Congressional Leaders Urge NATO to Purchase French Warships Intended for Russia

Congressman Eliot L. EngelText of letter to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen from US lawmakers.

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
Ranking Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs

Michael Turner
Chairman, U.S. Delegation to NATO Parliamentary Assembly

William R. Keating
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats

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Image: Congressman Eliot L. Engel (photo: Office of Eliot L. Engel)