The French government has said that it will push ahead with its warship contract with Russia, despite pressure from the United States and European Union to scrap the deal. The government’s announcement to go ahead with the 1.2 billion euro deal came just before the EU began outlining the new round of sanctions against Russia last week.
The French naval defense company DCNS signed a deal with Russian defense exporting company Rosoboronexport in June 2011 to deliver two Mistral helicopter carriers. The deal was signed under former President Nicolas Sarkozy. About 400 Russian sailors have been training at the port of Saint-Nazaire, in northwest France, for the past month to operate the first vessel. The first helicopter carrier will be delivered to Russia in October, as agreed.
DCNS Director of Corporate Media Relations Emmanuel Gaudez told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the sanctions will not impede the warship deal. “The first ship is almost constructed, the second one is half-ready. As any normal industry, we seek to satisfy our client and to execute the contract at our best,” said Gaudez. The Mistral contract is providing about 1,000 jobs for the French, according to a recent CNN article.
In light of the recent MH17 airline crash over eastern Ukraine, which many in the West have accused Russian-backed separatists of orchestrating, several EU leaders have expressed strong disapproval of France’s decision.
The Financial Times reported Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Blidt as saying, “To deliver arms in this situation is somewhat difficult to defend, to put it mildly.”
Prime Minister David Cameron was equally critical and said, “Frankly, in this country, it would be unthinkable to fulfil an order like the one outstanding that the French have. But we need to put pressure on with all our partners to say that we cannot go on doing business as usual with a country when it is behaving this way.”
France hit back at the accusations, hinting at a dose of hypocrisy coming from the British Prime Minister.
“The Russians have paid. Should we repay 1.1 billion euros if the boat was not delivered to the purchaser?” asked President François Hollande.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told TF1 in an interview, “the English in particular were very pleasant so to speak saying we would never do that, but I told my dear British friends let’s talk about the financial sector… I am led to believe there are quite a few oligarchs in London.”
After the cessation of Crimea to Russia in March, the U.S. also expressed concern over the ongoing defense deals between Paris and Moscow. France has partly caved to European pressure by remaining opaque about whether or not it will go ahead with the delivery of the second vessel. The diplomatic move allows France to appease its Western allies by demonstrating its tough stance on Russia, without plunging into a formal commitment breaking the warship contract.
“Does that mean that the rest of the contract – the second Mistral – can be carried though? That depends on Russia’s attitude,” said Hollande.
In response to Hollande’s statement, Adm. Vladimir Komoedov, Chairman of the Defense Committee of Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, insisted that France comply with its contract instead of “blackmailing Moscow with sanctions and actions of non-delivery,” he said last week.
This third round of E.U. and U.S. sanctions targets the Russian banking, technology and arms sectors. New EU sanctions will not affect previous contracts, meaning France’s Mistral deal can go ahead. France remains Europe’s biggest supplier of arms to Russia, according to CNN.
This week, Japan also joined the chorus of disapproval against France. On Tuesday Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said it was “strongly concerned” about France’s decision, which it says could impact East Asia’s security situation. “The world is highly concerned about Ukraine and we are worried about the recent military buildup in Russia’s Far East.
Russia has denied both involvement in the downing of Flight MH17 and supplying Ukrainian separatists with any weapons. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said that Russia will insist on a lift of the sanctions through a World Trade Organization inquiry “without hesitation.”