Defense Dept. Awards $572 Million Contract to Assad's Main Arms Supplier

Despite longstanding opposition from Congress and human-rights groups that the U.S. shouldn't be funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to the Syrian regime's main arms supplier, the Pentagon announced today that it has awarded a contract to Russia's Rosoboronexport.

The $572,180,894 firm-fixed-price contract modification is for 30 Mi-17 helicopters, spare parts, test equipment, and engineering support services.

The Mi-17 military helicopters will be used by the Afghan National Security Forces Special Mission Wing; work will be performed in Russia and is expected to be complete by Dec. 31, 2014.

Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) most recently urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a March letter to follow the letter of the law and not use the national security waiver in the NDAA amendment to move forward with the sale.

The dollar amount announced today is significantly higher than the $375 million no-bid contract that raised lawmakers' ire last year.

The Pentagon maintained that the Mi-17 helicopters requisitioned for the Afghanistan Air Force had to come from the sole entity controlling export of the crafts.

Until just three years ago, Rosoboronexport had been the subject of U.S. sanctions for assisting Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. Russia is the top arms supplier to Syria, selling more than $1 billion in arms to the regime in 2011 alone.

Russia confirmed at the end of May that it has no intention of curbing its arms deliveries to Damascus.

“I want the U.S. military to stop their business with Rosoboronexport, not expand the relationship,” Cornyn told PJM a year ago.

President Obama announced last week that the administration would be extending military aid to the Syrian opposition.

“Rosoboronexport’s clients should distance themselves from the company until it stops selling arms to Syria,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, last year. “The bottom line is that no one should do new business with any company that may be an accomplice to crimes against humanity.”

Obama met today with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit, after which the White House released a flurry of fact sheets announcing new cooperation between Washington and the Kremlin, including bilateral agreements on threat reduction and information and communications technology.

"Finally, the White House and the Kremlin have authorized a direct secure voice communications line between the U.S. Cybersecurity Coordinator and the Russian Deputy Secretary of the Security Council, should there be a need to directly manage a crisis situation arising from an ICT security incident," the White House said.

"We also spoke about problem spots on the planet, including Syria.  And, of course, our opinions do not coincide, but all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria, to stop the growth of victims, and to solve the situation peacefully, including by bringing the parties to the negotiations table in Geneva.  We agreed to push the parties to the negotiations table," Putin said today in a joint appearance with Obama.

Obama called their meeting "an example of the kind of constructive, cooperative relationship that moves us out of a Cold War mindset into the realm where, by working together, we not only increase security and prosperity for the Russian and American people, but also help lead the world to a better place."