The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that would prohibit the United States from doing business with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-run arms export agency, in an effort to send a message to Russia to stop selling weapons to Syria.
During July 19 debate on the defense appropriations bill, House lawmakers approved by voice vote an amendment to the bill that would make business with Rosoboronexport illegal as long as it continues to provide weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian officials have said they intend to fulfill arms contracts already signed with Syria, but will not sign new orders.
Currently, the Pentagon buys Mi-17 helicopters from the Russian arms dealer to equip the Afghan Security Forces. DoD has said the Russian helicopters are the right fit for Afghanistan’s new Air Force because they are less expensive, easier to maintain and are best suited for flying in Afghanistan’s high altitudes.
Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who sponsored the amendment, said “it’s not a message for the Pentagon; it’s a message for Russia.”
Moran acknowledged the Pentagon has legitimate reasons for buying the Mi-17s for the Afghan Security Forces, but said, “We should not be dealing with this firm unless we absolutely have to.”
He agreed with the chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, that a national security waiver should be included in the final legislation so exceptions can be made if needed.
When House and Senate lawmakers eventually meet in conference to hammer out differences in their two bills, the waiver can be added, Moran said.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who serves as ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, agreed with the bill’s sponsors that the Pentagon should competitively bid the helicopter contracts.
“There is no reason this should be sole-sourced,” he said.
The debate on the Hill comes a day after the Pentagon announced a $171 million contract the Army awarded to Rosoboronexport for 10 additional Mi-17 helicopters.