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France conditions Mistral delivery to Russia on ceasefire, political settlement in Ukraine

Hollande said if the situation in eastern Ukraine deteriorated further, France would delay the delivery again

NEWPORT, September 05 /ITAR-TASS/. A ceasefire and a political settlement are the key conditions for the transfer of the Mistral warship to Russia, French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday.

He said France had not suspended or cancelled the deal with Russia, but the delivery of the ships would depend on how the situation develops in eastern Ukraine which has been gripped by violence and fighting between militias and government troops for months.

Hollande said these conditions were not currently in place there and if the situation deteriorated further, France would delay the delivery again.

The move has prodded shipbuilders in France’s Saint-Nazaire, which is building the Mistral ships, into organising a rally on September 7 in support of the contract with Russia.

The shipyard continued to work as usual on Thursday. Saint-Nazaire Mayor David Samzun said after a telephone call with Hollande on Wednesday that the contract remained in force but the delivery date might change.

Shipbuilders’ trade unions said failure to deliver would cost France at least 2 billion euros, would jeopardise about 1,000 jobs in Saint-Nazaire and might affect related sectors.

Until now, the French authorities said there were no obstacles to delivering the ships to Russia as EU sanctions did not apply to contracts made prior to them.

Hollande earlier assured Russia that his country would fulfill its obligations and hand over the first ship as scheduled but the work on the second one would depend on Moscow’s position on the Ukrainian crisis.

He said there could be no question of failing to deliver. “Russia has paid,” he said, adding that otherwise France would have to pay a fine of 1.1 billion euros.

Russia warned that the refusal to implement the contact would adversely affect military-technical cooperation between the two countries.

In June, President Vladimir Putin said France would have to return the money paid for the ships if it refused to deliver them and this “will not allow us to develop military-technical relations” with Paris further.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is overseeing the defence industry, said Russia could build Mistral-type ships on its own.

Washington earlier advised Paris to suspend the deal with Russia. U.S. President Barack Obama voiced his concern about it in Brussels and raised this issue again at a meeting with Hollande in Paris in early June.

However Hollande said the contract to build Mistral-type ships for Russia was being implemented as scheduled and would be fulfilled in October of this year.

The contract signed in 2011 has not been revised and its implementation will be completed in October, Hollande said.

Under the contract, each Mistral ship has to be built by France within 36 months. The first of them, the Vladivostok, is to arrive in St. Petersburg from Saint-Nazaire, France, in December 2014. In St. Petersburg it will be equipped with Russian weapons, military hardware and systems. After that and the crew training, the Vladivostok will sail off to its base in the Pacific Fleet.

The second ship, the Sevastopol, will arrive in St. Petersburg in November 2015 to make a voyage to the Pacific Fleet and join it in the second half of 2016.

The crews for the two ships (each consisting of 177 members) and 60 instructors, who will subsequently help the sailors operate the ships, are being trained by French specialists. The first stage of training began in February of this year … and continued until the end of May. The second stage will take place from June until October in Saint-Nazaire both onshore and onboard the Vladivostok. The cost of training is included in the contract, the spokesperson said.

Apart from these two ships, Russia has also purchased French technology for the combat information control and communications systems.

Infrastructure for the Vladivostok and the Sevastopol will be built by the end of September 2015. Their base will be completed in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok by the end of December 2017.

On Russia’s insistence, the design of the ships has been changed to make them capable of sailing in northern altitudes and ice-covered seas, increase their dimensions to carry large Ka-28 and Ka-52K helicopters, and to install additional weapons as such air defence systems, rapid-fire artillery guns and large-calibre automatic systems to repel attacks from sea. This will allow the ships to go on missions with fewer escort vessels in tow.

Two Mistral-type ships are now under construction at Saint-Nazaire, France, and St. Petersburg, Russia. A possible purchase by Russia of two more ships from France will be considered based on the performance results of the first two. The shipyard is to build 90% of each of the ships and then they will be floated off to be taken to Toulon for completion.

Russian enterprises are also involved in the project. The Baltic Shipyard laid down the keel of one of the two Mistral ships, named Vladivostok, in strict compliance with the approved schedule. A similar ceremony for the second ship named Sevastopol took place in May 2013.

Mistral landing helicopter carriers will perform four tasks at the same time: receive helicopters, land troops, act as a command post and a floating hospital.

Each ship will carry a group of 16 helicopters. Six of them can be deployed on the flight-deck at the same time. The cargo deck can accommodate more than 40 tanks or 70 motor vehicles.

Russia is buying the French helicopter carrier Mistral with French equipment, including combat navigation devices, but will arm it with its own weaponry. The Mistral ships will carry upgraded Russian Ka-32 Alligator attack helicopters.