Russia has given the French government a choice, either deliver the two promised Mistral-class amphibious warships to the Russian Navy or refund the purchase price of the $1.53 billion program, a Russian foreign policy official told reporters on Monday.
“Both options will suit us — either the ships or the money. The money spent must be recovered,” Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Monday, following a quickly organized Saturday meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President François Hollande in the Moscow airport.
Delivery of the two custom built variants of the 21,000-ton French Mistral amphibious warships to Russia has been stalled by the Hollande government since September over concerns of the ongoing fighting between Russian backed separatists and the Ukrainian government.
Hollande said the delivery of the two ships would be tied to the implementation of the so-called Minsk Protocol — a September ceasefire agreement between separatists, Russia and Ukraine.
“The delivery of the helicopter carriers to Russia is connected with implementation of the Minsk accords,” Hollande said according to French newspaper Le Figaro.
In comments to reporters after the Saturday meeting with Putin Hollande said, “in the Ukrainian issue, we have already got used to moving forward and then moving backwards again. It is therefore entirely possible that we will soon be disappointed about what is happening, as we have already been earlier,” according to Russian news agency TASS.
In a separate presser following the Saturday meeting, Putin said the issue of the Mistrals hadn’t come up but he’d like to see either the money or the ships come to Russia.
The tone from the Kremlin is more measured than late last month after the Hollande government announced it would continue suspending delivery of the two planned ships — Vladivostok and Sevastopol.
“The behavior of the Russian side is strictly regulated by the signed contract,” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov said, reported TASS.
“If [France] won’t deliver [Mistral], we’ll sue and impose penalties.”
The most recent comments do not indicate if the Kremlin will be satisfied with just the money back or impose contract penalties as well.
Suggestions have been floated for the ships to be used as a mobile base for NATO’s emerging rapid reaction force or as a replacement for the Canadian Navy’s 1960s vintage fleet oilers if France backs out of the deal with the Russians.