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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