France’s Sale of 2 Ships to Russians Is Ill-Advised, U.S. Warns

WASHINGTON — In a closed-door meeting in February 2010, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged his French counterpart not to proceed with the sale of two amphibious assault ships to Russia because it “would send the wrong message to Russia and to our allies in Central and East Europe.”

The French official, Hervé Morin, acknowledged that each of the ships — so-called Mistral-class vessels built for the French Navy to carry troops, landing craft, and helicopters — was “indeed a warship for power projection,” according to a confidential diplomatic cable on the meeting, which was made public by WikiLeaks. But Mr. Morin “asked rhetorically how we can tell Russia we desire partnership but then not trust them,” the cable added.

With Russia’s annexation of Crimea and some 40,000 Russian troops deployed near Ukraine, Western officials are no longer putting their trust in Russia’s intentions. But despite American objections, the sale is still on track, and the first ship is scheduled for delivery late this year.

If they are delivered, the ships would augment the Russian military’s capabilities against the very nations that now appear to be most vulnerable to the Kremlin’s pressure — namely the Black Sea states of Ukraine and Georgia and the Baltic states that belong to NATO.

“The technology and capability represented by the Mistral should not be passed to a Russian Federation that continues to threaten its neighbors,” said James G. Stavridis, the retired admiral who served as NATO’s top commander from 2009 to 2013.

“Russia has nothing like it, and without French help could not build it anytime soon,” said Stephen J. Blank, an expert on the Russian military at the American Foreign Policy Council.

“Since helicopters can also be armed with missiles, it can be a platform for a heliborne missile attack as well as what we in the States call an air assault or heliborne landings or amphibious landings,” Mr. Blank added.

Georgia, whose breakaway regions were occupied by Russian troops in 2008, was worried by the potential sale, especially after a Russian naval commander was quoted as saying Russia’s Black Sea Fleet could have carried out its mission during that conflict “in 40 minutes” if it had possessed a ship like the Mistral.

Full article: France’s Sale of 2 Ships to Russians Is Ill-Advised, U.S. Warns (NY Times)

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