Russia sees U.S. hand in French decision on warships

by Reuters
Thursday, 4 September 2014 10:07 GMT

MOSCOW, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Russian officials questioned France's reliability as a trading partner on Thursday after it suspended delivery of a warship because of the Ukraine crisis and suggested Paris had bowed to U.S. pressure.

"Where are the times when Paris did not cave in to pressure from the United States, as, for example, over Iraq?" Foreign Ministry deputy spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.

Zakharova described France's decision as a disgrace and said it was just as well late French leader Charles de Gaulle had not witnessed it.

"France's reputation as a reliable partner that carries out its contractual obligations has been thrown into the furnace of American political ambitions," she wrote.

French President Francois Hollande had for months resisted pressure from Washington and other allies to scrap the 1.2 billion euro ($1.58 billion) contract to deliver two Mistral helicopter carriers.

On the eve of a NATO summit, his office said on Wednesday France would hold off on delivery of the first warship. It accused Russia of actions in Ukraine which ran "against the foundations of security in Europe".

Under President Jacques Chirac, France, like Russia, opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that ended Saddam Hussein's rule.

Moscow has sought to play down the impact of Hollande's decision, suggesting France would suffer a bigger economic blow than Russia.

"If the contract is unilaterally terminated, the money will definitely be returned to the Russian side and fines and penalties will be paid," Oleg Bochkaryov, deputy chairman of the government's Military-Industrial Commission which helps oversee the defence industry, told Russian news agency Interfax.

He said France was likely to have problems finding a new buyer as the vessel was built according to Russia's requirements and with Russian equipment.

"If the contract is suspended, the French side's headache will be worse than ours," he said. (Reporting by Katya Golubkova, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Ralph Boulton)

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