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France canceled Mistral sale to Russia under NATO pressure

By Ryan Maass
France canceled Mistral sale to Russia under NATO pressure
The French Naval warship Mistral docked at Beirut's port in 2006. File photo by Norbert Schiller/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- New information reveals Poland and other Eastern European NATO countries threatened France with canceling defense deals if it sold Mistral warships to Russia.

According to released transcripts from the French Senate's International Affairs Committee, France faced "significant pressure" to pull out of the deal.

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"When delivering the boats, we experienced significant pressure from Eastern European countries, let alone the Baltic countries, in the framework of the NATO parliamentary assembly," said French Senator Daniel Reiner. "After the annexation of the Crimea, it was no longer possible to treat this transaction as a purely commercial angle."

France agreed to sell two warships to Russia in 2011 during Nicholas Sarkozy's tenure as president, with the first delivery scheduled for 2014, and the second for 2015. The sale was called off following Russia's annexation of Crimea, and a series of other geopolitical developments that put Russia and the West in their worst standoff since the Cold War. This includes Moscow's support for militant rebels in eastern Ukraine, and for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

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"Arms sales have also a political dimension," added French Senator Josette Durrieu in the committee debate. "At the time, the sale of the Mistral - which came after the Russian-Georgian war - fell primarily a political arrangement. Similarly, the rupture occurred during the events in Ukraine."

Following the cancellation, France sold the Mistral ships to Egypt instead, and reimbursed part of the cost to the Russian government. In turn, Russia offered to sell Mistral helicopters to Egypt.

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