Senator John McCain has been speaking out against purchasing Russian-made rocket engines for months, and thought he had convinced his fellow Senators to support a ban.
Indeed, Congress imposed tough sanctions against Russia, partly in response to the Ukrainian invasion by that country, and in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) restricted the Air Force from using Russian-made rocket engines for national security space launches. The company that manufacturers the rocket engines is owned by some of Putin’s top cronies, according to McCain.
But in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, also known as the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016,” a provision was “airdropped in” that would allow the purchase of these Russian-made rocket engines.
You can read the the spending agreement, all 2009 pages of it, right here: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016.
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) is the space launch company that launches military satellites. According to McCain, the ULA wants more Russian rocket engines, and requested a waiver on the purchase restriction. When the Defense Department declined to issue the waiver, the ULA found a workaround by going through NASA.
A June 5, 2015, New York Times editorial, titled, ‘Don’t Back Down on Russian Sanctions,’ explained it this way, "Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, an egregious violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, prompted a strong response from the United States. President Obama used his executive authority to impose sanctions on Russia and Congress voted to ban the purchase of Russian-made rocket engines, which have been used to launch military and intelligence satellites since 2000. The White House also lobbied the European Union to enact economic sanctions.
"Now, barely five months after the engine ban took effect, the Obama administration is urging Congress to ease it. Such a move would harm American credibility and give the Europeans a reason to ease their own sanctions. It would also embolden President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who even now refuses to acknowledge that he is sending troops and weapons to expand the war in eastern Ukraine."
On June 11, 2015, McCain went on the floor of the Senate to ask, “Why are you helping Vladimir Putin?”
McCain continued, "We cannot in good conscience agree to reward the Russian military industrial base with over $300 million in rocket engines while they occupy Crimea, destabilize Ukraine, send weapons to Iran, and violate the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.”
You can watch McCain’s June floor speech calling for a ban on Russian rocket engines here.
McCain thought that the issue was finally settled when the NDAA was passed and signed into law. But with the new spending bill that will be voted on Friday, comes a new authorization for the purchase of these Russian rocket engines, and that means a fresh effort to ban them again.
“Why are Congressional Appropriators helping Vladimir Putin and his cronies,” asks McCain. "[T]he Appropriations Committee crafted a provision in secret with no debate to overturn the will of the Senate as expressed in two National Defense Authorization Acts. And the result will enable a monopolistic corporation to send potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to Vladimir Putin and his corrupt cronies and deepen America’s reliance on these thugs for our military’s access to space.”
Watch McCain here:
Read Senator McCain's full floor comments here.