Warner leads group urging Obama to oppose sale of French warships to Russia

mark-warnerIn a bipartisan letter to President Obama, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Bill Keating (D-MA) urged the President to strongly oppose the sale of French warships to russia.

The bipartisan and bicameral letter follows Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, its support for armed rebels fighting the democratically-elected government in Ukraine, and amid Russia’s threats to cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine and the rest of europe. The letter also cites growing evidence that Moscow provided separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine with sophisticated antiaircraft weapons believed to have been used to shoot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. The letter also calls on President Obama to compel our NATO allies to commit to not sell weapons or engage in other defense industrial cooperation with russia.

“Our NATO allies should not be rewarding Putin’s inexcusable behavior by providing him with deadly weapons,” Sen. Warner said. ”President Obama must condemn in the strongest possible terms the plan by France to sell these warships to Russia.”

Full text of the letter follows.

 

July 22, 2014

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 

Dear President Obama,

We write once again to express our shared concern over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, and France’s plans to provide military assistance to Russia’s Navy by selling it two amphibious assault ships.  We call on you once again to personally appeal to France’s President, Francois Hollande, to cancel the sale of its Mistrals, and to use U.S. leadership to compel our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to commit that no member nation will sell weapons to or engage in defense industrial cooperation with Russia.

In May, we wrote to you expressing our strong opposition to the planned French sale of two Mistral amphibious assault ships.  These are offensive weapons, helicopter carriers the length of more than two football fields, designed to launch amphibious attacks by edging up to a shoreline and deploying helicopters, landing craft, tanks, and hundreds of troops.  They use advanced, sensitive communications technology that can serve as a mobile command center to coordinate operations with other ships, and can carry 16 helicopters, up to 110 armored personnel carriers, 13 tanks, and hundreds of soldiers – all at once.  Since late June, 400 Russian sailors have been training with the French in the port of Saint-Nazaire to learn to operate these assault ships.  If the Russian Navy is permitted to sail away with the first Mistral ship in October, France’s sale will have plugged a gap in Russia’s armed forces: Russia’s Black Sea fleet is believed to lack an amphibious ship capable of launching a land invasion, which Russia’s navy chief has confirmed by praising the Mistral as significantly enhancing Russia’s combat potential.

At a time when Russia is illegally annexing Crimea, supporting armed rebels to fight against a democratically-elected government in Ukraine, and cutting off natural gas supply to Ukraine and threatening shortages in the rest of Europe, it is inconceivable that any of our NATO allies should be providing Russia with offensive military capabilities.  Increasing Russia’s naval capabilities is particularly outrageous given Moscow’s decision to name the second Mistral ‘Sevastopol’, after the illegally-occupied Crimean port that serves as headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.  Our opposition has taken on new urgency since last week’s loss of 298 lives aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine.  We are horrified by this tragedy.  There must be an investigation of the how and why this commercial airliner was shot down, and if it is found that Russia or Russian-backed and supplied separatists in eastern Ukraine committed this act, the responsibility must fall on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been supplying increasingly sophisticated weaponry to the separatists and fueling this conflict.  Unfortunately, evidence points to the fact that Moscow likely provided the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine with sophisticated antiaircraft weapons.  Russia has also been dragging its feet in demanding that international investigators gain unobstructed access to the crash site.  Given this evidence, the reasons for canceling France’s Mistral sales, and of getting NATO to adopt a common commitment of not selling military material to Russia, are all the more urgent.

On June 16, 2014, General Phil Breedlove, a U.S. Air Force four-star general and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe and Commander of U.S. European Command, wrote, “In just the past few months Russia has managed to use its military, political, and economic forces to fundamentally destabilize a European nation and change internationally recognized borders by illegally annexing Crimea.  Let’s be clear, Russia’s military actions in and around Ukraine have not been, and are not now, defensive in nature.”  This sentiment was echoed by James G. Stavridis, a retired admiral who served as NATO’s top commander from 2009 to 2013: “The technology and capability represented by the Mistral should not be passed to a Russian Federation that continues to threaten its neighbors.”

Currently, France is poised to supply efficient, deadly, offensive weapons to Russia, an aggressor who could use these weapons not only to kill NATO soldiers, but also to attack NATO-allied territory.  British Prime Minister David Cameron has called the continuation of Mistral sales “unthinkable.”  Radek Sikorski, the Foreign Minister of Poland, a NATO ally, said earlier this week that, “Russian generals have already said what these ships will be used for – to threaten Russia’s neighbors in the Black Sea, and that means Europe’s partners.”

But it is not only France who has supplied weapons and military support to Russia that Russia could turn on our allies.  Rheinmetall, a German defense company, was slated to finish building a state-of-the art combat training facility in Russia, with live combat simulation areas, this year.  Their work was poised to have a palpable impact on Russian force readiness.  The German government halted Rheinmetall’s contract in March 2014 in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

Russia has broken its international commitments, including basic principles in the NATO-Russia Founding Act, such as “refraining from the threat or use of force against each other as well as against any other state, its sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence” and the “respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states and their inherent right to choose the means to ensure their own security, the inviolability of borders and peoples’ right of self-determination.”  We urge you to use the U.S.’s leadership role in NATO to convince all NATO members to commit to each other to end all defense sales and defense industrial cooperation with Russia.  We strongly urge you to make this point at the upcoming NATO summit in Wales this September.

Mr. President, the United States, France, and rest of our NATO allies must now stay together and stand firmly to ensure that there are consequences for these actions – consequences that go beyond the sanctions that have been announced to date.  We urge you again to personally appeal to French President Hollande to suspend the sale of these two Mistral carriers to Russia, and to lead NATO in ceasing sales that strengthen Russia’s military.

We thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

 

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