WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today urged President Obama to lead an international effort to stop the planned sale of two French-built Mistral-class amphibious warships to Russia. In a letter to the President, Rep. Engel underscored the importance of keeping these advanced ships out of Russian hands at a time when Russia continues to arm and train the rebels responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, suggesting that NATO buy or lease the ships.
“We’ve seen the consequences of thugs getting their hands on advanced weaponry, and the last thing we need is our allies helping bolster Russian military strength,” said Rep. Engel. “I hope President Obama will work with our allies and partners to put a stop to this sale. NATO buying or leasing the ships would be a win-win-win: a win for NATO, a win for France, and a win by keeping the powerful ships out of Russian hands.”
Last month, Rep. Engel led a bipartisan group of lawmakers recommending to North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen that NATO should purchase or lease the warships as an alternative to the sale to Russia.
Text of Rep. Engel’s letter to the President follows.
Dear Mr. President:
In light of ongoing unrest along the Ukraine-Russia border, especially the downing of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 by Russian separatists, I write urging you to lead an international effort to stop the sale of two French Mistral-class warships to Russia.
These ships are the state of the art in amphibious assault. More than twice the length of a football field, they each can carry 700 troops, 60 armored vehicles, four landing craft, and 16 helicopters. At a time when sophisticated Russian weaponry is ending up in the hands of violent thugs and costing innocent lives, it is troubling that our allies would help bolster Russian military strength.
Of course, I’m sensitive to the fact that losing the sale of the Mistrals would come at great cost to the French economy. That’s why last month, I recommended to North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen that NATO purchase or lease the two warships. (A copy of my letter to Secretary-General Rasmussen is attached.) This course would have represented win-win-win: keep the ships out of Russian hands, strengthen the Alliance’s assets, and forestall the body blow to French manufacturing and exports.
Unfortunately, Mr. Rasmussen and NATO have not yet acted upon this suggestion. Our allies, with the recent exception of the United Kingdom, have opposed working to stop the sale, as has your Administration. All the while, Mr. Putin continues to destabilize Eastern Europe.
Mr. President, the delivery of the first ship is fast approaching, and French President Hollande has indicated the sale will move forward. Given lack of a solution to this problem to date, I’m appealing to you to kickstart a new effort among allies and partners on the world stage to stop the Mistral sale. American leadership could make the difference in whether President Putin adds these powerful ships to his arsenal.
ELIOT L. ENGEL
Read the bipartisan letter sent to NATO Sec. General here: