President François Hollande’s government disputed on Thursday a Russian claim that France was preparing to hand over the first of two Mistral-class warships to Moscow in mid-November.
“The conditions have not today been met for delivering the Mistral,” Finance Minister Michel Sapin told RTL radio. Those conditions, he said, are a return to normalcy in Ukraine and “that Russia play a positive role there.”
He spoke a day after RIA Novosti, a state-controlled news agency in Russia, quoted the deputy prime minister, Dmitri O. Rogozin, saying that Moscow had received an invitation to take delivery of the first helicopter carrier Nov. 14. The report said the invitation, to Rosoboronexport, the Russian organization responsible for importing military goods, also included one to attend the so-called floating-out ceremony for the second.
“It’s up to President Hollande now to make a political decision,” Mr. Rogozin was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying.
In 2011, during the administration of President Nicolas Sarkozy, France signed a deal to build two Mistral-class helicopter carriers for the Russian Navy. The agreement, worth 1.2 billion euros, or $1.5 billion, calls for the first warship to be delivered in 2014. The ships carry helicopters, troops and landing craft, and they would give Russia the ability to carry out invasions across its neighboring seas.
France’s allies have been at best ambivalent about the deal. Robert M. Gates, the former United States defense secretary, had tried to dissuade the Sarkozy administration from helping to modernize the Russian military. Mr. Hollande has sought to honor the contract to preserve jobs at the STX France shipyard in the port city of St.-Nazaire. But Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March and its encouragement of separatists in eastern Ukraine have made it politically impossible to hand over the ships without a significant de-escalation of tensions.