Facing scrutiny over its own ties to Russia, the NRA hosted an ammunitions company linked to sanctioned Russian entities at its annual convention this weekend.
The company, TulAmmo USA, is based in Texas, but the ammunition it sells is manufactured by the Tula Arms Plant (also known as Tula Cartridge Works) in Tula, Russia.
TulAmmo is listed as an exhibitor at the NRA’s Annual Meetings in Dallas, Texas, this weekend.
TulAmmo USA and its Russian counterpart TulAmmo are part of a tangled web of corporations, subsidiaries, and holdings with close ties to the Kremlin and to other Russian entities — many of which have been sanctioned for their role in producing munitions used by Russia against Ukraine and other eastern European countries.
Russian state-owned defense company Rostec — a conglomerate that owns the Tula Arms Plant and TulAmmo (through a holding company called High Precision Systems) — was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2014 as punishment for Russia’s “continued … efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, the primary shareholder of the Tula Arms Plant, Igor Rotenberg, was among the Russians sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department last month.
Just this week, Rotenberg reduced his ownership of the arms factory from 46 percent to 20 percent. A manager from Tula Arms Plant told a Russian newspaper that the move was intended to get around the recent sanctions and allow the company to keep exporting ammunition to the U.S.
Ed Grasso, the CEO of TulAmmo USA, confirmed to ABC News that the company is a distributor for the Russian-based Tula Arms Plant but described it as a “completely separate entity.”
Yet, as ABC News noted, “TulAmmo USA and TulAmmo, its Russian counterpart, which lists the same address the Tula Cartridge Works [Tula Arms Plant], share a name, a logo and at least one former officer.”
That officer, Alexey Solovov, is listed as the previous director of TulAmmo USA as well as a board member at the Tula Arms Plant. He has also filed a number of patents for ammunition and related products on behalf of TulAmmo USA.
Grasso told ABC News that Solovov is not involved with the company anymore. He also confirmed that he was aware of the sanctions imposed against Rotenberg and Rostec, but said the U.S.-based manufacturer was in compliance with all U.S. laws regarding business dealings with sanctioned Russian entities.
“I’ve never delved into it, but Rostsec owns a lot of companies in Russia,” Grasso told ABC News. “[And] I have been assured that [Rotenberg’s] ownership shares are no longer anything that we have to be concerned with.”
TulAmmo USA may not be violating any sanctions laws, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to be concerned with.
Every time the U.S.-based company makes a sale, some of that money ends up boosting the bottom line of sanctioned Russian companies and lining the pockets of sanctioned Russian businessmen.
“There is something deeply troubling about a Russian arms maker — one that makes Russian military assault rifles and anti-tank missiles — profiting by selling ammunition in the U.S.,” Peter Harrell, a former senior State Department sanctions official, told ABC News. “The fact that a portion of those profits flow to some of Putin’s closest cronies makes the situation even more problematic.”
As a supplier for the Russian military, Tula Arms Plant is part of the backbone of an industry that supports Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and eastern Europe, as well as its involvement in Syria, where Russia has a played a critical role in propping up the regime of a murderous dictator.
Tula Arms Plant has also been identified as one of the sources of ammunition used by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Furthermore, all of this takes place just as the NRA is facing heightened scrutiny for its own ties to Russia.
Last week, the House Intelligence Committee’s Minority report revealed damning new evidence about the NRA’s role as a potential conduit between Russia and the Trump campaign — a tangled web of relationships that is reportedly under investigation by both the FBI and the FEC.
That came just after the NRA finally admitted that it had accepted donations from 23 Russian-linked sources. Before that, it only acknowledged receiving money from one Russian source.
But now, the group is refusing to provide further information about how that money is used. While accepting foreign donations isn’t illegal, it would become illegal if the NRA used any of that money for political activity.
And amid all of these questions, the NRA hosted an ammunitions company linked to sanctioned Russian entities at its annual convention.
“Talk about unbelievable,” said Andrew Zucker, a spokesperson for the group Everytown for Gun Safety. “While the NRA dodges important questions about Russian money and its ties to Russia, we learn that the NRA is hosting a Russia-linked company with ties to Putin’s inner circle at this year’s NRA convention.”
“Before the next shoe drops, the NRA should do itself a favor and come clean with the American people on all of its Russia ties,” Zucker said in a statement.
It’s unclear if the NRA is aware of TulAmmo USA’s ties to Russia. If it is, that raises questions about why the NRA hosted — and took money from — a Kremlin-linked company whose profits benefit sanctioned Russian entities.
And if it’s not aware, that raises questions about why the NRA isn’t vetting the companies it does business with — and if the NRA isn’t doing its due diligence, how many other Russian-linked companies is it taking money from?