France will deliver Mistral-class aircraft carriers to Russia as planned, despite objections from key allies, the UK and US, over Moscow’s reported involvement in the Ukrainian crisis, President Francois Hollande has said.
Speaking to reporters, Hollande was quoted as saying: "The Russians have paid. Should we repay €1.1bn if the boat was not delivered to the purchaser?
"For the time being, a level of sanctions has not been decided that would prevent this delivery.
"The contract was signed in 2011, the boat is almost finished and should be delivered in October."
The latest move comes in the midst of heavy criticism from the US State Department and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who urged France to cancel the deal.
Russia has been criticised for allegedly supplying anti-aircraft systems to rebels in eastern Ukraine. Separatists allegedly shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last week, killing 298 people.
According to US State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf, the delivery of Mistral warships to Russia would be ‘completely inappropriate’.
In June 2011, Russia and France signed a $1.52bn deal for two Mistral-class vessels, which are being built at the DCNS shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France.
The Russian Navy is set to receive the first ship Vladivostok on 1 November, while Sevastopol, the second vessel, is expected to be floated out in October.
As part of an intergovernmental pact, Russia will also acquire two more Mistral-class ships, which will be constructed in Russia and France.
The 199m-long, 22,000t Mistral-class ships include MRR-3D NG surveillance radar and a high-performance communications suite for humanitarian operations and a range of other missions.
With a potential to cruise at a maximum speed of 19k, they are equipped with two Breda Mauser 30mm naval guns and four 12.7mm machine guns, in addition to two MBDA France Simbad launchers for the Mistral air-defence missile.
Image: The French Navy’s amphibious assault ship Mistral shortly after launching. Photo: courtesy of Rama.