The French government has decided to put a hold on the delivery of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia. The decision comes after months of uncertainty about whether Russia would receive the ships, amid sanctions imposed by the West for Russian incursions into Ukraine, or whether French shipbuilder DCNS would instead find another buyer.
"No delivery date can be fixed at this stage," Jean-Yves Le Drian, the country’s defense minister, told the National Assembly, the lower house of France’s parliament, as quoted by French media.
"The president of the Republic has said that a definitive decision will come at the right moment, taking into account all the responsibilities that come with this decision, which is not a simple one," he added.
Many observers believed the first ship, the Vladivostok, would be handed over to Russia after DCNS sent invitations to a delivery ceremony on Nov. 14 to the Russian state-owned arms supplier Rosoboronexport, which were then leaked to the press.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted on Oct. 29 a photo of a letter that Rosoboronexport had received earlier that month from the DCNS offices in Paris, inviting a Russian delegation to the Nov. 14 delivery ceremony.
Рособоронэкспорт получил приглашение на 14 ноября для передачи России первого «Мистраля» и спуска на воду второго pic.twitter.com/PJY5q3bLNT
â€” Dmitry Rogozin (@Rogozin) October 29, 2014
The Russian text of Rogozin's tweet says: "Rosoboronexport was invited on November 14 to the delivery to Russia of the first Mistral and the launch of the second."
French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur wrote that DCNS would not confirm the letter's authenticity, but it published screenshots of invitations to the ceremony "sent at the end of October to high-level French officials."
While Russia may still receive the ships at some point, DCNS is likely to face fines over breach of contract for not delivering on the $1.6 billion deal.