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Lining Putin's Pockets: Senators Want Obama to Call Off Contracts with Russian Arms Giant

Obama has been trickling out travel sanctions on Russian officials since the invasion and annexation of Crimea, and emerged from a G-7 meeting this week announcing that harsher sanctions could be in store if Putin invades more of Ukraine with forces that have been ominously massing on the country's eastern border.

The senators on today's letter argued the "costs must be real" to be heard by Putin.

"To that end, we call on you to cancel all existing DoD contracts with Rosoboronexport, as well as any plans for future deals, and impose sanctions to ban contracts with any company that cooperates with Rosoboronexport on military programs. Doing so would require our foreign partners to make a choice between America and Putin," they wrote. "These were the very objectives of an amendment we authored or otherwise supported during this week’s Senate consideration of the Ukraine aid bill. Unfortunately, that amendment has not been considered. These steps would also help implement sanctions you authorized on March 17, which included penalties against persons who 'operate in the arms or related materiel sector in the Russian Federation.'”

The aid bill providing $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians instrumental in the Crimea takeover passed the House 399-19 and the Senate 98-2, with the "no" votes coming from GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Dean Heller (Nev.). Reconciliation on the two bills is expected swiftly to get the bill to Obama by the end of the week.

The senators who wrote Obama noted that the administration flirted with danger in "relying too heavily" on the Russian firm to build up the Afghan military, "and DoD’s blindness to these risks has been deeply troubling."

"Indeed, DoD’s procurement of 63 Mi-17 helicopters from Rosoboronexport has created strategic vulnerabilities that could have serious implications for our own national security, should the Afghan military not reach its intended capacity," they noted.

"On August 5, 2013, a number of us raised these issues regarding overreliance on Russia in a letter to DoD. We specifically asked: 'Does the overreliance on Russia fostered by this Mi-17 program put the U.S. at risk of Russian coercion or blackmail on other security issues, such as the crisis in Syria, Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons, U.S. missile defense, arms control negotiations, or the security of former Soviet republics?' In a reply letter from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, these and other concerns were ignored. In addition, DoD recently indicated that it has contemplated further business dealings with Rosoboronexport in the areas of Mi-17 sustainment and machine-gun procurement. We ask you to end any such plans."

The senators stressed that the Pentagon's "failure to consider the strategic implications of sourcing mission-critical military equipment from a hostile power such as Russia is surprising."

"This problem was self-inflicted, but it is not too late to address it. Rosoboronexport has yet to deliver two dozen Mi-17s that are already on contract for the Afghans, which presents an opportunity to cancel those deliveries and mitigate the risks by transitioning the Afghans away from a pure Russian fleet and incorporating U.S.-made platforms. This is consistent with unclassified recommendations made by DoD’s own rotary wing aviation experts in a study conducted three years ago," they wrote. The Connecticut Dems have been concerned about lost business to Sikorsky in their home state.

"Sanctioning Rosoboronexport would send a powerful message to Putin, and we urge you to give serious consideration to these requests. The outcome in Ukraine is critically important both to American credibility and to the future of the international order, and our actions should reflect that."