NATO has no money, capability to buy out Russia-bound Mistral warships – source

RIA Novosti/Alexey Filippov

RIA Novosti/Alexey Filippov

NATO doesn’t have the necessary funds to meet the demands of US lawmakers and purchase French-built Mistral warships in order to prevent Russia from getting the vessels, a military source said.

“NATO’s budget is too small to not only purchase Russia-ordered Mistral helicopter carriers, but to even compensate France half of the penalties in accordance with the contract,” a military source in Brussels, Belgium told TASS news agency.

NATO’s military and civilian budget for 2014 amounts $ 1.6 billion, while the penalty for non-delivery of the two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia could reach $ 3 billion, the source explained.

“Moreover, NATO simply doesn’t have a structure that that could receive the ships. The Alliance has almost no military equipment of its own. So there would be no use in the helicopter carriers even if the money to purchase them is found,” the source said.

The idea of buying the Mistral vessels is “absurd from a military point of view” because the ships are “custom-built in accordance with Russian standards, which makes their use by NATO highly problematic and will require additional, expensive refitting,” he stressed.

The source has called the proposal by the US senators “a purely political project, in which NATO as an organization is physically unable to participate.”

“The main irony in this situation” is that even if several NATO member states will be able to allocate the necessary funds and purchase the ships – it’s not France, but Russia, which will get the money, he said.

“The contract has been paid and the redemption price will go to Moscow,” which today is “probably” more interested in money than in Mistral and “does not look too concerned” about the problem with delivery.

“The fact that this logic isn’t obvious to the US congressmen may only cause disappointment among allies and laughter among the Russians,” he concluded.

The comment comes in response to Friday news that eight US lawmakers forwarded a letter to NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, urging the Alliance to purchase the Mistral vessels.

An aerial view shows the Mistral-class helicopter carrier Vladivostok constructed for Russia at the STX Les Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard site in the port of Montoir-de-Bretagne near Saint Nazaire

Reuters/Stephane Mahe

 

“Sensitive to the financial burden that France may incur should it rightly refuse to transfer these warships to Russia, we renew our call that NATO purchase or lease the warships as a common naval asset,” the letter said as quoted by The Hill website.

“Such a decisive move by NATO isn’t without precedent and would show President Putin that our rhetorical resolve is matched by our actual resolve and that this Alliance will not tolerate or abet his dangerous actions in Europe,” it added.

NATO headquarters confirmed that it received letter, but provided no official comments on the possibility of the purchase of the ships.

Russia and France signed a €1.12 billion ($1.6 billion) contract for building two Mistral-type ships in June 2011.

Under the deal, Russia was supposed to receive the first of the two warships, the Vladivostok, in October this year.

However, the delivery has been postponed due the pressure on France by the US and EU, which imposed several waves of sanctions against Moscow over its accession of Crime and the crisis in Ukraine.

The second Mistral-class helicopter carrier, the Sevastopol, is scheduled to be handed over to Russia in 2015.

Mistral deal: France says delivery of warships to Russia still on hold

The French Navy’s Tonnere multi-purpose amphibious assault ship of the Mistral class at the Toulon seaport. (RIA Novosti/Alexander Vilf)

The French Navy’s Tonnere multi-purpose amphibious assault ship of the Mistral class at the Toulon seaport. (RIA Novosti/Alexander Vilf)

The Mistral-type helicopter carriers can accommodate up to 30 light helicopters in its hangar and on deck, although Russia plans to arm the Vladivostok and the Sevastopol with 16 heavy aircraft.

Each ship can also carry up to 450 combat troops (or 900 for short missions) in addition to the crew, complete with amphibious transports, armor and a command center.

Conditions have not yet been met for France to hand over the Mistral-class warship to Russia. According to the contract, it is due to be delivered on November 14, Paris said.

“The conditions today are not met to deliver the Mistral,”French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told RTL radio in an interview.

He added that the conditions the French government wants to see are “that in Ukraine the situation becomes more normal, and things cool down.”

The Russian agency responsible for foreign arms trade said on Thursday that France so far hasn’t sent any official notice that the Mistral contract may not be fulfilled.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said France had invited a new group of Russian Navy seamen and officers for training courses on handling Mistral-class warships, a move indicating that despite its ambivalent rhetoric France is continuing to fulfill the terms of the contract.

Launching the stern of the first Russian Mistral type dock assault helicopter carrier "Vladivostok" at the Baltic Shipyard. (RIA Novosti/Igor Russak)

Launching the stern of the first Russian Mistral type dock assault helicopter carrier “Vladivostok” at the Baltic Shipyard. (RIA Novosti/Igor Russak)

France may hand over the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia on November 14, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. He announced that Moscow had received an invitation to take delivery at France’s Saint-Nazaire shipyards.

“Rosoboronexport [Russia’s state owned arms exporter] has received an invitation to arrive in Saint-Nazaire on November 14, where 360 Russian sailors and 60 specialist trainers are already,” Rogozin said.

On that day, Vladivostok – the first of two Mistral-class helicopter carrier ships – should be handed over to Russia. The Deputy PM also assumed the second carrier, the Sevastopol, would also be in dock.

“We act from the fact that France must protect its own reputation as a reliable partner, including on issues of military cooperation,” he said. France has always stressed that for them this would be “the litmus test of their national pride and sovereignty,” the Deputy PM added.

On Tuesday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that France will decide on delivery of the Mistral-type helicopter carriers to Russia only in November.

“The French president stated earlier that if the political situation does not improve, he will not permit delivery of the helicopter carriers,” Le Drian said. “The president will make a decision by November.”

Launching the stern section of a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg. The ship will be christened the Sevastopol. (RIA Novosti/Alexei Danichev)

Launching the stern section of a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg. The ship will be christened the Sevastopol. (RIA Novosti/Alexei Danichev)

Rogozin emphasized that so far everything is proceeding according to plan.

French shipbuilders in the Saint Nazaire shipyard have said, according to RIA Novosti, that the helicopter carriers are ready for delivery.

There has been no official statement from the French authorities yet.

Russia and France signed a €1.12 billion ($1.6 billion) contract for building two Mistral-type ships in June 2011.
Under the deal, Russia was supposed to receive the first of the two warships, the Vladivostok, in October this year.

However, delivery has been postponed due to the conflict in Ukraine, the impetus behind the international community’s pressure on France to cancel the contract.

Western allies have been pushing Paris for months, saying that France has to make sacrifices to meet its commitment to oppose Moscow through sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.

The second Mistral-class helicopter carrier, the Sevastopol, is expected to be handed over to Russia next year.

The Mistral-type helicopter carriers can accommodate up to 30 light helicopters in its hangar and on deck, although Russia plans to arm the Vladivostok and the Sevastopol with 16 heavy aircraft. The ship can also carry up to 450 combat troops (or 900 for short missions) in addition to the crew, complete with amphibious transports, armor and a command center.

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