Thursday

25th May 2017

Air disaster puts spotlight on French warship for Russia

  • 'It [MH17] raises the question whether it is safe to send certain types of equipment to Russia' (Photo: navy.mil)

France risks “international ridicule” if it delivers a warship to Russia despite the Malaysia Airlines disaster, but its intentions remain unchanged in the immediate aftermath.

The ship, a “Mistral” assault vessel which forms part of a €1.2 billion contract, is to be sent to Russia in October, with the French navy currently training Russian sailors how to use it at the port of St. Nazaire in Normandy.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The US and some EU states had already criticised the deal before the air crash because of the Ukraine crisis. But others, such as Germany, had defended France’s decision to go ahead.

The new debate comes amid allegations that pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine shot down the Malaysian airliner by mistake using a Russian-supplied “Buk” missile.

The US has not mentioned the Mistral since the disaster on Thursday. But German chancellor Angela Merkel hinted at a change of heart on Friday.

When asked by press in Berlin whether France should still deliver the warship, she said Germany already in March suspended a contract to build a combat training facility in Russia “given the situation”.

Merkel’s suspension is not as tough as it sounds because the training facility has already been built.

“Over 50 thousand troops already trained there. It was effectively just the formal signature of the act of transferral of the facility to the Russian side which was cancelled”, Igor Sutyagin, a Russia specialist at the Rusi think tank in London, told EUobserver.

But the air crash has sharpened anti-Russia and anti-Mistral feeling among France’s EU allies.

In an insight into British thinking, Sir Andrew Wood, the UK’s former ambassador to Moscow, said Britain believes the Russian Buk allegations are true.

“What he [Russian leader Vladimir Putin] did was supply weapons to people [the pro-Russia rebels] who are fundamentally irresponsible. This means he has a moral, if not a direct, responsibility for what happened”, Wood said.

“It raises the question whether it is safe to send certain types of equipment to Russia and it becomes more difficult to argue that it [the French deal] is just a matter of fulfilling a contract”.

A senior EU diplomat speaking off the record was more blunt.

He said France risks “international ridicule” if it goes ahead and described the Mistral as “an increasing factor of irritation inside the EU”.

“Putin has pursued a policy of dividing the US and the European Union, as well as the EU internally. This incident [the air disaster] is going to make it harder for him to do this”.

For his part, French President Francois Hollande did not mention the warship in his remarks about the air crash on Friday.

A French government source also indicated that France is keen to keep talk of the disaster separate from the arms deal.

“The most important priority right now is to shed light on what happened in this catastrophe … We should not turn away from this subject in order to discuss some hypothetical consequences, or to talk about subjects which are not really connected”, the source told EUobserver.

Inside France itself, opinion is divided.

Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean, a Russia analyst at the Paris-based think tank Ifri, said NGOs have held small protests in St. Nazaire.

But she added: “The French chambers of commerce have been doing what they can to make sure the contract is respected, saying that France needs to protect its commercial reputation on the world stage”.

She predicted the air crash will see public opinion swing against the deal.

But she said the French government is likely to wait until the last minute in October before calculating whether the political cost of the Mistral outweighs its financial benefits.

“For now, they will probably continue as before”, she said.

Investigation

Several EU states impose arms ban on Russia

Most of the EU’s top arms exporters have imposed a quiet ban on sales to Russia, but Ukraine’s military embargo could have a bigger impact on the crisis.

Opinion

Putin's real war

How many people - whether Ukrainian or non-Ukrainian - have to die, before the West faces up to the realities of Putin's war?

News in Brief

  1. Pressure grows on climate impact of EU timber harvesting
  2. US goes after Fiat Chrysler over emissions cheat
  3. Munich police break up Europe-wide burglar clan
  4. Report: VW threatened with €19.7 billion French fine
  5. Turkey begins mass trial of suspected coup leaders
  6. Merkel's CDU consolidates lead in polls
  7. France to host Russian president
  8. Switzerland votes against nuclear power

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild Alert on Myanmar: Fruits of Rapid Development yet to Reach Remote Regions
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBecome an Explorer - 'Traces of Nordic' Seeking Storytellers Around the World
  3. Malta EU 2017Closer Cooperation and Reinforced Solidarity to Ensure Security of Gas Supply
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceHigh-Intensity Interval Training Is Therapeutic Option for Type 2 Diabetes
  5. Dialogue Platform"The West Must Help Turkey Return to a Democratic Path" a Call by Fethullah Gulen
  6. ILGA-EuropeRainbow Europe 2017 Is Live - Which Countries Are Leading on LGBTI Equality?
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhen You Invest in a Refugee Woman You Help the Whole Community
  8. Eurogroup for AnimalsECJ Ruling: Member States Given No Say on Wildlife Protection In Trade
  9. European Heart NetworkCall for Urgent Adoption of EU-Wide Nutrient Profiles for Nutrition & Health Claims
  10. Counter BalanceInvestment Plan for Europe More Climate Friendly but European Parliament Shows Little Ambition
  11. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi: China's Belt and Road Initiative Benefits People Around the World
  12. Malta EU 2017EU Strengthens Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Firearms

Latest News

  1. Openness over Brexit is 'political play', says EU ombudsman
  2. Le Pen's EU group in fresh spending scandal
  3. New EU right to data portability to cause headaches
  4. Cyber threats are inevitable, paralyzing impact is not
  5. Transparency complaints keep EU Ombudsman busy
  6. EU sets out criteria for relocating UK agencies
  7. EU states back bill against online hate speech
  8. Dutch coalition talks collapse again