As the death toll in Syria moves beyond 70,000, it is almost unthinkable that the United States would enter into new business with the main arms supplier to the Syrian regime, yet recent disturbing reports suggest that the U.S. Pentagon may be set to do just that.
Members of Congress and United to End Genocide’s partners at Human Rights First have received information that the U.S. Army intends to enter into new contracts with the Russian state-owned arms company, Rosoboronexport. Last year 50,000 activists took action to protest existing U.S. contracts with the Russian arms company and Congress acted passing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 that expressly prohibits such contracts.
Last week Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and James Inhofe (R-OK) sent a letter to new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, reminding him of the legal obligations and warning that any new contract with Rosoboronexport would be viewed “as direct subversion of existing law by the Department of Defense”.
The NDAA amendment does provide for a national security waiver and the new contract would reportedly be for 20 helicopters for the Afghan army. However, Senators Cornyn and Inhofe argue that no waiver should be sought until a congressionally mandated Government Accountability Office and Defense Contract Audit Agency review of the Army’s existing contract with Rosoboronexport is completed.
Meanwhile, the Syrian regime continues to be cited for attacks that may amount to crimes against humanity, most recently in a Human Rights Watch report on the use of ballistic missiles in Aleppo that killed 170 people including 71 children. Russia continues to supply weapons to Syria and Rosoboronexport’s director says that it will continue to do so, claiming that these will only be defensive in nature. However, Russia’s contracts include maintenance and last year former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned about repaired attack helicopters being sent from Russia to Syria.
As Russia continues to supply weapons directly to the Assad regime and to block any meaningful action in the UN Security Council, this is no time for the United States to reward them with new business, particularly with the very entity providing the means for the regime to carry out attacks on civilians.