France Thumbs Nose At Obama Over Sanctions: Will Deliver Two Warships To Russia

Thursday, May 15, 2014
By Paul Martin

Wolf Richter

The battle between the US and France has been brewing for months, but now it came to a head: the French government decided to spite the US and move forward with the contract to deliver two warships to Russia. To heck with those silly sanctions.

At issue: a €1.2 billion contract between France and Russia, signed with all sorts of fanfare in 2011 for two assault and command ships. They’d be built at a shipyard with nearly empty order books, the storied Chantiers de l’Atlantique at Saint-Nazaire in France. It was about maintaining jobs. The Mistral ships can carry helicopters and tanks. Now the Vladivostok is being tested at sea and is to be delivered to Russia in October. It’s destined for Russia’s Pacific fleet. The Sebastopol, to be delivered in 2016, is for Russia’s Black Sea fleet and will be based in the now politically inconvenient Crimean port of Sebastopol.

The Obama administration has been pressuring France for months to cancel the sale to punish Russia for its involvement in the Ukrainian fiasco, given the sanction spiral that the US and to a lesser extent the EU have been trying to impose on Russia. The administration argued that the deal could encourage Russia to continue its land grab in the Ukraine.

So French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was in Washington on Tuesday, schmoozing with Secretary of State John Kerry. They discussed hot-button issues, such as the Ukrainian fiasco and nuclear diplomacy, if you can call it that, with Iran. Initially it was thought that those two ships would be on the agenda as well, and that Kerry could make France cancel that dang contract.

But Kerry didn’t bring it up during the conversation, Fabius told reporters afterwards. Due to legal considerations, France couldn’t cancel the contract. “Contracts that have been signed have to be honored,” he said. Business is business. And jobs are jobs, especially in France where unemployment has been in the double digits.

State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki told reporters that the US government had expressed its worries about this sale to the French government, and that it would continue to do so. Good luck. On Saturday, President François Hollande had set the tone; sanctions or no sanctions, France would stick to the contract “for now.”

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