France hasn’t yet fixed a date for delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia (scheduled for November 14), the French defense minister said. If France doesn’t deliver due to US and NATO pressure, it will have to pay a huge forfeit.
“No delivery date can be fixed at this stage,” Jean-Yves Le Drian, the country’s defense minister told the National Assembly, the lower house of France’s Parliament.
“The president of the Republic has said that a definitive decision will come at the right moment, taking into account all the responsibilities that come with this decision, which is not a simple one,” he added.
On Thursday, reports emerged that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin will not attend the ceremony where France hands over the first Mistral ship to Russia at the Saint-Nazaire shipyards. On October 29, he said that Moscow had received an invitation to take delivery.
DCNS, a French industrial group specializing in naval defense and energy, sent the invitations to the ceremony of the ship delivery scheduled November 14, France’s Le Nouvel Observateur magazine wrote on Wednesday. However, the event was canceled.
The outlet managed to take a screenshot of the letter which was sent to a French official.
“When I opened my mail, I fell off my chair,” the official told the magazine on condition of anonymity.
The chief of DCNS would not confirm whether this letter, signed by the export manager, was authentic. The official line is that these invitations were issued by mistake and the project manager was subsequently fired.
Moscow and Paris signed a €1.12 billion ($1.6 billion) deal to build two Mistral helicopter carriers in June 2011. The contract says that Russia was supposed to receive the first of the two warships, the Vladivostok, in October 2014.
Delivery, however, has been postponed due to the conflict in Ukraine and pressure applied by the US and EU on France to cancel the contract.
Western allies have been pushing Paris for months, saying that France has to make sacrifices to meet its commitment to oppose Moscow through sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.
The second Mistral-class helicopter carrier, the Sevastopol, is expected to be handed over to Russia next year.
At the beginning of November, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg received a letter from eight US lawmakers, urging the Alliance to purchase the Mistral vessels.
“Sensitive to the financial burden that France may incur should it rightly refuse to transfer these warships to Russia, we renew our call that NATO purchase or lease the warships as a common naval asset,” the letter said.
However, a military source in Brussels told the TASS news agency that “NATO’s budget is too small to not only purchase Russia-ordered Mistral helicopter carriers, but to even compensate France half of the penalties in accordance with the contract.”
NATO’s military and civilian budget for 2014 is $ 1.6 billion, while the penalty for non-delivery of the two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia could reach $ 3 billion, the source explained.
People in Saint-Nazaire in western France where the ships are being built have repeatedly taken to the streets for demonstrations saying that if France failed to sell the warships, it would harm not only its image, but its economy as well. They also stated that Russia should not be perceived as an enemy.