Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) demanded Tuesday that the Pentagon end its contract with Rosoboronexport, a Russian arms dealer, because it is inadvertently harming Syrians.
“American taxpayers should not be indirectly subsidizing the murder of Syrians,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor. “If the Pentagon keeps this contract it will undermine U.S. support to the Syrian people.”
Last week, President Obama recognized that Syrian President Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people. Those actions prompted the president to offer aid and support to the Syrian rebels fighting against the Assad regime.
Cornyn said it was not in the best interests of the United States to give $572 million to the Russian company that is also helping the Assad regime kill rebels America is now backing. Rosoboronexport and the Pentagon made the military weapons purchase agreement on Monday. The Pentagon is buying weapons from the Russian company to help supply the Afghan Army. Cornyn urged the Department of Defense to cancel the contract.
Russia has taken Assad’s side in the conflict, causing problems between the United States and Russia.
The Pentagon has been purchasing Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters for Afghan forces exclusively from Rosoboronexport. On Monday, DOD announced plans to purchase 30 more helicopters from the Russian arms firm.
But Rosoboronexport has also been providing arms and heavy weaponry to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Those weapons have been used to devastating effect in Assad's brutal ongoing campaign against anti-government forces in the country.
A U.S. intelligence report sent to Congress last June showed Rosoboronexport was also supplying Tehran with critical components to support its current long-range missile development program.
Cornyn has been a long-time opponent of the Russian weapons maker, due to the company's ties to Iran and the Assad regime.
To that end, Cornyn spearheaded a failed attempt last year to block the Senate nomination of Heidi Shyu to become the Army's top acquisition chief.
The Texas Republican held up Shyu's nomination in protest of the Pentagon's continued business ties with Rosoboronexport.
“I remain deeply troubled that the DoD would knowingly do business with a firm that has enabled mass atrocities in Syria. Such actions by Rosoboronexport warrant the renewal of U.S. sanctions against it, not a billion-dollar DoD contract," Cornyn wrote to then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta regarding the Shyu nomination.
DOD has repeatedly defended its ties to the Russian weapons maker, saying it would cost the department billions to abandon the Mi-17 program and find a replacement attack helicopter for Afghan forces.
--Story updated at 6:48pm