Despite outcries from U.S. lawmakers, the State Department said Tuesday it will pursue a USD 900 million contract with Russian arms exporter currently arming the Syrian regime.
Responding to concerns by a bipartisan group 17 senators who have asked the United States to drop this contract with the Russian-controlled arms export company, Rosoboronexport, to supply helicopters to the U.S. for Afghanistan, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the firm is the only entity that is equipped to repair the former Soviet helicopters donated to the Afghan military.
“So were these contracts to be cancelled, it would seriously hurt our effort to get Afghans increasingly into the lead of their own security,” Nuland explained. In a letter to Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, the lawmakers cited reports of Russia’s nearly USD 1 billion in arms sales to Syria last year, recent shipments from the Rosoboronexport company and a January deal for the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad to purchase 36 combat jets from the firm.
Simultaneously, the lawmakers said the Pentagon has agreed to buy 21 dual use Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan military from the firm. The no-bid contract for aircraft and spare parts is worth USD 375 million with options for additional purchases.
“We obviously share the intent, which is to persuade Russia to end its arms supply to Syria,” she added.
The arms sales and business deals come as the United Nations estimates that the Syrian government’s bloody crackdown on its people has left more than 7, 500 dead.