Congress forces DOD to cut ties with Russian arms company

Legislative language banning further dealings with the Russian defense firm was included in the final draft of the defense bill, approved by the full House late Thursday night. 

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Members of the Senate approved the compromise legislation including the Rosoboronexport ban on Friday, paving the way for President Obama to sign the Pentagon bill into law within the coming days. 

For over the past year, the Pentagon has spent billions of dollars on Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters for Afghan forces purchased from Rosoboronexport. 

The criticism from Capitol Hill on the department's business dealings with the Russian firm was quick and scathing when news surfaced earlier this year that the company was providing heavy weapons to forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar 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 on Monday showed Rosoboronexport was also supplying Tehran with critical components to support its current long-range missile development program.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who stonewalled the White House nominee Heidi Shyu as the Army's new acquisition chief over DOD's ties to Rosoboronexport earlier this year, praised the legislation that essentially ends U.S. military ties to the company. 

“The American taxpayer should not be indirectly subsidizing the mass murder of Syrian civilians, especially when there are perfectly good alternatives for purchasing aircraft through U.S. brokers,” Cornyn said in a statement issued Friday. 

“Continuing this robust business relationship with Rosoboronexport would continue to undermine U.S. efforts to stand with the Syrian people," he added. 

But the decision puts the Pentagon in the difficult position of finding a new supplier for Mi-17 helicopters, which have been critical to building up the aerial wing of the Afghan National Security Forces. 

The loss of that helicopter supply could have a significant impact on the Pentagon's plans to transition security operations to the Afghans and pull all combat troops from the country by 2014. 

Prior to the legislation's approval, DOD pushed back against the idea of ending its business relationship with Rosoboronexport. 

"We're not buying helicopters for the Syrian regime. We're buying helicopters in support of the Afghan Air Force,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters at the Pentagon in June, noting the Rosoboronexport deal was the only “legally available method” to get the helicopters to Afghan forces.

“The Mi-17 helicopter, from our vantage point, is about Afghanistan. It's about equipping the Afghan air force with what they need to ensure that they have the capabilities from an air standpoint to defend themselves,” Little said at the time.