In a stunning split with official European Union foreign policy on Russian, France will press ahead with a €1.2bn contract to sell helicopter carriers to Russia because cancelling the deal would do more damage to Paris than to Moscow, French diplomatic sources told Reuters on Monday.
France has come under pressure from Washington and some EU member states to reconsider its supply of high-tech military hardware to Moscow. It had said it would review the deal in October – but not before.
However, French diplomatic sources said on Monday the 2011 contract with Russia for two Mistral helicopter carriers, with an option for two more, would not be part of a third round of sanctions against Moscow, Reuters reported. The deal was signed off by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who hailed it as evidence that the Cold War was over.
“The Mistrals are not part of the third level of sanctions. They will be delivered. The contract has been paid and there would be financial penalties for not delivering it.”
“It would be France that is penalized. It’s too easy to say France has to give up on the sale of the ships. We have done our part.”
However, some Nato allies are worried that the helicopter carriers will give Russia access to advanced technology.
State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told journalists in Washington on Monday: “We have expressed our concerns to the French government over the sale. We’ll continue to do so,” according to a report by EU Observer.
“Obviously, as you know, there are sanctions that have been put in place. I’d have to specifically check here to see if there’s a legal question or if this is just a question of whether we find this to be unhelpful.”
For its part, France has ruled out an arms embargo on Russia even if it invades eastern Ukraine or disrupts its May 25 presidential elections.
The Mistral helicopter carriers were sold to Russia for €1.2 billion shortly after its invasion of Georgia in 2008. A Russian admiral later said he could have won the war in “40 minutes instead of 26 hours” if he had had them earlier, according to EU Observer.
Awkwardly, the second carrier set to be delivered in 2016 is named ‘Sebastopol’ after the Crimean seaport.