PARIS, July 23 (UPI) -- Despite increasing economic sanctions on Russia, France is continuing to build two aircraft carriers for Russia.
"I have expressed some concerns, and I do not think I am alone in this, about continuing significant ... defense deals with Russia at a time when they have violated basic international law and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of their neighbors. So President Hollande understands my position," U.S. president Barack Obama said in June.
The carrier is under construction at the STX Le Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France.
The European Union is preparing to tighten sanctions against Russia in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. The $1.6 billion contract to build the carriers has therefore drawn widespread criticism.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was "unthinkable" that his country would proceed with an agreement under current circumstances. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt have been similarly critical.
"I think we should have had an arms embargo quite some time ago. I do not think that is necessarily the answer. But of course to deliver arms to Russia in this situation is somewhat difficult to defend, to put it mildly," Bildt said Tuesday at a European Union meeting in Brussels.
The sale of the aircraft carriers is an example of the difficulties Europe faces in attempting to influence Russia by economic sanction.
What is propelling the resolution of the contract is money, said Pierre Tran, Paris correspondent of U.S. magazine Defense News.
"France has severe budget pressure. Domestic budget pressure. So to keep a strong defense industry, France needs to sell weapons abroad, (to) the world market. On the one hand, there is a contractual obligation to Russia, which is important in terms of keeping a place in the arms market, the world arms market. There is also, of course, a political decision on how to maintain relations with friends, allies and partners, allies like Poland, like Britain, like the U.S." Tran said.