THE INERNATIONAL NEW YORK TIMES
Maia de la Baume
December 2, 2014
PARIS – Two warships that France agreed to sell to Russia might never be delivered, the French defense minister said on Friday, drawing an angry response from Moscow, which said Paris must honor its contract in full.
The remarks by Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian came a week after President François Hollande said France would postpone the handover of the first of the ships to the Russian Navy “until further notice.”
“It is possible that we never deliver them,” Mr. Le Drian said in an interview on the news channel BFM TV. “The Russians must realize this situation.”
The Mistral-class ships are designed to transport several hundred troops to a battlefield by sea, along with the equipment and support they would need, including tanks and helicopters.
In 2011, France signed a deal worth 1.2 billion euros, or $1.5 billion at the current exchange rate, to build and sell two of the ships to Russia and to train Russian sailors to operate them.
But the deal was strongly criticized this year, especially by Germany and the United States, after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in March and supported the pro-Russian separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Western nations responded by imposing sanctions on Russia, including bans on new arms deals.
The first of the two ships was initially scheduled to be handed over to Russia in October. But Mr. Hollande announced in September that the conditions for delivering it had not been met.
“I’m a bit tired of this topic,” the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said at a news conference in Basel, Switzerland, when asked about the warships. He was attending a meeting held by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“This is not our problem; it’s a problem for France’s reputation,” Mr. Lavrov said. “The contract should be fulfilled strictly.”
During a meeting with Mr. Lavrov on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia of sending “hundreds of Russian soldiers” to eastern Ukraine “who fight and die in a country where they had and have no right to be.”