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Lawmakers again urge NATO to buy French warships slated for Russia

French-built warship BPC Vladivostock, designed to strengthen Russia's ability to deploy troops, tanks and helicopter gunships, leaves the Saint Nazaire's harbor, western France, for its test run on the open sea off coast of France on March 5, 2014.

DAVID VINCENT/AP

By MATT MILLHAM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 7, 2014

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — U.S. lawmakers are again urging France to renege on selling two warships to Russia, proposing that NATO buy or lease the ships instead.

Such a move would show Russian President Vladimir 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,” a bipartisan group of congressmen said in a letter Tuesday to NATO’s new secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg.

The U.S. and other allies have repeatedly pressed France to cancel delivery of two high-tech assault ships to Russia in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and continued meddling in Ukraine.

France has agreed to postpone delivery but has balked at canceling the contract outright. Such a move would leave France with roughly $1.6 billion in unneeded hardware and on the hook for reimbursing Moscow.

“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 lawmakers wrote.

The first of the two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships is ready for delivery and would already be in Russian hands had France not bent to international pressure. Moscow now expects to take delivery of the warship Nov. 14, according to Russian state-run broadcaster RT.

Each Mistral can carry 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters plus a third of a mechanized regiment with 70 vehicles and 450 soldiers ferried to land by onboard barges or hovercraft. Each ship is also outfitted with a field hospital.

Democrat Eliot Engel, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking member, was joined by Republicans Mike Rogers, Mike Turner and Steve Chabot, and Democrats Bill Keating, Steve Cohen and Gerry Connolly in endorsing the plan, originally proposed to Stoltenberg’s predecessor as NATO chief in May.

The congressmen wrote to NATO’s new secretary-general that they “would have liked to keep this note a short one of congratulations as you assume an awesome responsibility, but circumstances require timely and decisive action on this urgent matter.”

A NATO official on Friday confirmed that the secretary-general had received the letter.

“This is an issue between the nations involved,” the official said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. “Having said that we expect all allies to take national decisions within the greater context of the current status of relations between NATO and Russia.”

millham.matthew@stripes.com
Twitter: @mattmillham

 

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