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.