The United States voiced concern to France earlier this year over the possible sale of a French warship to Russia, saying it sent a "mixed signal" to both Moscow and Eastern European allies, according to a leaked US document published. In a meeting on February 8 in Paris, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his French counterpart at the time, Herve Morin, disagreed over missile defense for Europe and over France's plans to sell the Mistral-class helicopter carrier to Russia, a secret diplomatic cable posted by the WikiLeaks website showed yesterday.
Gates, a former CIA director who closely followed the former Soviet Union, also offered a severe critique of Russia, saying democracy had "disappeared" there and that the government was essentially an oligarchy dominated by the security services. In a meeting that touched on an array of issues, Gates "raised US concerns over the sale of a Mistral-class helicopter carrier to Russia as sending a mixed signal to both Russia and our Central and East European Allies," the cable said.
Morin disagreed, saying the warship would not alter Russia's overall military power. "Morin told SecDef (secretary of defense) pointedly that he had pushed hard for the sale. He conceded that it was indeed a warship for power projection," the document said. "But Morin asked rhetorically how we can tell Russia we desire partnership but then not trust them." Morin expressed understanding of the US view that Central and East European states saw Russia as a potential threat, but argued "that this single ship would not make any difference with respect to Russian capabilities, as Russia's naval production ability was severely degraded."
Gates pointed to France's efforts in brokering a ceasefire in Georgia, saying that Moscow was not fully honoring the agreement and that the sale of the carrier would send the wrong message to Moscow as well as former Soviet satellites in Europe, it said. The former CIA intelligence analyst also described Russia's government in blunt terms. "SecDef observed that Russian democracy has disappeared and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services. "President (Dmitry) Medvedev has a more pragmatic vision for Russia than PM (Vladimir) Putin, but there has been little real change," it said, referring to Gates' comments.
The cable recounted Morin questioning President Barack Obama's decision to set a date of July 2011 for the start of a withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, saying it could encourage Taliban insurgents to merely "wait it out," the document said. Gates acknowledged that the target date had set off a "protracted" debate in Washington but said he "had come to the conclusion, however, that the Afghans needed to be put on notice that they would need to take responsibility for their own security," it said. The account of the February meeting showed Morin strongly opposing US plans for a missile defense system in Europe tied to NATO allies.
The alliance, however, approved the proposal at a summit in Lisbon a week ago. Morin argued the US plan would "give publics a false sense of security," and said European countries lacked the funds to spend on missile defense weaponry, it said.