Despite a bipartisan federal law prohibiting financial contracts with the Russian government-owned arms giant Rosoboronexport, the Obama administration announced that it would be purchasing another $680 million worth of military helicopters from the state company for the Afghan regime of Hamid Karzai. The contract comes after the Pentagon already spent $411 million with the supplier since May of 2011, bringing the estimated amount of U.S. taxpayer funds funneled to the state-owned behemoth to about $1 billion in recent years.
The latest deal, however, drew furious outrage from across the political spectrum. Critics and lawmakers complained that the controversial scheme would boost Russia’s military-industrial complex even as millions of Americans remain out of work. Other opponents highlighted national security concerns. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and human rights groups also expressed opposition to the plan, citing a congressional ban on deals with Rosoboronexport and the fact that the Russian military supplier has been arming rogue regimes around the world.
Under an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law by President Obama, the U.S. government is prohibited from sending funds to or entering into contracts with Rosoboronexport, lawmakers noted. The only exception to that prohibition is if the Secretary of Defense deems it to be in the “interest of national security.” Now, a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) is demanding that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel explain what possible excuse there could be to purchase more military helicopters from the government-owned Russian arms dealer.
“Despite this new law, we learned that the Army intends to enter into a new contract with Rosoboronexport in the coming weeks to procure 20 additional helicopters for the Afghan National Security Forces,” the 10 lawmakers said in a strongly worded March 25 letter sent to Hagel urging him to kill the contract. “This plan runs in direct contravention to both the spirit of the FY13 NDAA and the clear legislative intent of Congress — to ban further business dealings with Rosoboronexport. In our view, any attempt by DoD to utilize prior-year funds would constitute a direct subversion of existing law.”
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