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U.S. lawmakers ask NATO to buy Mistral-class warships from France to prevent sale to Russia

"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," eight U.S. House members wrote in a letter to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

By JC Finley
U.S. lawmakers ask NATO to buy Mistral-class warships from France to prevent sale to Russia
A French Naval Mistral warship, pictured in 2006 in Beirut, Lebanon. (UPI Photo/Norbert Schiller) | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Eight U.S. Congress members are pushing NATO to buy two Mistral-class warships France has agreed to sell to Russia.

Both the U.S. and the European Union have pressured France to cancel its Mistral amphibious assault ship contract with Russia, citing Russia's aggression toward Ukraine. Russia has been accused by the West of inciting unrest in eastern Ukraine, and supplying both military equipment and personnel to the rebels in their battle against the Ukrainian government.

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French Prime Minister Manuel Valls hinted Thursday that the delivery might not go through. "You know the French stand [on Mistral issue]. Today the conditions have not been met for their [warships] delivery to Russia," Valls said from Belgrade.

The prime minister's remarks echoed those made last week by French Finance Minister Michael Sapin, who said that Russia had not yet met the requisite condition of improving its relations with neighboring Ukraine for the delivery to be completed.

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According to the $1.5 billion contract, the first Mistral ship, "Vladivostok", is scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2014 and the second warship, the "Sevastopol," in 2015.

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If the ships are not delivered, Russia may sue France. Russian Adm. Vladimir Komoedov, chairman of the defense committee of the State Duma, suggested the possibility of litigation last week, asserting that "If it [the order] is not executed in time, on the 14th, then we should file a lawsuit, take all the money that we have paid, plus the penalty."

The U.S. lawmakers recognized the potential precarious situation France could find itself in if its halts the warships deliveries.

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"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 House members wrote in their appeal to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"Such a decisive move by NATO is not without precedent," they noted, "and would show President 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."

The letter was signed by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), Bill Keating (D-Mass.), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), and Mike Turner (R-Ohio).

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