No decision on French arms sale to Russia before October: source

Reuters News
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Posted: May 08, 2014 2:48 PM

PARIS (Reuters) - France does not intend to review its 1.2 billion-euro ($1.66 billion) contract to sell helicopter-carriers to Russia earlier than planned because of the Ukraine crisis, a French government source said on Thursday.

Paris has come under pressure from Washington and some European partners in recent months to reconsider its supply of high-tech military hardware to Moscow, and has responded by saying it will review the deal in October - but not before.

"Our position remains the same. No decision before October," a French government source said on Thursday.

French news agency AFP quoted U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland as saying on Thursday Washington was "concerned" by the sale.

The comments come just three days before French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is due to travel to the U.S., setting up a potentially uncomfortable meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry.

French officials have shied away from discussing whether the 2011 contract with Russia for two Mistral helicopter carriers, with an option for two more, could be suspended in a potentially politically awkward sacrifice, to show French resolve in future sanctions against Moscow.

Russia's Mistral purchase would give it access to advanced technology, alarming some of France's NATO allies.

In an interview with Reuters this week, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said he believed the European Union should include an arms embargo in any new round of sanctions on Russia.

The long-discussed French sale was Moscow's first major foreign arms purchase in the two decades since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy had hailed the signing of the Mistral contract as evidence the Cold War was over. It has created about 1,000 jobs in France.

The first carrier, the Vladivostok, is due to be delivered by the last quarter of 2014. The second, named Sebastopol after Crimea's crucial seaport and illustrating its importance to Moscow, is supposed to be delivered by 2016.

About 400 Russian sailors are due to come to France in June to receive training for the Mistral. The carriers can hold up to 16 helicopters, such as Russia's Ka-50/52s.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by James Regan and Andrew Roche)