WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, was joined by Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), the Chair of the United States Delegation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Parliamentary Assembly; and Rep. William Keating (D-MA), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging threats, in calling on NATO allies to work with France to stop the sale of two Mistral-class warships to Russia. In a letter to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the lawmakers urged NATO to purchase or lease the ships as a common naval asset for the alliance.
“We’ve seen that President Putin is willing to trample on his neighbor’s sovereignty in order to expand his power and territory. The last thing our allies should be doing is helping bolster his military strength. If France goes forward with this sale, these ships will enhance Russia’s ability to do exactly what they did in Crimea,” said Rep. Engel. “Instead, NATO should seize this opportunity to strengthen its own assets while at the same time denying Russia this additional capability.”
Copies of the letter were sent to the President, Secretary of State Kerry, and Defense Secretary Hagel. Text of the letter follows.
His Excellency Anders Fogh Rasmussen
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Boulevard Leopold III, 1110
Dear Mr. Secretary General:
We are writing to express our deep concerns regarding France’s contract to supply two Mistral warships to the Russian Federation this fall and to propose a solution to this vexing problem. In light of Russia’s recent aggression against Ukraine, we believe that the sale would send the wrong signal to President Putin – that it is “business as usual” – and would enhance Russia’s military capabilities, even as President Putin has threatened further military actions against Russia’s neighbors.
President Putin’s invasion and seizure of Ukrainian territory was a blatant violation of international law and of Russia’s commitments to Ukraine. While there was a time following the end of the Cold War when we thought Russia was acting more cooperatively and could be a partner in European stability, that period has unfortunately come to an end. It is critical that NATO countries no longer provide powerful weapons to enhance Russia's a ability to intimidate or even invade its neighbors.
In this regard, we believe that France and other NATO allies should avoid selling or transferring to Russia military items which would significantly increase its capabilities. We, therefore, urge France to cancel the sale of the two advanced Mistral-class amphibious assault and helicopter carrier ships. These ships would enhance the very expeditionary capabilities Russia used to capture Crimea, including rapid deployment of troops, armor, and helicopter gunships against poorly defended areas in Ukraine and other states in the region. Each ship has the capacity to carry 700 troops, 60 armed vehicles, four landing craft, and 16 helicopters – a formidable component of a military campaign.
We appreciate the reported willingness of the government of France to make a final decision on the sale of the ships this fall. We also understand the financial ramifications for France of cancelling its contract. The ships reportedly cost $1.6 billion and their construction employs hundreds of workers.
Therefore, we suggest that NATO collectively purchase or lease the warships as a common naval asset. As mentioned earlier, the purchase would send a strong signal to President Putin that the NATO allies will not tolerate or in any way enable his reckless moves. In addition, such a purchase would rapidly enhance NATO capabilities at a moment when many Allies have been cutting defense expenditures and greatly reassure Alliance members and partners in Central and Eastern Europe who feel most vulnerable by this force multiplier in the hands of the Russian military. Finally, we would point out that there is ample precedent for NATO to purchase shared assets, including the Alliance’s fleet of E-3A AWACS aircraft.
Mr. Secretary General, we believe that NATO’s joint acquisition of the Mistrals truly would be a win-win-win move – for France, for NATO, and for Ukraine and other states in the region under Russian pressure. We ask that you give serious consideration to our proposal and look forward to your response.
Eliot L. Engel
Committee on Foreign Affairs
U.S. Delegation to NATO Parliamentary Assembly
William R. Keating
Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats