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a long goodbye
France Settles with Russia Over Mistrals

Much to the consternation of France’s allies, after Putin’s annexation of Crimea Paris looked for a while like it was still going to deliver two Mistral-class warships, designed to carry helicopters and to mount amphibious assaults, to Russia. We followed the story pretty closely both because it served as a test of European solidarity on the matter of Russian aggression and because the ships themselves would have been a big boon for Moscow’s ability to attack its neighbors. When France ultimately nixed the deal, we were among those cheering.

It’s not clear from the reporting how much Russia had prepaid at the time the contracts were canceled. The standoff between Moscow and Paris appears to have been about what kind of penalties France would be forced to pay due to breaking the contract. The final restitution figures have not been revealed, but the total appears to be less than the full cost of the contract. Reuters:

The total cost to France of reimbursing Russia for cancelling two warship contracts will be less than 1.2 billion euros ($1.31 billion), French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday.

Le Drian said on radio RTL the initial price for the two Mistral helicopter carrier warships had been 1.2 billion euros, but France will have to pay less than that because the ships were not been finished and the contract was suspended.

“Talks between President Putin and President Francois Hollande have concluded yesterday. There is no further dispute on the matter,” he said.

This story has been something of a saga, but it’s over now. The ships (at least one of which is complete) are French government property. The French navy may have difficulty commissioning and deploying the vessels for its own uses, as some reports indicate that the ships were heavily customized for use with Russian-made helicopters. But potential buyers are apparently expressing interest.

Wherever they end up, they’ll stand as a monument to the West’s stance on Ukraine’s still-deepening crisis: to its deep divides and its refusal to commit to anything more than half measures which, as Walter Russell Mead argued back in September, can be worse than nothing.

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  • Fat_Man

    India is heavily committed to Russian aircraft. They also want to expand their navy in short order. This might be a good deal for them.

    • f1b0nacc1

      The problem is that the Mistral really isn’t all that useful as a helicopter carrier (it is more of an amphibious assault vessel with a helicopter capability), and in that role it is a very expensive ship. India’s budget is already stretched very thin, and while something like this would be useful, it really doesn’t fit in well with their existing naval strategy.

  • Nevis07

    I’d still like to see at least one of them converted to a hospital/medical ship for the US Coast Guard. Provide humanitarian assistance to natural disasters. Couldn’t hurt our image abroad…

    • f1b0nacc1

      We already have several ships of that sort, and it would be far, far cheaper (and more effective) to convert a large cargo ship (or passenger liner, of which there are many on the market right now) than try the same trick with a purpose-built amphibious vessel.
      With that said, it might not be a bad idea to buy them for the navy in their existing role. I actually prefer the Mistral to the San Antonio class LPD (our version of the same type of vessel), and while they would take a bit of work (and money) to bring them into the fleet, they would be worthy additions. Given the budget limitations, however, this isn’t going to happen….

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