Senators Want Sanctions on Russia's Biggest Arms Exporter

A bipartisan group in the Senate wants to slap sanctions on Russia's sole state-owned exporter of Russian weapons systems and defense-related goods.

Arms giant Rosoboronexport has long been the subject of congressional scorn, particularly since the firm has raked in $1,133,783,077 in Defense Department contracts since 2011, according to federal contracting records.

Since the arms giant supplied Syria's Bashar al-Assad with more than $1 billion in deliveries in 2011 alone, Congress leaned on the White House to cut a lucrative no-bid contract with Rosoboronexport to supply the Afghan military with Mi-17 helicopters.

The new bill from Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) would forbid the direct or indirect use of American tax dollars to enter contracts or agreements with Rosoboronexport and immediately terminate existing contracts and agreements with the agency, something the lawmakers have long been clamoring for.

The legislation adds a sanctions component, though, prohibiting contracts with any domestic or foreign company that cooperates with Rosoboronexport to design, manufacture or sell military equipment.

“The hostile situation in Ukraine is yet another recent example of why the United States should stop doing business with Russia and its arms dealer,” said Blumenthal. “This legislation sends a clear message to Russia and Rosoboronexport: America will not do business with countries that behave irresponsibly and companies that arm terrorist regimes.”

Rosoboronexport's recent contracts with Assad include 36 Yakovlev Yak-130 jets, even as the Syrian Air Force continues to bomb civilian targets, and S–300 advanced anti-aircraft missiles.

“It’s time to put an end to this hypocritical relationship and end all contracts with Rosoboronexport,” said Cornyn. “Considering Rosoboronexport’s close connection with Vladimir Putin and his cronies, and its ties to brutal dictators who’ve committed mass atrocities, there is no reason for our military to continue to rely on equipment from thugs masquerading as a legitimate business.”

President Obama last year skirted around an amendment passed unanimously by the Senate to prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars to enter into agreements with Rosoboronexport, using a national security loophole to claim that dealing with the Russian firm was in America’s critical interest.

“Given Russia’s hostile actions in Ukraine, business as usual is unacceptable,” Coats said. “With American credibility and the future of the international order on the line, our actions should reflect that. This specific economic sanction will harm Russian interests in a serious way without damaging America’s economy.”