June 12th, 2012
06:48 PM ET

U.S. says Russian attack helicopters on way to Syria

By Pam Benson

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to Syria.

At a Washington think tank on Tuesday, Clinton said, "We are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically."

Clinton said the United States has repeatedly asked Russia to stop arms shipments to President Bashar al-Assad's regime, but Russia has said anything it is sending is not being used against the public unrest. "That's patently untrue," Clinton said before making the accusation about the helicopter shipments.

Clinton's comments were made at the Brookings Institution, where she was speaking alongside Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Intelligence officials refused to comment on Clinton's assertion. Washington's Russian embassy also would not comment.

But the Russian state-controlled arms trader Rosoboronexport said the firm will fulfill its arms contract with Syria, the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency said.

"No one can ever accuse Russia of violating the rules of armaments trade set by the international community," Rosoboronexport Deputy CEO Igor Sevastyanov said when asked about Russia's supply of mobile gun and missile air defense systems to Syria, RIA Novosti said.

Sevastyanov added, "The contract was signed long ago, and we supply armaments that are self-defense rather than attack weapons."

Although a Pentagon spokesman was unaware of a Russian helicopter shipment to Syria, Capt. John Kirby told reporters Tuesday al-Assad forces have been using helicopter gunships against their own people, calling the attacks "intolerable, unacceptable and just further evidence of the degree to which they are willing to kill their own people for twisted ends."

On Monday, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland called the helicopter attacks on civilians a "new horrific tactic" that "constitutes a very serious escalation" of the conflict.

Russia has been the long-time principle supplier of arms to Syria since the days when it was the Soviet Union. The weapons sales have more than doubled in recent years. According to Congressional Research Service, Russia sold Syria $4.7 billion in arms from 2007 to 2010, compared to $2.1 billion from 2003 to 2006.

Nuland said the international community continues to press Russia to discontinue the weapons sales. "We are all making the point in the international community that they are on the wrong side with regard to this - this set of issues. We've had people in Moscow in the last week making these points again and we will continue to do so," Nuland said.

Earlier this month, Clinton said the continued supply of arms from Russia has strengthened the al-Assad regime, despite denials by Russian President Vladimir Putin that any munitions it was providing to Syria were being used against its own people.

The Obama administration is also being criticized for its relationship with a Russian arms broker that is a major supplier of weapons to Syria.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday, criticizing the Department of Defense's decision to award an Army contract to Rosoboronexport to buy helicopters for the Afghanistan military. "I remain deeply troubled that the DoD would knowingly do business with a firm that has enabled mass atrocities in Syria," Cornyn wrote. "Such actions by Rosoboronexport warrant the renewal of U.S. sanctions against it, not a billion dollar DoD contract." Cornyn asked for an audit of the Pentagon's contract with the Russian company.

Human Rights First also issued a statement saying the Army contract with Rosoboronexport is "out of step" with U.S. policy to stop atrocities in Syria and called on the American government to bar any U.S. entities, including contractors, from doing business with the company.

CNN's Barbara Starr and Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Army • Assad • Clinton • Congress • Diplomacy • Intelligence • Middle East • Military • Pentagon • State Department • Syria
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  13. South African in Australia

    I was quite shocked to hear how the US DOD is happy to do business with the same Russian company selling weapons to Assad. It just shows that the morality of any country is as shallow as it's pockets are full. It is a disgrace actually. We all have our opinions and choose sides but the truth is that there are really only two sides..innocent civilians being killed and politicians looking after their own interests, the rest is just semantics.

    June 16, 2012 at 7:41 am | Reply
  14. Marine5484

    I'd thank Hilary Clinton to stop insulting our intelligence by expecting us to believe her mumbo-jumbo story about Russia sending in helicoptors to aid Bahar al-Assad. Even if they did, that would be none of our business anyway. Besides, if the French as so worried about it, then let them sort it out, not us!!!

    June 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
    • Louis

      you are right, US doesnt stop selling weapons to cartels in mexico, so why is she so upset?

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  15. Ryan

    The Russians fully understand whats going on. . . Why is it when we see people blow up military tanks in Iraq it is terrorism. . but when the same people do it in Syria we call them heroes? The government is not killings its people. . the media is a strong thing. What it comes down to is Syria has money outside of the Feds reach. . yeah I just went there.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      Quite true Ryan, quite true.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Reply
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