The wires are starting to take an interest in the "landmark" deal that would see the French sell as many as three amphibious assault ships to the peace-loving regime in Moscow. As the AP reports, the Russians aren't being shy about what these ships would be used for:
The head of the Russian navy has said that a Mistral-class vessel could put as many troops in Georgia in 40 minutes as the Russian Black Sea Fleet took 26 hours to land during the nations' August 2008 war. Moscow declared the Russian-allied breakaway Georgian territory of Abkhazia an independent nation after the war and sent thousands of troops there. Russia, Georgia and Ukraine all have Black Sea coastlines, as does Abkhazia.
Meanwhile, the French are trying to get a piece of the Air Force tanker contract through their deal with Northrop. Imagine this scene from 2020: Russian warships, made in France, start landing troops in Georgia just ahead of that country's formal acceptance into NATO. Meanwhile, American tankers, made in France, conduct aerial refueling of U.S. fighters from Incirlik as they head toward Georgia to provide air cover to Georgian troops. Sure, the United States and Russia are on the brink of confrontation -- but the French got paid, oui?
NATO allies like Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania also have coastline on the Black Sea. They can't be happy about the French augmenting Russia's ability to project power into the region.
If the French are allowed to sell warships to the Russians while the Russians don't even bother to conceal what they'll be used for -- aggression against a democratic friend and partner of the United States -- the fallout will be severe. First off, it won't stop at ships. The Europeans will be selling all manner of materiel to the Russians at the earliest opportunity. Next, the Europeans are going to start looking for the quickest way to kill the arms embargo on China. After all, if you can sell amphibious assault ships to a country that invaded a democratic neighbor last year, why wouldn't you be able to sell them to the Red Chinese, who haven't invaded any of their neighbors for a bit longer.
I'm told the sale was discussed pretty critically at the Halifax International Security Forum this past weekend where senior government, military, and defense experts gathered to discuss trans-Atlantic security issues. There will be fallout from this sale here in Washington as well. Congress needs to draw a line in the sand: anyone who sells weapons to Russia or China will not be able to sell weapons to the United States Armed Forces. If France goes through with this sale, the tanker competition should be dead on the spot with the contract awarded to Boeing by default. And there are a whole bunch of Democrats in Congress just looking for an excuse to kill the EADS/Northrop tanker bid. If the French aren't careful, they may find themselves cut out of a far more lucrative U.S. arms market.