The Cable

Congress to France: Sell Your Warships to NATO, Not Russia

Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, France’s $1.6 billion deal to sell two Mistral-class warships to Russia has been a source of deep divisions within Europe. While the rest of the European Union stopped weapon sales to Russia after it annexed Crimea, Paris insisted that it had no choice but to carry through with ...

FRANK PERRY/AFP/Getty Images
FRANK PERRY/AFP/Getty Images

Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, France’s $1.6 billion deal to sell two Mistral-class warships to Russia has been a source of deep divisions within Europe. While the rest of the European Union stopped weapon sales to Russia after it annexed Crimea, Paris insisted that it had no choice but to carry through with the delivery of the vessel. It took the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to finally postpone the sale. 

Last week, however, there were rumors that France would deliver the warships in November. Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitri O. Rogozin, said he had received an invitation to France to formally accept delivery of the first warship on Nov. 14, something Paris denied.

"From a technical point of view, the contract is being fulfilled on schedule," Rogozin said, according to RIA Novosti. "It’s up to [French] President [Francoise] Hollande now to make a political decision."

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has now made a political decision of their own: to step up their campaign to pressure NATO into buying the ships, allowing France to reap the financial benefits of the sale without having to worry about further strengthening Vladimir Putin’s war machine. The lawmakers first pitched the idea last spring, with no success.

"Sensitive to the financial burden that France may incur should it rightly refuse to transfer these warships to Russia, we renew our call that NATO purchase or lease the warships as a common naval asset," the November 4 letter to new NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reads. "Such a decisive move by NATO is not without precedent and would show President Putin that our rhetorical resolve is matched by our actual resolve and that this Alliance will not tolerate or abet his dangerous actions in Europe."

House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel (D-NY), Mike Rogers (R-AL), Mike Turner (R-OH), Bill Keating (D-MA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and Steve Chabot (R-OH) all signed the deal.

A congressional source familiar with the letter said that it was a win-win for both the alliance and France.

"A proposal like this is sensitive to the fact that the ship has already been built," the source added. "On the one hand, you have the ship itself. On the other, you have the demoralizing body blow to NATO if another NATO member was to transfer this ship. Imagine the Russians joyriding on this ship in the Baltic Sea."   

If the lawmakers get their way, no one will need to.

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