A decision on whether to deliver a second Mistral helicopter carrier to Russia will depend on Moscow's attitude over the Ukraine crisis, French President François Hollande said yesterday (21 July).
Speaking during a dinner with the presidential press corps, Hollande said that a first warship was nearly finished and would be delivered as planned in October, despite strong opposition from France's allies.
"For the time being, a level of sanctions has not been decided on that would prevent this delivery," Hollande said.
"Does that mean that the rest of the contract - the second Mistral - can be carried through? That depends on Russia's attitude," Hollande added.
For the second delivery to be cancelled, EU sanctions would have to be decided at the level of heads of state and government, a French government official said.
EU foreign ministers might agree to ratchet up sanctions on Russia when they meet today (22 July), though targeting deliveries of defence equipment was not planned, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"For now, France wants the sanctions to be financial, targeted and quick," a presidential aide said separately.
Diplomats in Brussels said earlier that EU foreign ministers were unlikely to punish Russia over last week's downing of an airliner over Ukraine beyond speeding up the imposition of individual sanctions that had already been agreed upon.
France has come under intense pressure from allies over the sale of the warships with London and Washington renewing their opposition on Monday.
Urging EU countries to stop selling defence equipment to Russia, British Prime Minister David Cameron said going ahead with the warship contract would be unthinkable in Britain.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said earlier yesterday that he doubted France would cancel the contract, which he said would be worse for France than for Russia.
The United States opposes France's plan to sell Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia, a senior US administration official told reporters yesterday, echoing concerns expressed on the same day by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
On Monday, Cameron said the sale would be "unthinkable" in Britain after a passenger jet was shot down last week from eastern Ukraine.
Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, Ukraine Ambassador to the EU, told Bloomberg TV yesterday that France should cancel the Mistral contract. He has previously warned that the Mistral contract could be challenged by EU courts.
A senior Russian official said yesterday he doubted France would cancel its sale of warships to Russia.
"This is billions of euros [...] the French are very pragmatic. I doubt it [that the deal will be cancelled]," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters. "Suspension of the deal would be [much] less damaging for Russia than for France."