French President François Hollande reiterated Friday that France won't proceed with a transaction to deliver Mistral-class helicopter carriers to Russia, according to a report. Hollande’s pronouncement came hours after 400 Russian soldiers evacuated the French port of Saint-Nazaire, Reuters reported.
“I have said many times that at the present time, there has not been sufficient progress to carry out the delivery,” Hollande told reporters at a European Union conference in Brussels, according to Russian news agency TASS. The two nations have engaged in a monthslong dispute over the deal, which was delayed amid French concern over Russian military aggression in Eastern Europe.
The Russian soldiers had been training on a Mistral-class warship in France since June. “This is not a departure for good in the sense that the decision on whether to supply the ship has not been taken,” a spokesman for DCNS, the French industrial group responsible for producing the carriers, said.
France was scheduled to deliver the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia by the end of 2014 -- the culmination of a 2011 deal to build two warships for the Russian navy, with the option of an additional two carriers to be built in Russia. NATO resisted the deal amid concerns that the warships would give Russia the capacity to conduct invasions over oceans. Mistral-class carriers can carry helicopters, transport vehicles and about 160 soldiers.
Despite external pressure, French officials initially planned to complete the transaction. However, France opted to indefinitely suspend the deal amid increased Russian military action, including Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and rumors that Russian troops provided covert aid to Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
A top Kremlin official said earlier this month that Putin would accept either the two carriers or their value in cash to complete the reneged deal. The two carriers are valued at about $1.7 billion.
The carrier deal may never be completed, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves said earlier this month. “It is possible that we never deliver [the carriers],” he said, according to the New York Times. “The Russians must realize this situation.”