May 12, 2015
France could sell Russian Mistral warships to China
In recent weeks Moscow has taken a firm, if conciliatory, stance on the Mistral deal. Last month President Vladimir Putin announced that his officials did not intend to seek any penalties or fines from France over the postponed sale but instead would seek only repayment of the costs incurred on the Russian side if the sale were to fall through.
The problem with a China deal is that the ships have been built to Russian specifications. The first of the two, the Vladivostok, has already been taken on sea trials by Russian naval personnel, while the second ship, the Sevastopol, now also appears to be ready for sea trials.
Since the onset of the crisis in Ukraine, the French government has agonised over the €1.2 billion contract (£863 million, $1.3 billion). After tense negotiations, France succeeded in getting existing contracts excluded from the European Union's package of sanctions against Russia over its role in supporting rebels in eastern Ukraine.
With last September's deadline for the handover of the Vladivostok fast approaching, however, Hollande imposed two conditions necessary for the sale: a cease-fire in Ukraine and progress toward a settlement over Ukraine's future.
Both of these conditions are unlikely to be met before Russia pulls the plug on the deal. So a new buyer has to be found, or the ships could end up as scrap.
But there's a one problem with the theory: It would still cost hundreds of millions of euros to refit the ships to meet China's requirements.