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With Mistral Suspension, France Seeks to Boost Ties with Poland

November 28, 2014 (Photo Credit: Janek Skarzynski/ , AFP/Getty Images )

France placed a hold on the delivery of the first Mistral helicopter carrier to Russia, a move French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian personally conveyed to his Polish counterpart during a recent trip to boost relations with Warsaw.

French President François Hollande suspended the ship’s delivery due to the deadly conflict in east Ukraine, the president’s office said on Nov. 25.

“The president of the republic considers the present situation in east Ukraine still does not allow the delivery of the first [projection and command ship],” the Elysée president’s office said in a statement. “He has decided that it is appropriate to suspend, until further notice, the examination of the request for export authorization for the first [projection and command ship] to the Russian Federation.”

French ministers previously said Hollande would decide in November whether to grant permission for a delivery.

Hollande set two conditions for delivery: the observation of a ceasefire in Ukraine and a political agreement between Moscow and Kiev.

Russia will not, for now, file a claim against France on the suspension and still expects the deal to go ahead, RIA news agency quoted Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov as saying last week, Reuters reported.

On the same day Hollande announced the suspension, Le Drian flew to Warsaw to see his Polish counterpart, Tomasz Siemoniak.

Besides a deepening tension between the West and Russia, Paris also has every business interest in strengthening ties with Warsaw, which is looking to buy multirole helicopters, attack submarines and a medium-range air defense system under the Wisla missile program.

“The reason for my visit to Warsaw is, first of all, to cultivate the excellence of our bilateral relations,” Le Drian told journalists on his trip to Poland. Le Drian told Siemoniak of Hollande’s withholding an authorization of the first Mistral to Moscow, the French minister said.

Within a few weeks, France will send an armored unit for exercises in Poland as part of Paris’ continuing effort to support allies, which included France contributing to the NATO air patrol, Le Drian said.

France completed a tour of four Dassault Rafale fighters on the Baltic air patrol in August, a source here said.

The meeting also included talks on drawing on the Weimar Triangle to build “a major training role” with the European partners, Le Drian said. The triangle is a trilateral partnership between France, Germany and Poland. The joint training would be in the context of preparing for the future with NATO and the European Union, he said.

On the Polish tender for the 70 multirole transport helicopters, estimated at some €3 billion (US $3.7 billion), Airbus Helicopters has pitched its EC725 Caracal against the Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk and AgustaWestland AW149. Each of the competitors has signed with a local partner for production in Poland.

On the expected missile competition, the Eurosam joint venture between MBDA and Thales is fielding the Aster weapon against the Raytheon Patriot. The French Air Force displayed a command post, radar and launcher of its Aster missile, dubbed Mamba, at the Polish MSPO exhibition in September, Eurosam said on it website.

France is offering a naval cruise missile on the DCNS Scorpene in the Polish tender for attack submarines, the source said. That missile is being developed by MBDA for the French Navy. The French bid competes with ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.

A UN human rights organization has reported that almost 1,000 people have been killed in Ukraine between the ceasefire agreement in September and Nov. 18, Agence-France Press reported. That is an average 13 dead a day and more than 4,300 combatants and civilians slain since pro-Russia insurgents seized regions in eastern Ukraine in April, the UN said. The total figure includes the 298 lives lost in the shoot down of Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight in July, the news agency reported.

The prime contractor, state-owned DCNS, had previously arranged for a hand-over ceremony of the first of two ships — the Vladivostok — to the arms agency Rosoboronexport and a putting into water of the sister ship, Sevastopol, on Nov. 14. DCNS canceled the ceremony, which was revealed by Russian RIA news agency.

Sevastopol’s delivery is scheduled for the last quarter of 2015. France signed the €1.2 billion Mistral deal in 2011, and has come under diplomatic pressure from Western nations, Poland and Baltic allies to refuse the hand over to Russia. ■

Email: ptran@defensenews.com.

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