France suspends delivery of first Mistral warship to Russia

France's Mistral-class amphibious assault vessel. [Reuters]

France suspended indefinitely yesterday (25 November) delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carrier warships to Russia, citing conflict in eastern Ukraine where the West accuses Moscow of fomenting separatism.

Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov told RIA news agency Russia would not for now pursue claims against France over non-delivery, but expected the contract to be fulfilled.

“We are satisfied with everything, it’s the French who are not satisfied. We will wait patiently,” Borisov was quoted as saying. “Everything is laid down in the contract, we will act in accordance with the letter of the contract as all civilized people do.”

France has been under pressure for months from its Western allies to scrap the €1.2 billion contract, but faces potential compensation claims if it breaches terms. Suspension of contracts is a sensitive issue at a time when France is finalizing other military deals.

Last July, French President François Hollande said that the first Mistral, the contract for which had been signed before the sanctions were decided, was nearly finished and would be delivered as planned in October. For the second Mistral, French diplomats have signalled that the delivery could be suspended in accordance with the sanctions decided in the meantime.

>> Read: Hollande: Delivery of second Mistral warship depends on Russia’s ‘attitude’

“The President of the Republic considers that the situation in the east of Ukraine still does not permit the delivery of the first BPC [helicopter carrying and command vessel],” said a statement from Hollande’s office.

“He has therefore decided that it is appropriate to suspend, until further notice, examination of the request for the necessary authorization to export the first BCP to the Russian Federation.”

The United Nations says over 4,300 people have been killed in a pro-Russian separatist insurrection in eastern Ukraine which the West says Moscow has promoted. Russia for its part denies any involvement but accuses the Ukrainian military of using indiscriminate violence against civilians.

The United States opposes France's plan to sell Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia and British Prime Minister David Cameron said the sale would be "unthinkable" after the downing of MH17 in eastern Ukraine.

Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, Ukraine Ambassador to the EU, has warned that the Mistral contract could be challenged by EU courts.

>> Read: Ukrainian ambassador: French Mistral contract violates EU rules

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