France Makes Mincemeat out of Mistral Helicopter Carrier Deal with Russia
In a bold move that is being hailed as courageous by NATO and the U.S. and decried as betrayal by Russia, French President Francois Hollande suspended the delivery of one of the two Mistral-class helicopter carriers it promised to Russia last week. The suspension is a direct result of a fruitful NATO summit in Wales that took place last week and comes at a time when the EU is leveling sanctions against Russia. NATO countries agreed to several key resolutions regarding Russian activities in Ukraine, including creating a Rapid Response Force in eastern Europe and the Baltics, increased interoperability between allies, and an uptick in defense spending to meet the 2% of GDP requirement.
The suspension of the sale does come at a cost. The defense contract with Russia carries of price tag of 1.2 billion euro (1.6 billion dollars) to deliver the two state-of-the-art warships, something the stagnant French economy desperately needs. The deal predates the Russian “incursion” by three years. The 2011 deal was signed by the Russian Defense Ministry, with the state-owned French defense contractor DCNS and the shipbuilder STX France taking care of the actual construction. The first of the ships was scheduled for delivery in November, according to a Palace Elysees spokesman.
Nevertheless, the West can now breathe a sigh of relief. With access to these two new ships, the Russian Navy would possess enhanced first-strike capabilities. Though it is not confirmed, the Russian Navy would likely have deployed the ships to the Black Sea, specifically to their new illegally acquired port in Sevastopol or Yalta in Crimea, threatening Ukrainian coastal towns with helicopter air support. In addition, the NATO allies of Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania would see similar uneasiness.
France does not have to be a loser here. Hollande has the option to back out of the deal completely. The French could certainly find any number of buyers for the helicopter assault ships. India has expressed interest. The United States, with its vast amount of funding allocated towards defense, could surely afford to purchase the ships. In any case, France’s decision to suspend the sale was made in the best interest of French, Ukrainian, and European national security.