Lawmakers push Treasury to sanction Russian arms dealer

A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on Friday urging him to immediately impose sanctions on Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport. 

Led by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Key Granger (R-Texas), the group of 38 lawmakers called for ending a Pentagon contract with the state-sponsored company in light of "Russia's recent actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine." 

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They said Lew could take that action under a recently expanded presidential executive order that would block U.S. payments to those who "operate in the arms of related material sector in the Russian Federation."

"As noted by President Obama in his Executive Order, Russia's recent actions 'undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets, and thereby constitute a threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States," they wrote in the letter. 

"Accordingly, we strongly urge you to use your authority to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not sent to Russia's state-arms dealer Rosoboronexport." 

The lawmakers also argued that Rosoboronexport is the "main supplier of weapons the regime of Bashar al-Assad is using to fuel the ongoing war and commit mass atrocities in Syria." 

Implementing sanctions would prevent any more U.S. taxpayer dollars from subsidizing Rosoboronexport.

The Pentagon currently has a $553.8 million contract with Rosoboronexport to provide 30 Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters to the Afghan National Security Forces, which are being trained by the United States.

DeLauro and Granger last month urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to end the contract, but Pentagon officials have pushed back, saying the Russian-made helicopters are uniquely suited to Afghanistan's altitude and terrain, and are simpler to use.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has argued for keeping the contract.

"They’ve been flying those helicopters for 20 years,” McKeon said of the Afghans. “Our machines are just much more sophisticated and complicated.”

DeLauro and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have led the effort to cancel the order with Rosoboronexport and are pushing a competing aircraft manufacturer in their home state, Sikorsky, that they say could produce helicopters for the Afghan forces.