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France: Ceasefire needed before warship delivery

The Local/AFP · 4 Sep 2014, 17:45

Published: 04 Sep 2014 17:45 GMT+02:00

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The French president François Hollande said on Thursday that Paris would be willing to deliver the Mistral warship to Moscow if Russia and Ukraine agree a permanent ceasefire and a political agreement.

France has been under international pressure to cancel the €1.2 billion deal and received a positive reaction from various EU countries and the US when it announced on Wednesday, the delivery would be suspended over the crisis in Ukraine.

However many analysts as well as the Russian government still expect the ships to eventually end up in Russian hands at some point in the future.

President Francois Hollande  said on Thursday France could go ahead with delivery of a warship to Russia in November as long as a lasting ceasefire and political conditions in Ukraine were in place.

"It could be in November but the conditions have to be in place ... What are the conditions? A ceasefire and a political agreement," Hollande told reporters on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Newport, Wales.

Hollande rejected the notion that France buckled under pressure from allies to suspend the contract to Russia, which NATO accuses of directly stoking an insurgency against neighbouring Ukraine.

"I did not feel pressure of any sort from anywhere," he said.

"I told the Russians that we want this contract to go ahead and for the warship to be delivered -- the first one will soon be ready," he said.

"It is not possible to deliver one or two ships in conditions that are not peaceful," he said, adding: "How can I authorise the delivery of a ship that tomorrow could be used in war?"

Paris agreed in 2011 to build and sell the two advanced helicopter assault ships to Russia for a total of €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion), with the first scheduled for delivery in October or November and the second in 2015.

French leaders had refused to back down on a sale seen as crucial to a country suffering from stagnant growth and record unemployment, despite widespread condemnation due to Russia's involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

"The President of the Republic declared that, despite the prospect of a ceasefire, the conditions for France to deliver the first warship are not to date in place," Francois Hollande's office announced Wednesday.

The statement came just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin raised hope of an end to the four-month war in the former Soviet republic, calling on pro-Kremlin rebels and government forces to cease fire and agree to the broad terms of a truce.

Story continues below…

However expert Philippe Migault, from the French think tank IRIS (Institute de Relations internaionales et strategique) told The Local there may be too much at stake for France to shelve the deal.

"It's like any diplomatic statement, in that its almost certainly been given just to send a message to the French public and to France's allies to show that this deal is not done and all options are still possible," he said.

"However I expect it will eventually go ahead as planned. It would be disastrous for France's arms industry if the government suggested that it will cancel the deal.

"France is one the biggest exporter of arms around the world and it would greatly harm its reputation. As well as the fact France would have to pay back around one billion euros to Russia as well as fines for cancelling the deal," Migault said.

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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