Britain and France in War of Words Over Russian Warships and Oligarchs
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius let slip his irritation with Britain Tuesday after London slammed its warship deal with Moscow, pointing out that the British capital was full of "Russian oligarchs."
The deal, under which France is selling two warships to Russia for 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion), comes at a time when the West has strong misgivings about Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis, particularly after the downing of flight MH17 suspected of being targeted by pro-Kremlin rebels.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that "in this country it would be unthinkable to fulfil an order like the one outstanding that the French have."
When asked on French television about the controversy surrounding the contract, Fabius responded with a strong dose of sarcasm.
"The British in particular were very pleasant when they said 'we would never have done that'," he said.
"Dear British friends, let's also talk about finance. I was led to believe that there were quite a few Russian oligarchs in London."
Asked by the interviewer whether he was inviting the British to put their own house in order before making comments, Fabius said, "Exactly."
He reiterated comments made Monday by President Francois Hollande that delivery of the first warship would go ahead in October as planned.
But Hollande said delivery of the second warship would depend on "Russia's attitude."
Britain is not the only country to have voiced concern about the deal.
On Tuesday, US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters delivery of the warships would be "completely inappropriate."