Rosa vs. Russia

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro wants the Pentagon to stop buying Russian-made helicopters. That could both help and hurt Connecticut’s economy, though overall it might even do more good than harm.

In a recent bipartisan letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the 3rd District Democrat cited Russia’s recent annexation of territory from Ukraine, for which the U.S. government has already imposed certain sanctions. “We strongly urge you to terminate these contracts,” DeLauro wrote to Hagel. The letter was also signed by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District.

In past efforts to stop these sales, DeLauro has pointed to Russia’s role in supplying the weapons that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad uses in “his brutal crackdown on his own people.” That, too, is a good point.

The Pentagon’s position is that it’s buying more than $1 billion worth of the Mi-17s from state-owned Rosoboronexport (on a no-bid basis) because the Afghan security services already know how to fly and service them, and can more easily obtain parts from Russia than from the United States. But members of Congress have challenged the Pentagon, charging that the qualities of the Mi-17 have been exaggerated, while its actual cost has been downplayed.

It should not escape our notice that one alternative to buying the machines from Russia might be to get them from Sikorsky, right here in Connecticut (which might mean jobs in DeLauro’s district) or more likely from Boeing; either way, they’d be American-made. Which is not to question her motivation in this matter; rather, this may be one of those happy occasions when morality and practicality line up very nicely.

But wouldn’t Russian President Vladimir Putin retaliate in some way? Since he seems to believe he’s still fighting the Cold War, he probably would find some way to hurt some sector of the U.S. economy. But this country is far less enmeshed with Russia’s economy than the Europeans are, and Connecticut companies sold only about $71 million worth of goods and services to Russia last year.

Because we get less than 3 percent of our crude oil from Russia, that’s not really a critical factor for the U.S. Yes, Putin could force oil prices up by cutting that supply off, but he has a much tighter grip on Europe, which gets most of its natural gas from him. And since gas, oil and other raw materials are just about all Russia has to sell to the rest of the world, Putin can hardly afford to give up that income.

On balance, it seems that ending the helicopter deal would hurt Putin a lot more than it would hurt us. Perhaps the Pentagon should start listening to DeLauro.



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