France tells UK to put own house in order

France lashed out at the UK on Tuesday with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius telling "British friends" to target the Russian oligarchs in London rather than Paris's controversial €1.2 billion warship deal with Moscow, which Washington also described as "completely inappropriate".

France tells UK to put own house in order
"Stop pointing the finger at France and deal with London's Russian Oligarch's," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tells the UK. Photo: Gali Tibbon/AFP

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius let slip his irritation with Britain on Tuesday after London slammed its warship deal with Moscow, pointing out that the British capital was full of "Russian oligarchs."

The deal, under which France is selling two warships to Russia for €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion), comes at a time when the West has strong misgivings about Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis, particularly after the downing of flight MH17 suspected of being targeted by pro-Kremlin rebels.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that "in this country it would be unthinkable to fulfil an order like the one outstanding that the French have."

When asked on French television about the controversy surrounding the contract, Fabius responded with a strong dose of sarcasm.

"The British in particular were very pleasant when they said 'we would never have done that'," he said.

"Dear British friends, let's also talk about finance. I was led to believe that there were quite a few Russian oligarchs in London."

Asked by the interviewer whether he was inviting the British to put their own house in order before making comments, Fabius said, "Exactly."

Fabius's anger will only have been strengthened on Wednesday after MPs said the UK was still exporting arms to Russia worth millions of euros.

A parliamentery committee said around 250 licences for the sale of arms to Russia, worth around €150 million remained in force, despite concerns Russia was arming rebels in Ukraine.

Following the report the Prime Minister's office said no arms had been sold to Russian forces since March.

French President François Hollande said on Monday that delivery of the first warship would go ahead in October as planned.

But Hollande said delivery of the second warship would depend on "Russia's attitude."

Washington also reiterates concerns

Britain is not the only country to have voiced concern about the deal.

On Tuesday, US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters delivery of the warships would be "completely inappropriate.

"We don't think anyone should be providing arms to Russia," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters, adding US officials had voiced their concern over the deal in recent days to the French foreign minister.

Asked what Washington thought about France going ahead with delivering the warships, Harf told reporters US officials "clearly think it's completely inappropriate. And we've told them they should not do it.

"We obviously don't think the Mistral should go ahead."

Per a 2011 agreement, France is to deliver two Mistral warships — an advanced helicopter assault ship — to Russia. The first is due in October 2014 and the second in 2015, and the contract is responsible for about 1,000 badly needed jobs in French shipyards.

"We've seen ample evidence that the Russians are flouting international norms, supporting efforts to violate the territorial integrity of independent sovereign nations," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"It seems like a suboptimal time, if you will, to be transferring advanced military systems to them."

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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.