The U.S. condemned France's decision to move forward with the sale of two helicopter carriers to Russia on Wednesday, saying the move was inappropriate considering Moscow's aggression in Ukraine.
“We have said that, given the current context, it’s not the right timing for those types of transactions to move forward," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said. "We ourselves have put restrictions on certain high-tech materials that could go toward the Russian defense industry.”
A group of 400 Russian sailors are scheduled to arrive in France later this month for training on the first of the two carriers, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
The decision to move forward with the training suggests Paris intends to fulfill the $1.6 billion order from Moscow, despite concerns the ships will bolster Russian naval power by enabling amphibious attacks.
The U.S. and European Union have imposed economic sanctions on top officials in Russia after the country annexed Crimea and showed support for separatists in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. But so far, the West has resisted calls for broad sanctions on whole sectors of the Russian economy.
French President François Hollande has said he will wait until autumn before making a final decision on the delivery of the ships.
The White House said it did not expect the ships to be a sticking point when President Obama and Hollande dine together Thursday night. The president is traveling to France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“We’ve been raising this particular issue with the French for some time," Rhodes said. "I don’t think it will be a focal point.”
And Rhodes said the U.S. was sympathetic to juggling the concerns of its European allies while looking to impose costs over Russian aggression in Ukraine.
“Different European countries have different areas where they have legal relationships with Russia," Rhodes said. "For Germany, it’s energy. For [the] United Kingdom, it’s in finance. For France, it’s in the defense sector. These types of issues, as we impose sanctions and impose costs, there are complications for every country involved. We have companies that do business with Russia, too.
“We try to coordinate our sanctions in a way that we’re all sharing some of the burden."