Selling Ships to the Russians… Deal or No Deal?

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In any international conflict, there are always vested interests muddying the waters. In the case of Russia’s seemingly expansionist actions of late, one issue is that of one of France’s market for warships

US president Barack Obama expressed his “concern” the other day on the thorny issue of France selling Mistral warships to Russia in the midst of the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.

“I expressed concerns and I don’t think I am alone,” said the American leader during a press conference in Brussels as part of the G7 Summit, before adding that it “would have been preferable” to suspend the lucrative ship deal, or, as he put it “push the pause button”.

France and Russia signed an contract in 2010 for two Mistral amphibious assault ships. The first of these is due to be delivered in October 2014 and the second in 2015, with both vessels becoming part of the Black Sea fleet.

Political events have since overtaken this deal and with the recent annexation of Crimea, the French now find themselves in a position of supplier to what most people in this part of the world would perceive as the main aggressor in an ongoing conflict and expansionist push.

The Americans – who are no strangers to expansionist pushes and supplying bullies – have rather audaciously “warned” the French on a number of occasions against the wisdom in going through with this deal.

Officially, the French position is to leave everything just as it is for the time being. This is, after all, a business contract worth in the region of €1.2 billion – very handy money to be coming into the French Republic between now and October at a time when balancing the books in the National Exchequer is proving challenging to say the least.

“I expressed some concerns on the pursuit of military contracts with Russia at a time when they have violated international law and the territorial integrity of its neighbour,” said Barack Obama, who recognised that the deal represented a large contract and that all-important jobs in France were at stake.

This divergence of views with Paris had not, according the American leader, lessened in any way the general levels of cooperation of the French on sanctions towards Russia.

Following the annexation of Crimea, one would imagine that the Russians will be looking forward to taking delivery of their brand new French warships. The Mistral-class amphibious assault ship is also known as a helicopter carrier. It is capable of carrying and deploying up to 16 assault helicopters, a 40-strong Leclerlc tank battalion and 450 troops. It might come in handy in the months and years to come.

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