For information warriors in Moscow, France-Russia Mistral class helicopter carrier sales agreement is a card played with great gusto, aimed to undermine free world unity. Should the issue slightly fade, a Russian deputy prime minister will leak some paper – about first of the vessels to be delivered on November 14th – to then be refuted by the French.
What the Kremlin is after is sowing discord in NATO. While on their way, an interim aim would be some kind of media panic at every mention of Mistral, spiced with suspicions and accusations of the French. So we would doubt the NATO unity no matter what they claim and have agreed. Thus, an intentional attack is targeted against the thing most vital for us. At least, the words will hurt.
Obviously, the contract entered in 2011 is quite a gaff for the French now. Despite the allies urging him otherwise, the former President Nicolas Sarkozy sealed the deal. We also are torn, and it goes like this: while in no way prone to approve sale of warships to an aggressor, not in our interests to keep fanning the fears and picking at France.
Let’s take a calm look at the facts. No final decision as yet by France – while the clock is ticking away and now they say the Decision cometh in November. Stands taken by all allies, Estonians included, the French know very well. Naturally, handing a warship to a Russia who attacked Ukraine and is ever more provocative on Baltic Sea is wrong in NATO eyes.
Just before the Wales summit held by NATO, France announced the delivery of the first ship (of the two) will be postponed. Now, by the French the delivery is linked to Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the ceasefire conditions are clearly being violated – sufficient to hear of fresh casualties in Eastern-Ukraine and Russia’s intent to recognise elections in store by separatists.
To such a backdrop, how might the French possibly claim that Russia has now turned into a suitable arms-buyer? Should France thus decide, it would trample on promises to allies.
Instead of fomenting panic and accusations, why not give a most potent NATO ally some space to think about a solution suitable (domestic) politically to exit the deal.
As an example of that, James Stavridis and Leo Michel wrote in the latest Foreign Policy the ships could be owned by the European Union – with ample options for prudent use.
Basically, this is the way the allies ought to think: helping the French out of the mess undamaged, or damaged as petite as possible.