The U.S. and its European allies say they want to isolate Russia – as long as existing business and military ties aren’t disrupted.
“The United States and Europe stand united on this issue,” President Obama said on March 26. “We’re united in our determination to isolate Russia and impose costs for Russia’s actions.”
At least 11 U.S. senators and representatives, however, don’t see it that way. The bipartisan group wants Secretary of State John Kerry to press NATO allies and members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to cease military hardware commerce with Russia in the wake of that country’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
“We urge you to lead the coordination among NATO and OSCE to halt trade involving military equipment with Russia immediately,” the lawmakers wrote this week, in the latest letter on the subject. “This would be a forceful next step by both international organizations [of which the United States is a member] to affirm that there is no more business as usual when it comes to bilateral trade of military equipment given Russia’s hostile actions.”
The offending parties, according to the lawmakers, include the U.K., which announced in January that its defense contractors could share unclassified technical data with Russian military firms. France was singled out for its contract to provide Russia with two warships, while Hungary was cited for recently receiving three Russian-made helicopters.
The U.S. isn’t getting a pass, either.
“We believe the United States must show leadership by terminating all defense contracts with Russia and ask that you strongly encourage our NATO allies and OSCE participating states to take similar actions,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee. Other members of the group who signed the letter include Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Daniel Coats (R-IN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and David Vitter (R-LA). The Pentagon continues to fulfill a $572 million contract it awarded last June to Russia’s state-owned arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, to manufacture MI-17 helicopters for use by Afghan National Security forces.
The letter is similar to one written last month by fellow Connecticut lawmaker Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D). The state is home to Sikorsky, maker of a helicopter that some lawmakers say should replace the Russian-made ones in Afghanistan.
“The problem with buying American helicopters is that they cost more and the Afghans aren’t trained on them,” said Olga Oliker, associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation. “Training up Afghans for air capabilities in general is not an easy task. Americans put more bells and whistles on their helicopters.”
The calls to sever military and business ties with Russia come as pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine take control of military assets, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Kerry is scheduled to meet in Geneva this week with officials from Ukraine, Russia and the European Union.
The White House this week said new sanctions against Russia are under consideration. For the lawmakers who wrote to Kerry, stopping the flow of military dollars is a necessary component of any comprehensive strategy.
“We believe this is a crucial step in reestablishing a deterrent against further Russian aggression and strengthening the impact of our targeted economic sanctions against Russia,” they wrote.
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