A French-built warship designed to strengthen Russia’s ability to deploy troops, tanks and helicopter gunships is getting its first test run Wednesday — just as Western powers are trying to rein in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military threat to Ukraine.
A spokesman for the shipbuilder says the Vladivostok helicopter carrier [Mistral class] is setting sail from the French Atlantic port of Saint-Nazaire. A few hundred kilometers away in Paris, France’s government is hosting American, Russian and other leading world diplomats Wednesday amid mounting tensions over Ukraine.
The warship is part of a 1.2-billion-euro deal ($1.6-billion) that marked the biggest-ever sale of NATO weaponry to Moscow, a deal that already raised eyebrows both within Russia’s military circles and among France’s Western allies when it was struck in 2011.
France has criticized Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, but says it has no plans to scrap the defense deal.
That’s because France, like many of Russia’s European trading partners, has found itself wedged between efforts to squeeze Russia diplomatically and its own economic interests. The French government’s top priority is reviving the lackluster economy and battling unemployment, and this deal underpins some 1,000 jobs. . . .
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking on RTL radio Monday, said “we’re not there yet” when it comes to suspending any defense exports.
In contrast, Britain’s government said Wednesday it was reviewing all U.K. arms exports to Russia “in light of recent events.”