There was a long wait for this “Non!” to finally come from Paris: After mounting criticism from its western allies, France will for now refrain from delivering the first of two helicopter-carrying warships it wanted to sell to Russia.
On Wednesday evening, the French government at Élysée Palace let it be known that current conditions made the deal untenable. Up to then, France had argued it was obligated by its contracts, but in view of the escalating Ukraine crisis, Paris now sees a “serious situation.” Russia’s deputy defense minister, Juri Borrissow, called the decision to delay delivery an “unpleasant step” that would increase tensions further.
The deal to deliver two Mistral-class assault ships had sparked controversy for weeks following the levying of European sanctions against Russia. The ships can reportedly carry up to 30 helicopters, 60 armored vehicles, 13 tanks and 700 troops. The first was to be delivered this fall; the second would come next year.
European Union sanctions don’t specifically prohibit completion of the 2011 agreement – which also includes training the Russian Navy to operate the ships – and the French long maintained that a deal was a deal.
“We will carry out the terms of the contract, and that is fully legal,” French President François Hollande said in June. Later he said France could not back out because of financial considerations: If the warships aren’t delivered, €1.1 billion ($1.43 billion) must be paid back to Moscow.
For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin presented on Wednesday a peace plan for eastern Ukraine after ratcheting up his rhetoric earlier in the week. The new plan proposes that the pro-Russian separatists cease their offensive and that Ukrainian troops pull back. This is not the first time that Mr. Putin has sent out signals for easing tensions, and the West doesn’t expect him to make any real concessions.
So for now at least, the conflict is unlikely to subside.
This article was translated by George Frederick Takis. Greg Ring also contributed this story. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org