France's decision not to deliver two Mistral helicopter landing ships to Russia was a huge diplomatic mistake, a member of the French parliamentary delegation visiting Crimea said Friday. Nicolas Duik, an elected member of parliament, made the comments during the controversial two-day trip that has seen deputies of the French National Assembly and senators visit the peninsula that was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in March 2014, the Russian government-backed news agency Tass reported.
"Unfortunately, the dispute over the Mistral ships has turned [out] to be very difficult. This is a big diplomatic mistake," Duik told Tass, adding that France should transfer the amphibious ships to Russia instead of paying compensation.
France, which had already built and trialed both ships, named the Sevastapol and the Vladivostok, said that it would pay compensation for not fulfilling the $1.22 billion deal. It was thought by legal experts that the compensation could have been far larger than what the original contract was worth, but both parties came to a tentative agreement July 10 that Paris would compensate Moscow $1.3 billion. Russia, which has since committed to building its own version of the ships, continued to say that it was open to either receiving the ships or the cash.
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) July 23, 2015
The original deal was signed in June 2011 but was canceled by French President Francois Hollande after repeated warnings over Russia's annexation of Crimea, its involvement in the 16-month Eastern Ukraine war and its failure to meet the agreed terms of the Minsk II agreement. The Mistrals were not part of European Union-led economic sanctions, but Hollande received constant pressure from his EU counterparts to withhold both ships.
The cancellation could have financial ramifications for France's shipbuilding industry, with many in Paris believing that the nixed contract could scare off potential customers and result in the loss of jobs with the contractor DCNS.
The two-day visit to Crimea has caused concerns in France and around Europe, with politicians claiming the trip undermined European sanctions and NATO's military posture against Moscow and validated Russia's actions in taking the peninsula.
Duik said the Mistral helicopter carriers could have taken part in this Sunday's parade in Sevastopol on Russia’s Navy Day. "If the Russian navy had received these ships, they would have surely taken part in the parade," he said.