The Obama administration was never much bothered by the fact that a NATO ally, France, is selling offensive weapons to a NATO adversary, Russia. Never mind that Russia remains in clear violation of the French-brokered cease-fire to the 2008 war in Georgia – after all, if that doesn’t bother the French, why should it bother us? This administration has made clear that Georgia, and America’s other allies in Eastern Europe (the Czechs and the Poles in particular), will be sacrificed on the altar of ‘reset’ if necessary. Still, as the Obama administration has learned over the last year, dealing with the Russians is a tricky business – you never have a deal until you have a deal, and even then you may not have a deal.
AFP reports that after reaching an agreement with France on the sale of four amphibious assault ships – two to be constructed in France and two more in St. Petersburg – the Russians are throwing a wrench in the works:
Negotiations on the French sale of four warships to Russia ran into choppy waters March 25 when Moscow insisted the Mistral-class vessels must be delivered fully equipped.
The French defense ministry responded that President Nicolas Sarkozy had clearly told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that the amphibious assault ships would be sold without sensitive equipment.
"The president said publicly in front of his Russian counterpart what the scope for negotiations was," said Defense Ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire, referring to the presidents' March 1 meeting.
Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the head of the Russian general staff, was quoted by the Interfax news agency in Moscow as saying that the sale was conditional on including command and navigation systems, and weaponry.
"If the final decision is to choose the Mistral, we will buy this vessel only if it comes with the full equipment - command and navigation systems and weaponry," Makarov said. "The only exception would be the helicopters. We would provide our own. Everything else will have to be done according to standards."
When the Baltic states, NATO allies all, complained that the sale of an advanced warship to Russia might have…a negative impact on their own security, the French pooh-poohed their concerns. “The ship would be sold to Russia as a civil vessel, without any military equipment," France's European affairs chief, Pierre Lellouche, said in a statement last month intended to reassure our nervous NATO allies to the east. Now the Russians say they won’t buy the ship without that military equipment -- and how long can it be until the French surrender and offer the full compliment of command and control systems. But perhaps the Russians were less concerned with buying these warships than establishing a principle – the principle that their disregard for human rights, their aggression against democratic neighbors, their obstruction of international efforts to sanction Iran – that none of this would be an impediment to normal relations with the West. And whether the sale goes through now or not, in this the Russians have certainly succeeded.
Still, it would be some small consolation to see Sarkozy humiliated by the collapse of this sale. And certainly the world's oceans would be a little bit safe if this "civil vessel" wasn't plying the Baltic and Black seas under a Russian flag.