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GOP senators send letter expressing concern over French arms sale to Russia

Last week, The Cable brought you the story of the Mistral, the class of French amphibious assault ship that might  be sold to the Russians over the objections of Baltic states and Georgia. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, put forward a bill calling on the Obama administration to ...

Last week, The Cable brought you the story of the Mistral, the class of French amphibious assault ship that might  be sold to the Russians over the objections of Baltic states and Georgia.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, put forward a bill calling on the Obama administration to try to stop the potential sale. The Russians are in violation of the agreement struck after last year's Georgian war, the bill asserts, along with several other concerns.

Now, as expected, senators are weighing in. Six senators, all from the GOP, have signed a letter to French Amb. H.E. Pierre Vimont outlining their concerns with the sale.

Last week, The Cable brought you the story of the Mistral, the class of French amphibious assault ship that might  be sold to the Russians over the objections of Baltic states and Georgia.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, put forward a bill calling on the Obama administration to try to stop the potential sale. The Russians are in violation of the agreement struck after last year’s Georgian war, the bill asserts, along with several other concerns.

Now, as expected, senators are weighing in. Six senators, all from the GOP, have signed a letter to French Amb. H.E. Pierre Vimont outlining their concerns with the sale.

"Such a sale would be the most significant military sale ever between a NATO member country and Russia, and we believe it would have significant implications for all NATO members," the letter reads.

The signees were Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain, R-AZ, Tom Coburn, R-OK, Roger Wicker, R-MS, Sam Brownback, R-KS, and James Risch, R-ID.

The letter points disapprovingly to comments by Russian Navy Commander Adm. Vladimir Vysotskiy, who said in September: "In the conflict in August last year [against Georgia], a ship like that would have allowed [Russia’s] Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not 26 hours which is how long it took us [to land the troops ashore]."

The senators also argue that the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls as well as the European Union Code of Conduct for Arms Exports should preclude the sale.

In the aftermath of the August 2008 Georgia war, French President Nicolas Sarkozy took credit for brokering a cease-fire agreement to end the fighting. Or, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev put it this past summer, "The involvement of France in its capacity as European Union president in our efforts to halt [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili’s unleashed aggression was effective and brought results."

But the senators are worried that Paris is now getting a little too cozy with Moscow. "We fear that this sale sends Russia the message that France acquiesces to its increasingly bellicose and lawless behavior," the letter reads.

A French embassy spokesman told The Cable that France "has been keen to consult its partners," including Georgia, about the possible sale and has acted in full transparency. France still has troops on the ground in Georgia, the spokesman said, and remains committed to maintaining the peace there. The spokesman also argued that the Mistral has been used for humanitarian missions and does not present a danger to NATO.

"The Russian request would not constitute a significant reinforcement of Russia’s projection capabilities, and it would not represent a credible threat to the North Atlantic alliance," the spokesman said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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