Cablegate on the Mistral Sale

In case you missed it in Wikileaks, the U.S. Defense Secretary discussed many important topics with his French counterpart in early 2010, and France’s plan to sell the Mistral to Russia among them, though it may have been one of the less urgent issues.

What you read is the dialogue of allies respectfully sharing differing views of the situation and its significance.  It’s interesting for Defense Secretary Robert Gates to say it’s not Russia’s capability the U.S. worries about, but about sending the wrong signal to new allies on Moscow’s doorstep.  His French counterpart argues for Mistral as a tangible sign of the benefits of Russian partnership with the Western allies.  He concedes the ship is intended for power projection, but argues this single ship [well, two plus the plans for two more] won’t change Russia’s capabilities much given the poor condition of its naval production infrastructure.

————–Russia/Mistral                                                                                                                           ————–

18. (S/NF) SecDef expressed U.S. concerns about the Mistral sale to Russia.  He told Morin that because of Sarkozy’s involvement in brokering a ceasefire in Georgia, which Russia was not fully honoring, the sale would send the wrong message to Russia and to our Allies in Central and East Europe.

 19. (S/NF) Morin told SecDef pointedly that he had pushed hard for the sale.  He conceded that it was indeed a warship for power projection.  But Morin asked rhetorically how we can tell Russia we desire partnership but then not trust them.  Morin told SecDef that he understood the U.S. position on considering Central and East European Allies’ concerns about the perceived threat from Russia.  Morin argued, however, that this single ship would not make any difference with respect to Russian capabilities, as Russia’s naval production ability was severely degraded.

 20. (S/NF) SecDef replied that U.S. concerns were not about military capacity but about messaging.  Some allies, because of their past experiences, are still very concerned with Russia and are not sure how much to trust the West.  SecDef observed that Russian democracy has disappeared and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services.  President Medvedev has a more pragmatic vision for Russia than PM Putin, but there has been little real change.

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