Are the Mistrals Back on Course For Russia?

MistralBy Andreas Kuersten

Fair Observer

For almost four months now, France has denied Russia military hardware that the latter has already paid for. Of the two Mistral-class helicopter carriers that Russia ordered from France in 2011, and for which it paid a majority of the total $1.6 billion cost upfront, the Vladivostok was supposed to be handed over in November 2014. Yet the outbreak of violence in eastern Ukraine and subsequent standoff between Russia and the West led to the indefinite suspension of the deal. Now, the two warships sit at the port of Saint Nazaire in western France still lacking a clear delivery date — the Sevastopol remains under construction and was originally scheduled for delivery in Fall 2015, but its delivery is included in the suspension.

However, the recent ceasefire deal reached by Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine may finally bring an end to the Mistral impasse. When France instituted its indefinite suspension of the carrier contract, President Francois Hollande put in place two conditions under which it could once again proceed: first, an observed ceasefire in Ukraine; and second, a roadmap for the settlement of the dispute. The deal brokered in Belarus potentially supplies both of these requirements.

The ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, despite breaches, largely continues to hold. But it is unclear exactly how long the guns must remain silent before France considers the ceasefire to have been “observed” for the purposes of the Mistral contract. The ceasefire deal also includes a roadmap for the resolution of the conflict; although a mere roadmap is nowhere near actual resolution and there is much doubt over whether the peace will hold. Still, France only demands a roadmap for the resumption of the Mistral contract, not the complete resolution of all issues.

Following the ceasefire deal, the Russian news service Interfax reported a Russian “military diplomatic source” stating that France might now deliver the Vladivostokin early March. Despite the unclear veracity of the report, France, with its two conditions for delivery arguably met, might now consider itself able to save enough face to deliver the vessels.

It was only a matter of time and circumstance until France reinstituted the Mistral contract. This is because the potential domestic political and economic consequences of complete cancellation substantially outweigh any domestic and international political and security repercussions.

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