Members of the Afghan National Police Crisis Response Unit prepare to be extracted by an Mi-17 helicopter during training in Surobi, Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Joseph Swafford/US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — Eleven members of Congress sent another letter to Secretary of State John Kerry this morning urging the United States to push its NATO allies to “cease all trade involving military equipment with Russia” in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and continued destabilization of the Ukrainian government in Kiev.
Despite NATO’s decision earlier this month to suspend military and civilian cooperation with Russia, which would bar access to NATO’s headquarters by Russian officials save the Russian ambassador and a handful of support staff, several NATO countries continue to work on contracts with Moscow that the congressmen want halted.
In January, the UK announced establishment of a Military Technical Cooperation Agreement with Russia, which would allow British and Russian arms manufacturers to share technical data and exchange some components — all at an unclassified level — while France continues to work on a contract to sell two Mistral warships to Moscow.
“Unfortunately and inexplicably,” the letter continues, the United States has not backed away from plans to take ownership of 22 more Russian Mi-17 helicopters for use by the Afghan security forces.
The $550 million deal with Russian manufacturer Rosoboronexport is part of a series of Russian helicopter purchases in recent years that total more than $1 billion and are sending transport and attack helicopters to the Kabul government.
“We believe the United States must show leadership by terminating all defense contracts with Russia and ask that you strongly encourage out NATO allies and [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] participating states to take similar actions,” the bipartisan group, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote.
On April 11, Blumenthal also joined a group of 38 lawmakers to send a separate letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing their “deep concern” about “Russia’s recent actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
In the latest letter to Kerry, however, the members of Congress say “we urge you to lead the coordination among NATO and OSCE to halt trade involving military equipment with Russia immediately. We believe this is a crucial step in re-establishing a deterrent against further Russian aggression and strengthening the impact of our targeted economic sanctions against Russia.”
Sen. Marco Rubio. R-Fla., also issued a statement on Tuesday demanding that “the Obama administration must immediately increase sanctions on Russia. Sector-based sanctions should begin to be imposed and President Putin’s own financial assets, and those of his associates, targeted.”
The potential 2016 presidential hopeful added that the US should take steps to immediately begin providing the “lethal assistance” that the Kiev government has been requesting while also “take measures to reassure our allies in Central and Eastern Europe by deploying more alliance assets to their territories to reinforce our NATO commitments to their security.” ■