As the Obama administration prepares to unleash another crippling round of economic sanctions on Iran, including applying congressional legislation blacklisting the Iranian central bank, Bank Markazi, top congressional sources have reported to us that in May 2010, the Obama White House approved the lifting of sanctions for the state-owned Russian arms exporting firm, Rosoboronexport. The Russian firm was on a 2008 blacklist imposed by the Bush administration for selling nuclear and military technology to Iran. However, the Bush administration had conducted business -- buying 22 Mi-17s in a rush order for the reconstituted Iraqi air force -- with the Russian firm as late as December 2007.
The reason for the lifting of the ban on Rosoboronexport was the decision by the Obama administration to purchase Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for use by U.S. special operations forces for "low visibility" operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The purchase of the Russian helicopters, facilitated by a circuitous deal involving the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, the U.S. Army’s Threat Systems Management Office in Huntsville, Alabama; the sole-source contractor, Arinc, of Annapolis, Maryland; Arinc's Russian go-between, Air Freight Aviation, Ltd., a Russian firm in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, and Rosoboronexport, which manufactures the Mi-17s bought by the Pentagon in Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Siberian republic of Buryatia. Other Mi-17s are manufactured in Kazan, the capital of the autonomous republic of Tataristan. It is noteworthy that some of the aviation firms owned by Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout, convicted by the United States of aiding Colombian terrorists and now imprisoned awaiting sentencing, were headquartered in Sharjah.
The Pentagon stated that the reason for the purchase of the helicopters from a Russian state firm that had been on a U.S. Treasury Department black list was that the program was "part of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan" that required DoD to procure "Mi-17 helicopters, parts, and services and provide training in both initial skills and combined operations."
The delivery of 22 Mi-17s to Iraq was conducted jointly by the Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq (MNSTC-I) and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. Eight of the helicopters were procured from DoD funds at $156 million and fourteen were procured with government of Iraq funds at $189 million. The 22 helicopters, according to the Pentagon, were delivered by the Russian manufacturer to "Air Freight Limited in the UAE."
The decision to procure Mi-17s for the Afghan National Army Air Corps was made by the U.S. Central Command. Thirty-one Mi-17s were procured by DoD for Afghanistan at a cost of $648 million. Eleven other Mi-17s were donated to Afghanistan by the Czech Republic and the UAE.
The Pentagon bought and delivered four new Mi-17s to Pakistan Army Aviation and loaned an additional six from inventory at Fort Bliss, Texas.
The Pentagon said similar programs to supply "priority" countries having legacy Mi017 fleets with new Mi-17s existed with regard to additional nations, for example, Yemen.
According to congressional briefing papers prepared by Robert Martinage, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, the Russian helicopters were also procured to "provide a realistic 'opposition force' for U.S. training." In what may have been a clue as to future "opposition force" targets for U.S. special operations forces, the Mi-17 is used by the armed forces of North Korea, Pakistan, Syria, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Egypt, Laos, Indonesia, Bolivia, Myanmar, Belarus, Algeria, China, Cuba, Burkina Faso, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Eritrea, among other nations. Libya, under the Qaddafi government, also used Mi-17s.
The Obama administration and the Pentagon have not adequately explained why it is illegal for companies to financially facilitate the importation of Iranian pistachio nuts and Caspian Sea caviar while it is legal for once-blacklisted companies to export weapons to Iran....