The Vladivostok warship, a Mistral class LHD amphibious vessel ordered by Russia, leaves March 5 for her first trial. (Frank Perry / AFP)
WASHINGTON — The delivery of French Mistral-class warships to Russia would be “completely inappropriate” given the West’s misgivings about Moscow’s role in Ukraine, the United States said Tuesday.
“We don’t think anyone should be providing arms to Russia,” deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters, adding US officials had voiced their concern over the deal in recent days to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
In the wake of the downing of a Malaysian airliner last week, blamed by the United States on a Russian missile system which it says was given to Ukrainian pro-Moscow separatists, EU foreign ministers agreed on Tuesday to strengthen sanctions against Russia.
But they remained divided as to how far to go, with British-led calls for an arms embargo putting France on the spot.
Paris has a deal worth €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) to supply Russia with two Mistral warships.
French President Francois Hollande on Monday said the agreement was still in place, but added that delivery of the second Mistral ship would “depend on Russia’s attitude.”
Asked what Washington thought about France going ahead with delivering the warships, Harf told reporters US officials “clearly think it’s completely inappropriate. And we’ve told them they should not do it.”
“We obviously don’t think the Mistral should go ahead.”
Per a 2011 agreement, France is to deliver two Mistral warships — an advanced helicopter assault ship — to Russia. The first is due in October 2014 and the second in 2015, and the contract is responsible for about 1,000 badly needed jobs in French shipyards.
“We’ve seen ample evidence that the Russians are flouting international norms, supporting efforts to violate the territorial integrity of independent sovereign nations,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
“It seems like a suboptimal time, if you will, to be transferring advanced military systems to them.”