France denied Russian claims that it was ready to hand over a disputed Mistral-class warship in coming weeks, saying that conditions for the handover had not been met. French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told RTL radio that the conflict in Ukraine must end and Russia must play a “positive role” there for the delivery to go through.
“The conditions have not been met for delivering the Mistral,” he said. “From a certain point of view, things are going better, but there are still concerns. So, today, the conditions aren’t met.”
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Wednesday via RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned media outlet, that Russia’s state arms exporter was invited to attend a handover of the first of two such Mistral ships. Rogozin acknowledged that politics still had a role.
“From a technical point of view, the contract is being fulfilled on schedule. It’s up to [French] President [Francois] Hollande now to make a political decision,” he said.
The delivery of the two helicopter carriers, or amphibious assault ships, was suspended in France in September as part of European sanctions on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. The French government received some criticism for not suspending the handover earlier. The sale of the ships was technically legal up until September, when the European Union stepped up sanctions for a third time. Protesters have seized on the planned sale in eye-catching demonstrations.
Hollande said in September that while sanctions prompted the deal to be suspended, they “never provided for ongoing contracts being called into question,” so the deal for the ships is technically still in place.
The $1.5 billion deal for the two ships was signed in 2011. The first ship, the Vladivostok was supposed to be delivered by the end of the year and the second ship, the Sevastopol, was expected next year. Shortly after France announced the suspension of the deal, sea trial and training of Russian sailors on the ships went ahead.
Russia denies it has any involvement in the Ukrainian crisis between separatists seeking to join neighboring Russia and the pro-Western government that came to power after a movement overthrew President Viktor Yanukovych in February.