Angle down icon An icon in the shape of an angle pointing down. French President Francois Hollande, right, greets Russian President Vladimir Putin as WWII veterans sit in the background during the 70th Commemoration D-Day Ceremony at Sword Beach, Ouistreham, June 6, 2014. REUTERS/Ian Langsdon/Pool
France has suspended its delivery of warships to Russia amid continued escalation in Ukraine, The Associated Press and others are reporting, citing a statement from the office of French President Francois Hollande.
The move is a key show of solidarity with the West, which had urged France to cancel the delivery of the warships as it increased pressure on Russia and President Vladimir Putin. It comes as the E.U. and the U.S. prepare to impose tougher sanctions on Russia as early as this week.
In its statement, Hollande’s office said conditions were “not met” for the delivery to continue as planned.
“Russian actions in eastern Ukraine have breached the foundations of security in Europe,” read the statement, issued after a meeting of France’s defense council.
“The President of the Republic declared that, despite the prospect of a ceasefire which still remains to be confirmed and implemented, the conditions for France to deliver the first warship are not to date in place,” the statement said.
The U.S. and other Western powers argued the warships would significantly boost Russia’s military capabilities at a time when the region has balked at its military aggression in Ukraine. France’s previous decision to go ahead with the $1.6 billion sale also took away from a coordinated Western response to the crisis, adding to the disarray among the West over imposing sanctions on Russia.
The Mistral warships would plug a hole in Russia’s military capabilities. Russia’s Black Sea fleet is not believed to have the capacity to launch a land invasion, a problem an amphibious ship like the Mistral would solve.
The Mistral-class helicopter carrier Vladivostok is seen at the STX Les Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard site in Saint-Nazaire, western France, April 24, 2014. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
France had so far resisted those calls and even sought to play down the scope of the deal. Some 400 Russian sailors arrived in France on June 30 to begin training on the first Mistral. Hollande was even prepared to push the deal through after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
But it appears Russia’s latest round of aggression in Ukraine made the country reconsider.
The White House has long said it has “conveyed our concerns” to the French government about going forward with the sale. Bipartisan members of Congress have also urged the Obama administration to take a tougher stance with the French government.
“At a time when Russia is illegally annexing Crimea, supporting armed rebels to fight against a democratically elected government in Ukraine, and cutting off natural gas supply to Ukraine and threatening shortages in the rest of Europe, it is inconceivable that any of our NATO allies should be providing Russia with offensive military capabilities,” U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), along with U.S. Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) and Bill Keating (D-Massachusetts), wrote in a July letter to President Barack Obama.
On Wednesday, Warner commended France’s decision.
“Our NATO allies should not be rewarding Putin’s inexcusable behavior by providing him with assault ships and other advanced weaponry,” Warner said. “This is a good step by France, and I encourage the rest of our NATO allies to halt all defense cooperation and sales with Russia while this crisis is ongoing.”