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Cablegate: Georgia: Mistral Sale Could Destabilize Black Sea

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FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2433
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0324
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4944
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 002025

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/19/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV MARR MOPS RS GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: MISTRAL SALE COULD DESTABILIZE BLACK SEA

REF: PARIS 1529

Classified By: Ambassador John R. Bass for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary and comment. On November 13 and 16 Foreign
Minister Grigol Vashadze voiced serious concerns about the
potentially destabilizing influence of France's possible sale
of Mistral-class helicopter carrier ships to Russia (reftel)
to DAS Tina Kaidanow and the Ambassador. As the broker of
the August 2008 ceasefire agreement with which Russia has
still not complied, France would not only provide Russia with
arms that its own officers admit would have helped them in
the war against Georgia, but would send a powerful signal
that NATO and the west are no longer concerned about Russia's
intentions. At a time when Georgia faces a "silent embargo"
on arms shipments, other countries -- notably Spain and the
Netherlands -- await such a signal to begin their own sales
to Russia. Such an opening of the floodgates could render an
already out-of-balance military confrontation even more
lopsided, allowing the Russians to assert themselves with
impunity -- and delivering the implicit message that the west
will not interfere. Vashadze requested that the United
States push back against this sale and said President
Saakashvili would make the same request at more senior
levels. We recommend doing so, in both Paris and Brussels --
or at the very least seeking a commitment from Russia that
these ships will not be deployed in the Black Sea. End
summary and comment.

VASHADZE'S CONCERNS

2. (C) Foreign Minister Vashadze raised his concerns with us
about the sale twice, during a November 16 meeting with
Deputy Assistant Secretary Kaidanow and in a November 13
dinner with the Ambassador. He registered several specific
objections. First, the fact that it is France considering
the sale carries significant symbolic weight. President
Sarkozy, representing the French presidency of the EU,
brokered the August 12, 2008 ceasefire agreement between
Georgia and Russia and effectively pledged the EU as the
guarantor of that agreement. Point 5 of the agreement
requires Russia to withdraw its forces to those positions
held previous to the war -- a provision that Russia has not
complied with. In fact, Russia has done the opposite,
increasing its military presence in both Abkhazia and South
Ossetia, and expanding its positions beyond their August 6,
2008 positions. Thus, if France were to approve the sale of
any significant military equipment to Russia, it would
implicitly intimate that the broker of the ceasefire
agreement was satisfied either that Russia had complied with
those commitments, or that the commitments were no longer
binding.

3. (C) Second, Vashadze noted that the specific ship in
question represents a direct threat not only to Georgia, but
to the entire Black Sea region. Third, the sale is being
contemplated in the context of what Vashadze called a "silent
embargo" against Georgia, making Georgia's attempts to
rethink its physical security even more difficult. Russia
would improve substantially its ability to project military
power across the Black Sea littoral. Finally, Vashadze said
that other countries -- notably Spain and the Netherlands --
were waiting for just such a sale from a major NATO ally to
open the door to their own arms sales to Russia. A Mistral
sale would thereby open the floodgates to new procurements
Qsale would thereby open the floodgates to new procurements
for Russia -- procurements that could lead to even more
destabilizing steps in the Black Sea region.

PUBLIC DISCUSSION

4. (U) The newspaper 24 Saati (24 Hours) published a
front-page article November 18, written by a American analyst
based in Tbilisi, that registers strong protest against the
proposed sale. Calling the sale potentially the "biggest
ever NATO country military supply to Russia," the article
notes that quotes Russian Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir
Vysotskiy as saying in September that "In the conflict in
August last year a ship like that would have allowed the
Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not
26 hours, which is how long it took us."

COMMENT: THE WRONG SHIP FROM THE WRONG COUNTRY AT THE WRONG
TIME

5. (C) Despite reassuring its people that Russia is not
likely to undertake further military action in the near
future, the Georgian Government privately is concerned by the
steady stream of aggressive Russian rhetoric. The symbolism
of France, the broker of the ceasefire and a major NATO ally,

TBILISI 00002025 002 OF 002

taking this particular opportunity to make one of NATO's
biggest sales ever to Russia will not be missed in Moscow or
in Tbilisi. Not only on the symbolic level is the sale
problematic; this type of ship will give Russia a new
capability to enforce, or threaten to enforce, its will in
the Black Sea. This sale would render the already difficult
task of getting Russia to comply with its ceasefire
commitments nearly impossible, and it would potentially
increase the militarization of, and instability in, the Black
Sea region. Although Georgia, despite the introduction of
vastly increased Russian military forces into its territory,
has so far refrained from actively rearming itself, the
acquisition by Russia of such a ship could exacerbate public
fears and virtually force Georgia to seek ways to prepare to
respond. The United States should take steps to discourage
this sale, i Paris and Brussels, or at the very least impose
appropriate conditions on the sale -- such as firm
commitments from Russia that the ships will not be deployed
in the Black Sea -- that would put any Russian assertions
about overall capabilities, versus their intentions in this
region, to the test.
BASS

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