Mistral deal with Russia is ‘unthinkable’: Cameron

The UK Prime Minister David Cameron has upped the pressure on France to pull out of its €1.2 billion deal with Russia to sell two warships, saying pressing ahead with the contract would be “unthinkable” in Britain after the downing of flight MH17.

Mistral deal with Russia is 'unthinkable': Cameron
UK Prime Minister David Cameron says selling warships to Russia is "unthinkable". Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP

Since Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine, there have been calls for Europe to impose a ban on sales of arms to Russia.

That would include France’s highly controversial contract to sell two Mistral helicopter carriers to Moscow in a deal worth €1.2 billion. The first ship is set to be handed over to the Russians in October, with much of the money already having been paid.

But when asked about France refusing to pull the plug, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Frankly in this country it would be unthinkable to fulfill an order like the one outstanding that the French have.”

“But we need to put pressure on with all our partners to say that we cannot go on doing business as usual with a country when it is behaving this way,” Cameron added.

Since Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the US and other countries have voiced repeated objections to the deal, but Russia has stressed that France would face heavy penalties if the deal is scrapped.

If it turns out separatists loyal to Russia and its strongman president Vladimir Putin, did bring the plane down, as most suspect then the US and Europe are likely to turn the screw on France and demand it pulls out of the deal.

On Friday the German chancellor Angela Merkel upped the pressure by pointing out that her country had put on hold its own €120 million deal to build a combat simulation training centre in southwest Russia, in light of the situation in Ukraine.

However French President François Hollande remains defiant that the for the moment, the deal is still on.

Speaking on Monday Hollande said: “For the time being a level of sanctions has not been decided on that would prevent the delivery [of the first ship].

But Hollande did suggest France could change it’s attitude depending on how Russian president Vladimir Putin reacts to the growing crisis.

“Does that mean that the rest of the contract  – the second Mistral – can be carried through? That depends on Russia’s attitude,” Hollande said.

EU leaders have threatened to tighten sanctions on Russia in the light of the shooting down of MH17, but some suggest they will not go far as there are too many economic interests at stake.

“The problem is half of the money has already been paid,” Philippe Migault, an expert on Ukraine from the think tank Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) in Paris, told The Local.

“If France pulled out it would have to reimburse the Russians and that would cost hundreds of millions,” he said. 

“It’s almost impossible to stop the sale because the Russians are working on it as well,” he said.

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Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia

A senior French military officer stationed at a NATO base has been indicted and jailed on suspicion of spying for Russia, local media and sources said on Sunday.

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia
A change of command ceremony at the base of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force in Sigonella, Italy. It is not known at which Italian Nato base the officer was stationed. Photo: Falk Plankenhorn
The French army officer was stationed abroad, a judicial source said confirming details from Europe 1 radio. According to the report, the soldier was stationed on a NATO base in Italy and is suspected of espionage on behalf of Russia.
The French government confirmed it was investigating a senior military officer over a “security breach”.
“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told Europe 1 radio, CNews and Les Echos newspaper. She gave no further details.
The judicial source said the officer had been indicted and jailed on charges involving “intelligence with a foreign power that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation”.
He is being prosecuted for “delivering information to a foreign power”, “collecting information harming the fundamental interests of the nation with a view to delivering them to a foreign power” and “compromising the secrecy of national defence”, the source said.
Europe 1 said the officer was a lieutenant-colonel stationed with NATO in Italy and had been placed under investigation on suspicion of spying for Russia.
He speaks Russian and was seen in Italy with a man identified as an agent of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence
service, the report said. It said he is suspected of having supplied sensitive documents to Russian intelligence.
The man was arrested by DGSI intelligence service as he was about to leave for Italy at the end of his holidays in France, and is being held at a prison in Paris, Europe 1 said.