In a move that could alarm the United States, China is looking to buy the two French-made Mistral-class assault ships that were originally made for Russia. In 2011, Russia and France signed a $1.37 billion deal, under which France was to build two Mistral ships for Russia by the end of 2015. However, Paris averted its plans in 2014 amid Moscow’s alleged involvement in the Ukraine crisis.
China could be the customer France is looking for
Now France is left with two Mistrals in hand, looking for an eager customer. The China Times reports that a French task force recently visited China along with a Mistral-class assault ship and an Aconit frigate. It fueled speculations that China could be the newest customer for these ships. Both Mistral ships, the Vladivostok and the Sevastopol, are well-equipped for island warfare.
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China has both the necessary infrastructure and use scenarios for these ships. According to The Diplomat, it makes sense for China to invest in an advanced assault vessel, given the current tensions in the East and South China Sea. However, France cannot sell the vessels to anyone without Russia’s permission. Gilles Le Breton, a member of the European Parliament, told the Sputnik News that France was actively considering selling them to a third-party.
France proposes to compensate Russia
The French government had proposed to compensate Moscow for its decision to cancel the delivery of two ships to Russia. However, talks between the two countries have made little progress due to disagreement over the amount Russia would receive, reports French website LeMonde.fr. France has proposed to repay $875 million to Russia, plus payments related to Moscow’s expenses before Paris backtracked on the deal. Russia had spent millions of dollars to outfit its ports to house the Mistral ships.
France had modified the Russia-bound vessels to accommodate the Russian Navy’s Kamov Ka-27 helicopters. China already owns Ka-27 as well as its advanced version Ka-28, so adding these ships to its growing and increasingly modern navy makes sense. However, the China-France deal has not been finalized yet.