The stern of the Sevastopol, a Mistral class amphibious assault ship, is launched at a shipyard in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 30, 2014.

The stern of the Sevastopol, a Mistral class amphibious assault ship, is launched at a shipyard in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 30, 2014. Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

Senators Want France to Ditch Warship Deal with Russia

As Putin eyes more deals with the French, a bi-partisan push has emerged from U.S. lawmakers fearful of enabling more Russian intervention. By Billy House

Six U.S. senators are urging French President Francois Hollande to cancel delivery of two French warships to the Russian navy, in a letter on Thursday appealing for a unified stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression.

The bipartisan group wants Hollande to demonstrate, "Our nations will not be complicit in altering borders by force."

The letter was sent by Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut; Dick Durbin of Illinois, the majority whip; Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; and Edward Markey of Massachusetts. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a Republican, also signed the letter.

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that France is ready to deliver the warships and is preparing to train hundreds of Russian seamen to operate a them this month, defying calls from the U.S. and other countries to keep the vessels out of the Kremlin's hands.

And Putin is anticipating more arms deals with the French. "We expect our French partners to fulfill their contractual obligations, and if everything goes as we agreed, we will not rule out the possibility of further orders—and not necessarily in naval shipbuilding," he told a Russian newspaper.

But in their letter Thursday, the six senators wrote, "These military warships are designed explicitly for the type of invasion that occurred in the Ukraine." The also argue, "Any further arms sales from the French government to the Russian military would enhance Russia's power projection, ability to intimidate neighboring countries, and illegally seize sovereign territory."

The senators do note that they "fully appreciate that canceling such contracts may have consequences," but they also point out that, similarly, "we are urging our own government to suspend its agreements with the Russian defense contractor Rosoboronexport."

In fact, lawmakers like Murphy have championed legislation to scrap Pentagon commitments to purchase items such as MI-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan army from that same Russian company, although such efforts predate the events in Ukraine and Crimea. Partiality to home-state helicopter manufacturers has played a small role in those efforts.

But Russia's actions, the senators say, have "challenged the international community to take a principled stand against those who wish to disrupt the international rule of law and the rights of sovereign nations."