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France

France may 'never deliver' Mistral warships to Russia

© Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24 | The Sevastopol

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-12-05

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian indicated Friday that France may not deliver on its controversial contract with Russia for two Mistral helicopter carriers.

Le Drian blamed the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine for the impasse on French TV on Friday.

“We can’t imagine a delivery under the tense conditions we [currently] find ourselves in,” he told BFM TV. “We could never deliver; the Russians need to realise this.”

Last month, President François Hollande suspended the delivery of the first of the two ships “until further notice.” It was the second postponement

The contract has been subject to months of intense speculation, with Paris coming under intense pressure from its NATO allies to scrap the EUR1.2 billion ($1.58 billion) contract.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said back in July that fulfilling such an order would be "unthinkable" in Britain under the present circumstances.

Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite said, "We see the Mistralisation of European policy. Values and security are undermined for the sake of business.”

The deal for the two helicopter carriers – the Vladivostok and Sebastopol – would have been the biggest arms transaction by a NATO country with Russia.

The Vladivostok was supposed to be the first of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers delivered to Russia according to the original deal signed in 2011.

Threat to France's reputation?

The ships, which were built in the western French port city of Saint-Nazaire, were scheduled to be delivered to Russia by the last quarter of 2014. The contract injected new life into the once floundering STX shipyards, with the order safeguarding 1,000 full-time jobs over four years.

France’s naval industry considers the Mistral one of its engineering jewels, with the navy dubbing the ship the “Swiss army knife”. It is designed to carry as many as a dozen assault helicopters, sixty armoured vehicles, and a dozen tanks. It can also host up to 700 troops and a full hospital.

The concern in France, which is suffering from record-high unemployment and stagnant growth, is that if the deal is cancelled not only will it lose the receipts from this sale but also its credibility as a weapons exporter.

Furthermore, France would likely have problems finding a new buyer for the vessels as they were built according to Russia’s requirements and with Russian equipment.

Russia has reportedly warned Paris of "serious" consequences unless France delivers the first of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers by the end of November.

Russia's Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov told the ITAR-TASS news agency that if France ultimately fails to fulfill its side of the deal, Russia will “go to court and impose fines”

Date created : 2014-12-05

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