France halts Russia warship deal, as Nato leaders meet
France has frozen its delivery of a warship to Russia, as Nato leaders meet in the UK for a summit to discuss the Russia-Ukraine war.
The office of President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday (3 September) “the conditions under which France could authorise the delivery of the first helicopter carrier are not in place”.
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It added that: “Russia's recent actions run against the foundations of security in Europe”.
The “Mistral” vessel can carry 16 assault helicopters but, defence analysts say, Russia wants it for its high-end command and control technology.
It was to be delivered by the end of October as part of a €1.2 billion contract.
Hollande made the decision after Nato last week published photos of Russian troops and armour inside Ukraine. He also made it following criticism from the US and Germany.
But he did not rule out delivering the ship at a later date.
The news came as leaders from the 28 Nato states and 33 “partner” countries began arriving in Cardiff, Wales for a regular summit.
The event will see the creation of a “rapid reaction force” to protect eastern Nato countries, such as Estonia or Latvia, from potential Russian aggression.
It is to have 4,000 troops, from rotating nationalities, ready to act in 48 hours.
It will also have new logistical facilities and storage depots in eastern Nato states. But Nato says these do not amount to permanent bases, in line with a 1997 Russia accord.
The new reaction force is unlikely to satisfy eastern leaders.
“The distribution of Nato bases shows that Poland is a second class member and that we don’t enjoy the same level of security as, say, Germany or the Netherlands [which do host permanent bases]”, Sebastian Plociennik, an analyst at the Warsaw-based think tank Pism, told EUobserver.
For his part, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko will attend the summit on Thursday.
He is likely to discuss the prospect of a peace deal at talks between Ukrainian officials and pro-Russia rebels in Minsk on Friday. But the US and most EU states have ruled out giving him military assistance even if the war escalates.
Nato-aspirant countries - Bosnia, Georgia, Macedonia, and Montenegro - will also leave the summit largely empty-handed.
Other items on the agenda include: Nato’s withdrawal from Afghanistan; how to fight the Islamic State; cyberdefence; and improving “interoperability” with dozens of Nato-friendly countries.
The list of “partners” includes almost all the former Soviet republics, except Belarus.
US president Barack Obama set the tone for the Wales event at a meeting with Baltic leaders in Estonia on Wednesday.
“Reaching back to the days of the tsars - trying to reclaim lands ‘lost’ in the 19th century - is surely not the way to secure Russia’s greatness in the 21st century. It only shows that unrestrained nationalism is the last refuge of those who cannot or will not deliver real progress and opportunity for their own people at home”, he said.
Referring to Nato’s Article V on collective defence, he added: “We’ll be here for Estonia. We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before. With Nato, you will never lose it again”.
He also held out an olive branch, however.
“That path [of reconciliation] remains available to Russia … but it’s a path that starts by Russia changing course and leaving Ukraine”, he noted.