The U.S. commander of NATO said Monday that he had renewed alliance warnings to France against going ahead with the $1.5 billion sale of two Mistral-class helicopter assault ships to Russia.
Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the NATO and U.S. European Command commander, said he has had several discussions with the French and “they clearly have our thoughts” on the postponed sale of the warships through Rosoboronexport, the state-run Russian arms firm.
“Let’s just be factual. These are very capable ships,” Breedlove said at a Pentagon news conference in echoing the concerns of the alliance that the sale of the ships to a newly-aggressive Russia could shift the naval balance in Europe.
Last week, Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency said that Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin claimed to have been invited to a handover ceremony for the ships in mid-November.
The French daily Le Figaro posted on its website a copy of the invitation from French prime contractor DCNS to Rosoboronexport.
However, the government of French President Francois Hollande last Thursday denied that a deal had been reached.
“The conditions have not today been met for delivering of the Mistral,” Finance Minister Michel Sapin told French RTL radio. Those conditions are a return to normalcy in Ukraine and “that Russia play a positive role there,” Sapin said.
In 2011, the previous French government of President Nicolas Sarkozy signed the deal for the sale of the Mistrals, with the first to be delivered to the Russians in 2014.
The sale has been held up amid complaints from the allies following Russian actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.