The French government has finally announced that it will at least delay the delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia because of that country’s recent aggression toward Ukraine. Before a major summit of NATO this week in Estonia, the unpopular French president, François Hollande, announced that “despite the prospect of a ceasefire [between Russia and Ukraine] which still remains to be confirmed and implemented, the conditions for France to deliver the first warship are not to date in place.” (That ceasefire, for now, appears not to be happening — the Ukrainian government announced it earlier today but then retracted the announcement.)
The first of the two advanced Mistral-class carriers, the Vladivostok, began sea trials earlier this year with some Russian crew, but France won’t be delivering it for now. France’s devotion to the deal is purely a matter of the country’s economic desperation: It wants the billions in receipts it’s getting for this deal, and it doesn’t want to scare off future customers of its arms industry.
The 21,000-ton Mistral ships can hold a complement of 16 helicopters, and the two on order from France would help flesh out the Russian navy, which currently has just one aircraft carrier, a 40,000-ton ship that can launch Sukhoi Su-33 fighters. By comparison, the French Navy has three Mistral-class carriers and one 40,000-ton jet-capable carrier, while the U.S. has in service ten full-size Nimitz-class carriers and nine helicopter carriers (which will fly the U.S. F-35 jet and currently deploy Harrier jets; another class of helicopter carriers is also planned).