Lawmakers seek to kill Pentagon contracts with Russian firms

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The Pentagon would be forbidden from using U.S. tax dollars on contracts with the Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport under a new, bipartisan bill.

The Russian Weapons Embargo Act of 2014 is the latest of several efforts to get the Obama administration to end defense contracts with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. 

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The move could also benefit U.S. defense companies that could be awarded the contracts instead. 

The legislation, introduced Thursday by Sens. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), would forbid new contracts or agreements with the Russian arms exporter and immediately terminate all existing contracts.

“Given Russia’s hostile actions in Ukraine, business as usual is unacceptable,” Coats said in a statement. “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.”

The legislation would also ban cooperation with any domestic or foreign company that cooperates with Rosoboronexport to design, manufacture or sell military equipment.

The Pentagon has a $553.8 million contract with Rosoboronexport to buy 30 Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan air force, which the U.S. and NATO are training. 

The Pentagon has already spent $546.4 million to buy 33 helicopters. 

Such a contract “facilitates and funds” Russian President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy objectives, the senators said, including Syrian President Bashar Assad's bloody crackdown on rebels during the long-running civil war there.

“It’s time to put an end to this hypocritical relationship and end all contracts with Rosoboronexport,” Cornyn said. “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.”

“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,” Blumenthal added. “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.”

Ending the contract could help competing helicopter manufacturers in both Blumenthal's and Cornyn's home states. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. is headquartered in Connecticut and has facilities in Texas, and Bell Helicopter has facilities in Texas.

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