The Defense Department cannot purchase weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms export agency, under a provision of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
The ban lasts for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Congress passed the authorization legislation in December, and President Barack Obama signed it into law Jan. 2.
The provision, which was sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), came in response to continued Russian arms sales to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Since the start of the conflict in that country in early 2011, Moscow has sold Damascus more than $1 billion in arms, including heavy weapons that have been used against civilians, according to a March letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from a bipartisan group of 17 senators. (See ACT, April 2012.) The letter urged Panetta to end Pentagon business dealings with the Russian arms company.
Rosoboronexport has a contract with the Pentagon to provide Mi-17 helicopters to security forces in Afghanistan in preparation for U.S. withdrawal from the country in 2014. That contract is not affected by the new provision because the Defense Department paid for it with funds from fiscal year 2012. The Russian firm was also in negotiations to provide ammunition to U.S. armed forces.
In a Dec. 21 statement following Senate passage of the defense authorization act, DeLauro said it was “unacceptable” to use taxpayer dollars to buy helicopters “from a Russian state arms dealer that is also enabling President Bashar al-Assad[’s] regime to continue to commit mass atrocities against his own people.”
A Defense Department spokesman said in a Jan. 10 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the Pentagon “needs to utilize some Russian technologies to continue its efforts to enable” Afghan security forces and is “exploring” the impact of the new provision on those efforts.