Blumenthal calls on Pentagon to end contract with Russian firm

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Sunday called on the Pentagon to end a $550 million contract with Russian arms supplier Rosoboronexport to build helicopters for Afghanistan’s air force. 

Blumenthal, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s air and land forces subcommittee, said the contract is fueling “Russian aggression in Ukraine.” 

“Those troops massing along the borders are being financed by money we are sending the Russians through the helicopter trade,” he said during a Sunday meeting with about 100 Ukrainian-American constituents, according to the Connecticut Post

Blumenthal has another reason to oppose the contract. Sikorsky is a competing helicopter manufacturing company in Connecticut. 

“Believe me, there are better helicopters available for the Afghan government made right here in Connecticut at Sikorsky, and that's where the helicopters should come from,” Blumenthal said. 

The U.S. is buying Mi-17 transport helicopters from the Russian firm, and the Pentagon has argued they are best-suited for the Afghan air force given the country’s terrain. 

Blumenthal said he would raise the issue during hearings over the next two weeks. 

The senator has been a leading critic on the contract, but opposition in Congress has become more vocal within the last month as Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea. 

On Thursday, Blumenthal and a group of bipartisan senators sent a letter to President Obama asking him to sever business ties with Rosoboronexport. 

“Since 2011, [Department of Defense] has awarded Rosoboronexport more than $1 billion in no-bid contracts for the procurement of Mi-17 helicopters. Prior to that, this agency had rightly been under U.S. sanctions for several years,” the letter said. 

Pentagon Spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday, “We understand the concerns expressed by members of Congress over this contract. And we will respond appropriately to these concerns through proper channels.”