US officials object to French arms sales with Russia

Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet said Thursday that the U.S. has had “very frank” conversations with France about its sale of navy ships to Russia.

At a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on European Affairs hearing, Chairman Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) pressed Chollet for the West to end arms sales to Russia following its annexation of Crimea.

Murphy singled out France’s sale of two helicopter carrier ships to Russia. The first ship is slated to be delivered later this year.

“The Department of Defense, the Department of State — across our government have had very frank conversations, again, with our French colleagues in particular, about the way forward, and their relationship with Russia,” Chollet said. 

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The U.S. has been trying to emphasize its unity with Europe in standing up to Russia. 

President Obama said during a trip to the continent at the end of March that if Russia thought “they could drive a wedge between the European Union and the United States, they clearly miscalculated.”

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said canceling the sale would be an “extreme measure.” Despite the sale, France has made statements condemning Russia’s actions. 

On the Ukrainian side, Chollet said the U.S. is looking to strengthen Ukraine’s military over the long term. 

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, pressured Chollet to provide small arms to Ukraine.

When asked if the U.S. was considering doing so, Chollet responded, “Yes, but their own prioritization that they presented to us is mainly nonlethal at this point.”

He said the focus is more on helping with “modernization and professionalization” of the Ukrainian military over the long term.

Russia has tried to pin blame for the recent unrest on the U.S. by saying mercenaries from private American security company Greystone are operating in Ukraine. 

Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, also at the hearing, said the claim was false. 

“When we called the company, they made clear that no such thing was true,” she said.