The French government is suspending a deal to deliver two Mistral-class warships to the Russian Navy “until further notice” citing the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, according to a Tuesday statement from the office of President François Hollande.
In response, Russian defense officials have pledged to take legal action against France if the Hollande government does not reverse its stance, according to Russian media.
“The President of the Republic believes that the current situation in the east of Ukraine still does not allow the transfer of the first Russian Mistral-type ships to Russia,” read a translation of the statement from Élysée Palace.
“He has decided that it is appropriate to suspend, until further notice, the examination of the request for export authorization for the first [Mistral] to the Russian Federation.”
— Élysée (@Elysee) November 25, 2014
The announcement of the renewed suspension follows a planned October delivery date of the first Russian Mistral — Vladivostok — and has drawn the ire of the Russian defense establishment.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov said Russia will act in accordance to the contract but reserve the right for legal action.
“The behavior of the Russian side is strictly regulated by the signed contract,” he said according to the Russian TASS news agency.
“If [France] won’t deliver [Mistral], we’ll sue and impose penalties.”
Russian officials were quoted earlier this month that they would wait until the end of the year to take action against France on the deal — which has been stalled since a September announcement from Hollande.
The contract includes around $311 million in penalties to France if they renege on the $1.53 billion two-ship deal, according to a report from the BBC. State controlled outlet Russia Today claimed the penalty could be in the billions.
The sale of Vladivostok and sister ship Sevastopol to Russia was signed in 2011. France and Russia began working on the initial outlines of the deal shortly after Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008.
The 21,000-ton Russian Mistrals are built to carry heavier helicopters, operate in the Arctic and can carry 450 troops with a surge capacity of 900.
Several reports have indicated since the delivery suspension was announced by the Hollande government, work has still continued on the two ships and 400 Russian sailors — shipped to France for training on the lead ship — still remain in the port Saint-Nazaire.
Russia’s deputy prime minister tweeted an alleged Oct. 8 letter from shipbuilder DCNS to Russia’s Rosoboronexport foreign military sales agency claiming the delivery of the first ship would occur on Nov. 14.
The delay in delivery has also enflamed workers at the Saint-Nazaire shipyard and the port has seen at least one protest.
Russian’s blame pressure from NATO and Washington on France for delaying the delivery as the conflict between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists — and alleged Russian military forces — continues along Ukraine’s eastern border.
Some have suggested the ships be purchased by NATO as mobile bases for the proposed rapid reaction force and others have said the ships could be bought by Canada as a replacement for the Canadian Navy’s aging fleet oilers.