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The Mistral deal explained

Mistral-class battleship
The Mistral deal explained

By Guil Sho. This article in Ukrainian

The contract and problems it poses

In 2011, France and Russia signed a contract in which France agreed to sell 2 Mistral class ships to Russia for EUR 1,2bn, with an option of two additional vessels. It was the first time that a NATO member agreed to deliver sensitive military equipment to Moscow, and this contract was signed only three years after Russian aggression on pro-European Georgia. The delivery of the first vessel is scheduled for October 2014. The Mistral is an amphibious assault vessel designed to lead invasions from sea to land. The commander in chief of the Russian Navy during the Georgia war said that with such vessels the attack against Georgia would have lasted only 40 minutes, and not 26 hours as was the case.


A Mistral can carry 16 helicopters, 4 landing craft utilities, 60 BTRs including about 15 tanks, and up to 900 soldiers. It is not just a command ship with a hospital, as the French like to describe it, but a real strategic weapon capable of significant strikes. French allies had already expressed concerns before the signature of the contract. For instance, the then US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in 2010 that “this would send the wrong signal to Russia and our allies.” Four years later, with the annexation of Crimea and an expansionist and anti-European Russian rhetoric, claiming Russian rights on former USSR republics and bearing worrying resemblances with Nazi Germany’s rhetoric of the 1930s, this sale appears more and more problematic and dangerous, as it poses a direct threat to countries neighboring Russia and to countries on the Black Sea, most of them being NATO members and partners. Russia has made clear that it wants to use these Mistrals in the Black Sea. This would make it very hard for Ukraine to gain back control over Crimea, de facto acknowledging the annexation. This would also put at risk the southern coast of Ukraine – let’s not forget that Putin’s Russia has openly stated that their goal is to create a new state called “New Russia” in the South and East of Ukraine, and Mistral ships could be used to realize this plan. Mistrals in the Black Sea will also jeopardize NATO members in the region, such as Bulgaria, Romania and Türkiye. Why should France arm an expansionist state that has already proven on several instances that it is ready to invade sovereign states, and that increasingly poses itself as an aggressive adversary of the European Union and of the free world? Why does not France cancel this sale, jeopardizing peace in Europe and the security of its allies and partners?

Alternative Options

There are other options than Russia available. American and Canadian senators have suggested that NATO, the US or Canada should buy these ships. Claudia Major and Christian Mölling, fellows at the German Institute for International Affairs and Security (SWP) have suggested that the European Union should buy these ships. They have pointed out that one of the priorities of the French president is to build a common defense, and they have suggested that these two ships could become the first step in that direction. Bernard Grua, the organizer of the global protests against this sale, has even suggested that BNP Paribas could negotiate with the US government a smaller fine if it buys the ships in order to rent them out to NATO members or the UN. All this shows that with a bit of creative thinking and good will, it is possible to find alternative solutions for these ships. It may cost a bit of money (penalties for cancelling the contract), but this seems nothing in comparison to becoming an ally of an aggressive, totalitarian state like Putin’s Russia, and in comparison to peace and stability in Europe.

French arguments


This is a wrong argument. First of all, we are not talking about cancelling the production of these ships, as France should easily find another buyer among NATO members, as suggested above. Second, STX have said in several instances that their order book is full for the next 5 years, with one large ship to deliver each year until 2019. Recently, a labor union representative also confirmed on French radio that this is not a valid reason, because the ships are already nearly completed anyways.


France and Russia claim that there is a reputation risk. The French minister of foreign affairs Laurent Fabius said for instance, on his way back from Poroshenko’s inauguration, that France signed a contract, and will honor its commitments, in the same way as Russia is honoring its commitments (sic; he must have forgotten about the Budapest treaty which guarantees Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, also signed by Russia). Collaborating with a totalitarian state that is increasingly using fascist rhetoric, and that is attacking its neighbors and questioning the world order that democracies of the free world have built over the past 70 years, is much more dangerous for French reputation than invoking Russian imperialism in order to cancel the contracts. By selling this weapons to Russia, France is becoming Russia’s military ally in its adventures, supporting Russian plans to redraw Europe’s borders using force. France will also have blood of innocent people on its hands, should Russia use these ships in order to attack peaceful sovereign states in the future. France is transferring technology to an aggressor, and is also accepting Russian sailors on its soil in order to train them. France is becoming Russia’s ally.

The Mistrals are just command ships with hospitals

False, as shown above, they are a significant strategic weapon. Also, each Mistral does not cost more than 300mn. Russia is paying twice this price, because of technology transfers. After the delivery of such ships, Russia will have the capabilities to build them itself. We are giving an aggressor what it needs to build a strong Navy and threaten our allies in the Black Sea, in the Baltic Sea, and in the Pacific, to mention only the countries directly neighboring Russia.  France is not only arming an aggressor, but also transferring sensitive technology. Some say that Russia could build these ships itself, then logically we should wonder why they are paying France double the price for these ships. The answer is simple – because they cannot build them now, as they do not have the technology.

France will pay penalties

Maybe. We do not know exactly how much, because the contract is not made public, which in itself is a shame. But it is the price to pay for irresponsible decisions (the signature of this contract) and in order to preserve peace and stability in Europe. France could negotiate with its allies in order to try to share the burden of these penalties. Further interesting articles on this topic, in French: here, here and here.

Facebook group No Mistrals For Putin

Join us in the nearest global protest against the Mistral Deal on July 14

By Guil Sho

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