One of the more strategically interesting, though somewhat less dramatic aspects of placing further economic and trade sanctions on Russia has been the fate of the newly built French Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, which Russia is supposed to buy. In early June, VICE News covered the debate surrounding the sale of the warships, the contract, and how this relates to economic sanctions on Russia.
The EU has quietly come to grips with the fact that France would rather find a home for its ships than eat the cost of their construction — along with the penalties for breaking its contract with Russia. Meanwhile, France realizes that the destruction of Flight MH17 means that the political cost of going through with the deal is becoming unacceptably high.
While the impact of canceling the sale might not matter much to the French defense industry as a whole, it could have a very dramatic impact on their industrial capabilities, and the ability to build complex warships in the future.
One solution being proposed is for the EU to buy the ships for use by an EU force. This idea was first introduced in May in an article by Claudia Major and Christian Mölling of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. However, some member states aren’t keen on paying for what they see as a bailout of French industry.
Meanwhile, the operation of the vessels by the EU has its own issues. Not only does the EU not have the sailors or expertise to operate such a ship, it doesn’t even really have enough of a Navy in place to figure out how to solve the issue of its lack of sailors to run such a ship.
Pascale Joannin, managing director of the think thank Foundation Robert Schuman, was cited in a Defense News article suggesting that if the EU obtains the ships, "the French Navy could take over the ship and make it available for the EU."
But that just would amount to everyone else in Europe buying the French Navy some brand-new warships.
No agreement on the fate of the amphibious assault vessels has been reached, but it’s increasingly likely that there will be no outcome that won't make a lot of people unhappy.
Follow Ryan Faith on Twitter: @Operation_Ryan
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