rosoboronexport, and also serves on the board of Rosneft, the Russian oil giant whose head, Igor Sechin, was also designated for U.S. sanctions today. Human Rights First’s Blueprint on the Russian role in enabling mass atrocities in Syria details Chemezov’s role.
Rosneft owned FEMCO, a shipping company that has since been spun off and remains a contractor for Rosneft, which owned the ship Alaed, which was found to be transporting a cargo of attack helicopters to Syria in 2012. After the United States and other nations protested, the Alaed reportedly turned around.
As the administration ramps up sanctions against Russia, Human Rights First urges President Obama to be explicit in targeting not only those involved in Russia’s Ukraine policy, but also the individuals and companies involved in Putin’s Syria policies. This includes shipping companies and financial institutions, including Russian and other banks allegedly involved in facilitating arms deals for the Assad regime.
“Putin’s role in persuading Assad to surrender some of his chemical arsenal – however effective his influence turns out to be– does not negate his responsibility for supplying the military aid that has enabled mass killing and helped turn two-and-a half million Syrians into refugees,” Efron said.