Senator Seeks Probe Into Purchase of Russian Helos


Russia's government-owned arms company Rosoboronexport said Thursday the Pentagon is buying 10 Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan military.

Rosoboronexport's announcement, reported by RIA Novosti, came a day after U.S. Sen. John Cornyn called for an investigation into a $900 million contract to purchase a dozen of the helicopters, two of which were reportedly purchased earlier this year.

Cornyn, echoing Obama administration officials, said Rosoboronexport supplies arms to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Texas Republican, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the purchase "strikes me as profoundly wrong and inappropriate," McClatchy Newspapers reported. Russia, he said, has "blood on its hands, specifically Syrian blood."

In a letter this week to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Cornyn labeled Rosoboronexport "an enabler of mass murder in Syria" and called for sanctions against the company.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said the department would respond to Cornyn but defended the contract to buy the helicopters being sent to Afghanistan as U.S. troops plan to withdraw.

"The Mi-17 helicopter, from our vantage point, is ... 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.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to Syria and said that would "escalate the conflict quite dramatically."

But The New York Times reported administration officials said the helicopters were likely not new ones but copters Syria had sent to Russia for repairs and refurbishment a few months ago that were being returned.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said Wednesday Russia is not supplying Syria weapons that could be used in a civil war.

"We are not providing Syria or any other place with things which can be used in struggle with peaceful demonstrators, unlike the United States, which regularly supplies such equipment to this region," Lavrov said.

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