France on Wednesday suspended the first of two controversial Mistral-class warship deliveries to Russia, saying “conditions” were not in place as the crisis in Ukraine deepens.
President François Hollande’s office, in a statement after he met with top defence advisors, called the fighting in eastern Ukraine “grave", and said Russia’s recent actions harm “the foundations of security in Europe".
Despite talk on Wednesday of a possible ceasefire in Ukraine, Hollande said, "the conditions for France to deliver the first warship are not to date in place".
Following the presidency’s statement, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was careful not to close the door entirely to the possibility of France delivering the warship.
“The decision that the president had to take was: Are the conditions there today for the delivery. No, but we hope that they will be in the future,” Fabius said on BFMTV.
Russia responded by saying the move would not hurt its military modernisation.
“Although of course it is unpleasant and adds to certain tensions in relations with our French partners, the cancelling of this contracts will not be a tragedy for our modernisation (of the army),” Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency.
Deal signed in 2011
France agreed in 2011 to build and sell the two advanced helicopter assault ships to Russia for a total of 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) with the first scheduled for delivery in October or November and the second in 2015.
‘France was under pressure to back off’
However, Hollande acknowledged in a recent interview in Le Monde daily that "if there was additional tension and it was impossible to find a way out, we would have to think about it".
That interview was carried out before widespread accusations that Russia had sent troops into eastern Ukraine.
The United States has already taken aim at the proposed sales, with President Barack Obama expressing "concerns" and saying it would have been better to "hit the pause button" on the deal.
Washington welcomed Wednesday’s news from Paris.
"We believe this is a wise decision," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said after a French diplomatic source revealed Paris had listened "to pressure from the international community".
Since the beginning of the summer, some 400 Russian sailors have been training in western France on the operation of the first warship, named "Vladivostok".
The concern in France, which is suffering from record-high unemployment and stagnant growth, is that it not only loses the receipts from this sale but also that its credibility as a weapons exporter is compromised.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-09-03