A team of Russian military engineers arrived in France Tuesday to begin the process of taking back specialist computer systems that were installed on the two Mistral warships before the defense deal was formally canceled in early August, according to a Kremlin military source who spoke with Russian news agency Tass. While France looks for a potential buyer for the $1.2 billion helicopter landing ships, it will also need to spend hundreds of millions replacing the unique Russian systems that are being taken away.
Computer systems, specialist radar, sonar and communication devices will also have to be removed from both ships, previously known as the Sevastopol and the Vladivostok.
"The first team of specialists from Russia is in France to sign a deal detailing the timeframe and other technical issues for dismantling the equipment from Mistrals," the source told Tass, who also said that a second team is expected to arrive in October to oversee removal operations that should be fully underway by the fall.
The deal for the two ships was signed in June 2011, but it hit a snag when Russia was sanctioned by Europe for annexing Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and assisting pro-Russian rebels in the ongoing east Ukraine war.
While the ships were not part of the EU-led economic sanctions, French President Francois Hollande was pressured by other European leaders to stop the handover until Russia met the terms of February's ceasefire agreement that was meant to stop hostilities in the Donbass region of Ukraine. As Paris waited for Moscow to meet the conditions, France defaulted on the contract. Earlier this month France agreed to pay Russia the original costs of the two ships plus around $1 billion in compensation.
France is currently looking for a new buyer for both ships but will find selling them difficult as both were custom-built for the Russian navy. Canada, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the EU have all been rumored to be interested.