What the State Department Should Know About U.S. Involvement with Rosoboronexport
At Monday’s State Department press briefing, Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner stated that the State Department has “called on all countries to stop supplying weapons, arms to – munitions to the Syrian regime.” But Mr. Toner seemed unaware of the extent to which the United States Government itself supports Assad’s primary arms supplier, Rosoboronexport, with a multi-million dollar contract. When asked about this contract, Toner replied, “I’m not sure what you’re referring to. The only thing you might be referring to is we do have a limited contract with Russia to provide helicopter parts, I think, for some helicopters that are – that have been loaned to the Afghan – or sold or given to the Afghan military. That, I think, is the extent.” But that is not the extent. Since the Syrian uprising started last March, the United States has continued to do business with Russian State arms broker Rosoboronexport, including signing a no-bid, fixed price foreign sales contract worth $375 million to purchase 21 Mi series helicopters and spare parts for the Afghan Army in May 2011. This contract comes with the option to purchase an additional $550 million in arms, which the Department of Defense is now exercising, which raises the total value of the contract to nearly $1 billion. The Department of Defense has told Members of Congress that the 21 helicopters in the initial purchase, worth $375 million, are essential to maintaining the U.S. timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but they’ve been secretive about the need for the additional $550 million in helicopters and spare parts that they plan on procuring. That contract extension could be underway now. The U.S. government has the opportunity to end its contract with Rosoboronexport. That is just one way in which the State Department can leverage all of its available influence over Russia: by halting a contract with the very company that provides material support such as weapons to the Assad regime. Furthermore, State also can place pressure on Assad’s enablers in Russia by expanding travel restrictions to executives of companies like Rosoboronexport that continue to provide lethal military support to the Assad regime. It is surprising that the U.S. Army would engage in a no-bid fixed price foreign sales contract rather than a competitive bidding process for the purchase of these dual purpose helicopters, especially given the price of this equipment. While Rosoboronexport is the main arms broker for Russian manufactured weapons, the civilian versions of the Mi-17 which come unarmed can be purchased commercially. The Department of Defense has so far not clarified why these helicopters needed to be purchased given their use for flight training for Afghan army pilots. Even more surprising is the fact that the U.S. Army would now choose to exercise the additional purchase option to procure spare parts that can be purchased on the commercial market. In light of the crisis in Syria and it escalation over the past 14 months, how can the United States claim to be using all of its leverage to shift Russia’s support for the Assad regime while also doing business with the very company that has provided him with the necessary firepower to slaughter his own people leaving over 10,000 civilians dead?