Senators push Pentagon to cut ties with Russian arms firm over Syria

“U.S. taxpayers should not be put in a position where they are indirectly subsidizing the mass murder of Syrian civilians,” wrote the senators, led by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

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"We urge you to use all available leverage to press Russia and Russian entities to end their support of the Assad regime, and that includes ending all DoD business dealings with Rosoboronexport, which is within your authority as Secretary of Defense,” they wrote. “Continuing this robust business relationship with Rosoboronexport would undermine U.S. policy on Syria and undermine U.S. efforts to stand with the Syrian people.”

The company has a $375 million contract with the Defense Department signed in 2011 to provide 21 dual-use Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan military.

Cornyn questioned Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey about the contracts at a Senate Armed Services hearing on Syria last week. At the time, the Pentagon officials said they were not aware of the specifics of the relationship with the company.