U.S. Financial Sanctions Against Russia Establish Framework for Targeting Arms Exporters

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First welcomes President Obama’s executive order issued today that puts in place financial sanctions against the Russian government. This newly-signed executive order, announced in response to Russia’s aggression in Crimea, will not only target several senior Russian officials, but also establish a framework to impose sanctions against entities operating in the arms sector in Russia.

“Today’s executive order is an important step towards distancing the United States from the Russian arms industry,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “These sanctions signal that the Obama Administration is willing to disrupt an industry that has played a key role in Ukraine and other conflicts that undermines U.S. interests, especially in Syria. We encourage the administration to investigate and identify Russian entities engaged in or facilitating arms transfers to these conflict zones.”

Human Rights First notes that the Russian arms industry has played an important role in enabling mass atrocities. In particular, Rosoboronexport, a Russian state-owned arms exporter, has continued to supply the weapons employed by the Bashar Al-Assad regime to attack the Syrian civilian population. Today’s sanctions reaffirm the commitment of the U.S. government to sever ties with an industry that has profited from enabling grave human rights violations.

Human Rights First has long-advocated the U.S. government to disrupt the supply chains of those who perpetrate mass atrocities. In November 2013, the Pentagon finally canceled its plans to purchase $345 million worth of helicopters from Rosoboronexport. This move followed a bipartisan vote in which both the House and Senate voted to end the $1.1 billion U.S. contract to purchase Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan from Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-owned arms exporter.  That ban applied to Fiscal Year 2013 funds, but Pentagon had planned to use 2012 funds to continue with its controversial Russian helicopter purchase, in contravention of Congress’ intent. This contract was finally abandoned. In January 2012, Human Rights First issued a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urging him to use his authority under the International Economic Emergency Powers Act to sanction the Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport for materially supporting the commission of human rights violations in Syria.

Human Rights First calls upon the Treasury and State Departments to fully investigate and designate all relevant entities in the Russian arms sector for sanctions. These investigations should be sufficiently thorough to establish if these actors have taken actions that would also warrant their designation under other sanctions regimes. In particular, State and Treasury should establish to what extent the Russian arms industry has provided material support to Syrian government and all other entities and individuals designated for sanctions.


Published on March 17, 2014


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