By Mykhailo Samus
By selling Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia France would violate the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, devalue the European export control system, and damage its own international reputation – just for the sake of a meager Eur 1.2 bln. Will France sell itself so cheap?
Putin during a recent visit to Austria admitted that Russia really is an aggressor country. “Yes, indeed, it’s true (as I’ve already talked about this once before), we used our armed forces in order to ensure freedom of expression for the Crimeans, and we resorted to blockading of some elements of the Ukrainian army.” Andrei Illarionov, the noted independent Russian expert, gives a legal interpretation of this Russian presidential statement as follows: “These actions of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, including “the blocking of individual elements of the Ukrainian army,” as well as the subsequent annexation of Ukraine’s AR of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, fall under the criteria of “aggression” as defined by the UN General Assembly Resolution 3314 (Definition of Aggressions) that was adopted on December 14, 1974.”
There is no need to once again explain to the international community what the Russian occupation of Crimea means, what the Russian war in Ukraine’s Donbas means, or what evidence there is for the direct Russian support being given to the terrorists who are holding hostage millions of residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The truth is quite clear, defined, and validated. In Europe, though, some pretend they don’t know of this truth, speaking of the situation in Ukraine in terms of “internal conflict,” “civil war,” or “Ukrainian crisis.” The Europeans do not do this out of a great love for Putin, but, as usual, because of money or potentially foregone “profit.”
The most glaring example is the planned sale by France of Mistral-class warships with amphibious assault capabilities to the Russian Navy. This contract, which includes the delivery of two amphibious ships of the Mistral class for purely offensive purposes to Russia (“Mistral” is otherwise referred to “invasion ship”), will bring the French shipbuilding industry Eur 1.2 bln in profits, with an option for two more ships to be constructed in Russia. It must be admitted that this deal came as a windfall for the French, as the naval shipbuilding crisis in Europe deepens with the European navies “drying out” without budgetary support, and the outlook for growth of naval fleets is negative. So in this situation the European shipbuilders cannot rely on anything but the export market. But in the international market goods such as the Mistrals are not too much in demand, being too expensive and too peculiar in terms of functionality. Ships in this category are needed by countries intending to conduct major amphibious assault operations. But warships of this kind are produced domestically in most of these countries (e.g., the U.S. or China), who are not willing to rely on other countries for such sensitive capabilities.
At the international naval show Euronaval 2008 in Paris, a Russian Navy team led by Commander-in-Chief Admiral Vysotsky visited the exhibition stand of the French company DCNS. Just after a couple of minutes, the DCNS stand was in a panic as Admiral Vysotsky simply pointed to a mockup model of the Mistral amphibious assault ship and asked “How much?” The reply was something like “it’s expensive, three hundred fifty million…” Vysotsky, almost as in a joke, responded: “Give me two.” The French were unable to believe their unexpected luck… Dreams come true!
Here we should note one important detail. This event took place at the end of October 2008, just 2 months after the end of the Russian-Georgian war. The smoke from Russian tank convoys had not yet cleared over Georgian towns and villages when the French were willing, with no hesitation, to sell the aggressor country a ship that would be best fit to perform missions in local conflicts such as the one in Georgia. Admiral Vysotsky explained the main motive behind the Mistral purchase: “Had Russia possessed a ship of the Mistral class during the conflict in Georgia, it would have taken the Black Sea Fleet just 40 minutes instead of 26 hours to accomplish its mission.” Even such a broad hint dropped by the Admiral about Russia’s willingness to use the Mistrals in future war conflicts in neighboring countries (for example, Ukraine or the Baltic states) did not subdue the commercial zealotry of the French. The deal was signed and construction of the ships got underway. One of them was given a very symbolic name. It was called the Sevastopol.
The occupation of Crimea and the hybrid war being waged by Russia in Donbas did not stop France. French government officials are trying to portray themselves as “ordinary businessmen” whose only concern is about business, not about international policy. When explaining the reasons for trading arms with an aggressor country, French government officials cite arguments such as the need to bolster domestic production or to meet payroll expenses for shipyard employees. These are no doubt good intentions. But, most importantly, France is seeking to inspire the international community to believe that the Mistral sale to Russia would formally not violate anything. Indeed, the Russian Federation is not under the UN or EU arms embargoes. So it turns out that all the pressure being put on France over the Mistral deal is purely of moral nature. And this is, as it were, a purely voluntary matter: you may either choose to honor it or not, as you wish.
However, there is a little nuance to which French officials prefer to pay lip-service. In 1998, the European Union accepted the Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, which, in 2008, was further bolstered by the Common Position defining common rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment. These short documents laid down eight criteria for the export of conventional arms by EU Member States. So, the Mistral sale to Russia at the time of the occupation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine violates five of the eight Code of Conduct criteria! Judge for yourself.
Criterion №2: Respect for human rights in the country of final destination. It does not seem necessary to say that the human rights situation in Russia is not all right. Although, of course, ships of the “Mistral” class can hardly be used for internal repressions, but the delivery as such of offensive arms to an undemocratic government can serve as encouragement for further tightening of the authoritarian regime.
Criterion №3. Internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions or armed conflicts. War conflict and tensions in the Russian Caucasus have continued for two decades now and are unlikely to end in the near-term future.
Criterion №4. Preservation of regional peace, security and stability. This criterion provides that the EU will not export weapons, if there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would use the military technology or equipment to be exported aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim. When considering these risks, EU Member States will take into account inter alia: a) the existence or likelihood of armed conflict between the recipient and another country; b) a claim against the territory of a neighbouring country which the recipient has in the past tried or threatened to pursue by means of force; c) whether the equipment would be likely to be used other than for the legitimate national security and defence of the recipient; d) the need not to affect adversely regional stability in any significant way. So it is clear that this criterion fits perfectly to modern Russia in all aspects.
Criterion №5. The national security of the member states and of territories whose external relations are the responsibility of a Member State, as well as that of friendly and allied countries. Member States undertake not to export arms to countries that might threaten the national security of not only other members of the EU, but also the security of friendly states. After the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU, Ukraine may rightly consider itself friendly and allied country of the European Union. Wonder what France thinks about it all.
Criterion №6. The behavior of the buyer country with regard to the international community, as regards in particular to its attitude to terrorism, the nature of its alliances and respect for international law. As they say, it hits home, as every word is true for modern Russia – both as concerns the direct Russian support for the terrorists in the Donbas region or what kind of allies Russia has (Syria and North Korea), and, especially, the respect for international law in the context of the occupation of Crimea.
The EU Code of Conduct leaves no room for semi-tones. By selling Mistrals to Russia France would directly violate the basic provisions of this most important document of the European Union. It’s interesting to know what else it would take to make Brussels and Paris give consideration to this fact, as if Georgia and Ukraine were not enough! Can it be that France will continue to disgrace itself, selling its international reputation for the meager 1.2 billion euros? Be certain lest you make a bad bargain!Mykhailo Samus, Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies
Edited by Alya Shandra