Under international pressure, France suspends warship delivery to Russia
French-built warship BPC Vladivostock, designed to strengthen Russia's ability to deploy troops, tanks and helicopter gunships, leaves the Saint Nazaire's harbor, western France, for its test run on the open sea off coast of France on March 5, 2014.
PARIS — France suspended the delivery of the first of two Mistral warships to Russia, saying that Russia's actions in eastern Ukraine go against the interests of European security.
The decision, announced after a national security meeting at French President Francois Hollande's Elysee Palace in Paris on Wednesday, was made on the eve of a two-day NATO leaders' summit in Britain starting Thursday that will be dominated by responses to the conflict in Ukraine.
"The president noted that, despite the plan for a cease-fire that still must be confirmed and implemented, the conditions for France to allow the delivery of the first BPC are not there," Francois Hollande's office said in an emailed statement, referring to the French abbreviation for the Mistral-class ship.
France has come under international pressure to cancel the $1.6 billion contract. Signed in 2011, it commited France to deliver two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia, the first in October of this year and a second in 2016.
Hollande on July 21 held out the threat of a possible cancellation of the warship's sale. His statement today didn't mention the fate of the contract for the second ship.
A spokesman at DCNS, the state-owned shipbuilder of the Mistral, declined to comment on Hollande's decision.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization didn't play a role in getting France to suspend delivery of the Mistral, according to a senior NATO official who asked not to be name discussing security matters.
Many allies — possibly all — will see it as good decision, the official told reporters Wednesday in Newport, Wales. Russia made this suspension of delivery the only possible decision by its actions, the official said.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking to reporters in Brussels two days ago, said that although arms sales are for individual governments to decide, "I am confident that each and every allied government will take such decisions mindful of the overall security situation and concerns expressed by fellow allies."
Russia is facing a further tightening of sanctions imposed by the European Union over its incursions into Ukraine and military help for rebels fighting Ukrainian government forces.
France's government has been repeatedly reprimanded for supplying military hardware to Russia as eastern EU leaders accuse President Vladimir Putin of prosecuting a war in Ukraine.
As recently as June, Foreign Laurent Fabius defended the deal, signed by the previous French administration, saying that Russia had already paid two-thirds of the cost and that hundreds of French jobs were at stake.
President Barack Obama, speaking in Brussels on June 5, scolded Hollande's government over the contract. Obama will attend the NATO summit.
"I have expressed some concerns, and I don't think I'm alone in this, about continuing significant defense deals with Russia at a time when they have violated basic international law and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of their neighbors," Obama said then. "It would have been preferable to press the pause button."