PARIS (REUTERS) - A decision on whether to deliver a second Mistral helicopter carrier to Russia will depend on Moscow’s attitude over the Ukraine crisis, French President Francois Hollande said on Monday.
Speaking during a dinner with the presidential press corps, Mr Hollande said that a first warship was nearly finished and would be delivered as planned in October, despite strong opposition from France’s allies.
“For the time being, a level of sanctions has not been decided on that would prevent this delivery,” Mr Hollande said.
“Does that mean that the rest of the contract – the second Mistral – can be carried through? That depends on Russia’s attitude,” Mr Hollande added.
For the second delivery to be cancelled, European Union sanctions would have to be decided at the level of heads of state and government, a French government official said.
EU foreign ministers might agree to ratchet up sanctions on Russia when they meet on Tuesday, though targeting deliveries of defence equipment was not planned, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“For now, France wants the sanctions to be financial, targeted and quick,” a presidential aide said separately.
Diplomats in Brussels said earlier that EU foreign ministers were unlikely to punish Russia over last week’s downing of an airliner over Ukraine beyond speeding up the imposition of individual sanctions that had already been agreed upon.
France has come under intense pressure from allies over the sale of the warships, with London and Washington renewing their opposition on Monday.
Urging EU countries to stop selling defence equipment to Russia, British Prime Minister David Cameron said going ahead with the warship contract would be unthinkable in Britain.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said earlier on Monday that he doubted France would cancel the contract, which he said would be worse for France than for Russia.