Russia will accept either two Mistral-class warships or their value in cash to resolve a monthslong dispute with France, an official said Monday. The announcement came days after French President François Hollande spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Both options will suit us -- either the ships or the money. The money spent must be recovered,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters, according to Reuters.
France agreed in 2011 to sell Mistral helicopter carriers valued at about $1.7 billion to Russia. The deal would have allowed a French contractor to build two warships for Russia’s navy, with an option for an additional two to be built in Russia. The Mistral-class ships can carry about 160 soldiers as well as transport vehicles.
NATO balked at the deal, which would give Russia the capacity to conduct amphibious invasions across oceans, but French officials initially resisted calls to cancel the deal. Russian officials warned in March that France would have to refund the cost of the warships plus damages if it backed out of the arrangement.
Russia sent members of its military to France in June to train aboard one of the warships. Hollande said in August that Russia would receive the first warship in October, with delivery of the second ship dependent “on Russia’s attitude.”
Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula earlier this year after pro-Russian separatists voted in March to break away from Ukraine -- an act many considered tantamount to an invasion. France later rebuked Russia for escalating tensions in war-torn eastern Ukraine amid rumors that Russian troops provided covert aid to pro-Russian separatists. “The recent actions by Russia in eastern Ukraine are contrary to the basic notions of security in Europe,” French officials said in a September statement, according to the Washington Post.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said earlier this month the deal may never be completed. “It is possible that we never deliver [the warships],” he said, according to the New York Times. “The Russians must realize this situation.”