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The signing of the $1.7 billion contract for the delivery of two Mistral ships in June 2011 has placed France in a conundrum since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine. Photo: Wikicommons
Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber reporting,
France’s Finance Minister cast doubt Thursday on what Russia had said was the imminent delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers, feeding uncertainty that French political analysts view as authorities’ reluctance to be seen as caving in to Russian pressure.
Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Thursday that the conditions set by French President Francois Hollande last month for delivering the first Mistral — i.e., upholding the tenuous cease-fire and reaching a political settlement in Ukraine — “had not been met at this time.”
“What are the conditions? The conditions are to have a basis for normalization in Ukraine that contributes to de-escalating the situation, and that Russia play a positive role in this process,” Sapin said in an interview with France’s RTL radio station. “Things have been going better, but some issues remain.”
The announcement runs contrary to the statements of Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister in charge of military issues, who tweeted Wednesday that the Vladivostok, the first French-made Mistral ship, would be handed over to Russia on Nov. 14. Rogozin published a photograph of a letter from DCNS, the French industrial group in charge of constructing the ships, inviting Anatoly Isaikin, head of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, to the French port city of Saint-Nazaire to attend a ceremony in honor of the ship’s delivery.
Dated Oct. 8, the letter is signed by Pierre Legros, a senior vice president in DCNS’s surface ships and naval systems division. DCNS has not confirmed the letter’s authenticity and said that no delivery date had been confirmed at this time, French media reported Thursday.
The signing of the $1.7 billion contract for the delivery of two Mistral ships in June 2011 has placed France in a conundrum since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, where the West accuses Moscow of fomenting unrest.
France’s European and other Western partners have urged it to cancel the deliveries on the basis that they would bolster Russia’s military arsenal. Meanwhile, the economic-minded factions of French politics and business circles — including the late CEO of French energy giant Total, Christophe de Margerie, who was killed at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport last week when a snowplow struck his private jet on the runway — have lobbied their government for pragmatism to prevail over politics.
Hollande said in September that the Vladivostok would be delivered by Oct. 31, before postponing his deadline for a decision to November. Observers thought Euronaval, a large exhibition specialized in naval defense held in Paris through Friday, would serve as the stage for Hollande’s announcement.
Philippe Migault, a senior research fellow at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said Hollande’s postponement of making a decision — hesitation that some observers have said is simply France waiting for tensions in Ukraine to subside — was connected to Russian authorities’ attitudes toward the delivery of the ships.
“The timeline for their delivery depends on the discretion of Russian authorities,” Migault said. “If Russia is discreet, France will likely make a quick decision and deliver the first ship. But France cannot be viewed as having made its decision under Russian pressure.”
Rogozin’s tweet was a deliberate attempt to force Paris’ hand, according to Tatiana KatsouОva-Jean, head of the Russia Center at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. The French government was coerced to confirm, deny or clarify the nature of the document published by Russia.
“Rogozin’s tweet is not a coincidence,” KatsouОva-Jean told The Moscow Times.
“This is Russia’s way of forcing the French government to admit that the Mistral will in fact be delivered [on Nov. 14], or to deny it, which is much more difficult to do when a letter of invitation is published. France’s perpetual postponing of the decision has only made the issue more complicated.”
Rock and a Hard Place
“France’s two options — to deliver or not to deliver the Mistral ship to Russia — are both bad solutions to the problem,” KatsouОva-Jean said. “There are so many factors to weigh up here — public opinion, France’s bilateral relations with different partners, its role in multilateral forums, the military industry — that greatly muddle the issue.”
French political analysts concurred that France would not change its overall stance on the delivery of the Vladivostok. Sapin’s concession that the situation in Ukraine has improved attests to France’s eagerness to deliver the Mistral while respecting the conditions it outlined with Ukraine and the West in mind. But the country’s desire to deliver the Vladivostok without sparking the ire of its European and North American partners is likely unattainable, regardless of Russia’s position on Ukraine, according to French pundits.
“Some of France’s various partners will be displeased no matter what happens,” Migault told The Moscow Times.
“In a situation in which more than 5 million people are unemployed, one in eight children live in poverty and the country’s economy is on the verge of recession, it is clear that France will not want to pay a 1 billion euro fine [for not delivering the ships] and risk losing other military contracts just to please Poland and the Baltic States.”
French military experts have said that the cancellation of the Mistral deliveries for the sake of politics could jeopardize other military deals, including ongoing negotiations for a multibillion-dollar contract for 126 Rafale combat aircraft to India.
A picture taken on Sept. 7, 2014 in Saint-Nazaire, western France, shows the Vladivostok warship, a Mistral class LHD amphibious vessel ordered by Russia to the STX France shipyard. © AFP
MOSCOW – Russia has received an invitation to take delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers from France on Nov. 14, RIA news agency quoted Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as saying on Oct. 29.
RIA also quoted Rogozin as saying the second vessel would be put afloat in dock on the same day, although French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday Paris would wait until next month to decide whether to deliver the first of the two vessels.
Under pressure from Western partners to scrap the deliveries because of the Ukraine crisis, French President Francois Hollande last month said he was pushing back the original end-October delivery date and that he would hand over only the first carrier.
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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An international conference will be held in Kuwait on Monday to deal with the Islamic State’s messaging, the US Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced yesterday.
In a statement the ministry said: “Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel will travel to Kuwait to lead the US delegation for the October 27 conference of coalition partners focused on countering ISIS messaging and combating violent extremism in the region.”
“The government of Kuwait is hosting the conference and senior officials from Bahrain, Egypt, France, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the UAE, have been invited to participate.”
The statement noted that the “conference will present an opportunity for an in-depth exchange of ideas for increasing cooperation among coalition partners.”
In this Sept. 23, 2014 photo provided by the U.S Air Force, an F-22A Raptor taxis in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility prior to strike operations in Syria. U.S. coalition-led warplanes struck Islamic State group militants near the northern Syrian town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, near the Turkish border for the first time Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, activists and a Kurdish official said. The coalition, which began its aerial campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria early Tuesday, aims to roll back and ultimately crush the extremist group, which has created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Russ Scalf).
The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group is growing, with dozens of countries among its ranks. The coalition is contributing a wide range of efforts, from carrying out airstrikes to providing military assistance and humanitarian aid.
Here are some of the key partners in the coalition.
The U.S., which is leading the coalition, has launched dozens of airstrikes on Islamic State targets. It also has sent military advisers, supplies and humanitarian aid to help Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces beat back the insurgents.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have participated in airstrikes in Syria. A fourth, Qatar, has played what the Pentagon called a supporting role.
The Emirates and Qatar also host air bases that are being used for the coalition’s aerial campaign against the Islamic State group. U.S. Navy ships involved in the airstrikes are assigned to the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet. Saudi Arabia has agreed to host training facilities for Syrian rebels on its territory.
Jordan has launched airstrikes against Islamic State positions, with government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani calling the move “necessary in light of continuous attempts to infiltrate our borders.” The kingdom didn’t give any specifics about its operations, but said the airstrikes aim to insure the country’s security.
Egypt hasn’t announced any specific participation in airstrikes, but President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told the AP that Egypt is “completely committed to giving support,” and will do “whatever is required” to support the coalition.
Israel is offering intelligence estimates and concrete intelligence to the U.S. on the Islamic State group as part of ongoing intelligence sharing between the two countries, an Israeli defense official said. But, he added, Israel wasn’t asked to contribute anything beyond that. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the issue. The prime minister’s office declined to comment.
Britain said that Tornado fighter bombers, supported by air-to-air refueling aircraft and signals intelligence, are operating over Iraq. Britain’s media has widely reported that six warplanes are on standby in Cyprus, but defense officials have declined to offer specific numbers. Ben Goodlad from IHS Jane’s has said that the Tornado jets offer the coalition enhanced capability to engage moving targets. Britain also has two weapons for long-range strikes: the Tornado’s Storm Shadow cruise missile and the submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missile, he said.
France has carried out airstrikes in Iraq on two occasions since joining the U.S.-led coalition on Sept. 19, firing laser-guided bombs from Rafale fighter planes upon munitions and military hardware stockpiles — first near northern Mosul, then on Thursday, near Fallujah. France is conducting the operations in Iraq from a French air base in the United Arab Emirates. The base, with about 750 French service personnel and six Rafales, is 1,700 kilometers (1,050 miles) from Mosul, meaning that the planes need refueling in flight to strike in Iraq.
An Australian air force contingent, including eight F/A-18 Hornet jet fighters and two support aircraft, has arrived in the United Arab Emirates. About 600 troops — most of them air force personnel — are being deployed with the aircraft. The jets are expected to be used in airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq, although the Australian government has yet to commit to a combat role.
Six F-16 multirole fighters and a contingent of 120 support staff, including eight pilots, to be based in Jordan. Authorized to take part in operations over Iraq for one month, subject to extension if approved by the Belgian government.
Denmark has pledged seven F-16 fighter jets — four operational planes and three reserve jets along with pilots and support staff for 12 months. The U.S. also has asked Danes to provide military trainers to Iraq to school Iraqi and Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State group on the ground. Denmark has already contributed a transport plane with personnel to a U.S.-led humanitarian operation in northern Iraq.
Canada has contributed about 70 special operations soldiers to offer instruction to Kurdish forces battling Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. Early this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Cabinet will be considering a U.S. request to support airstrikes against Islamic State forces. This could include five to eight CF-18 fighter aircraft as well as tanker aircraft. Canada has already contributed two military cargo planes that carried weapons to Kurdish fighters.
Germany isn’t participating in any airstrikes against the Islamic State group. They have sent weapons to Kurdish fighters in Irbil, and a group of Kurdish peshmerga fighters arrived in Germany to receive weapons’ training here by the German army. There’s also German military in Irbil to train the peshmerga fighters in Irbil.
Greece is participating with humanitarian aid and by sending ammunition for Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State group. They haven’t specified any more details on quantities or type of humanitarian aid.
Georgia will be providing humanitarian assistance, not military aid, according to comments made by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Thursday to local news websites.
Hungary has promised to send 15 types of ammunition totaling nearly 6 million units to Iraqi Kurds. Most of the ammunition, 4.1 million cartridges, was the M43 type for the AK-47 assault rifle.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta said his country would offer “logistic, operational and humanitarian” support to the coalition, but not troops. He provided no details of the assistance.
Poland supports the coalition against the Islamic State, but is not actively engaged in combat.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (C) confers with Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin (R) before addressing the U.N. Security Council during the 69th U.N. General Assembly in New York. Brendan McDermid / Reuters
Moscow opposes calls to limit veto rights for UN Security Council members, a Russian diplomat was quoted as saying by TASS news agency Friday.
“We’re against any change in veto rights,” Russia’s envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said on the sidelines of the 69th UN General Assembly in New York.
He added that “talks about a reform of the Security Council need to continue,” but did not elaborate.
A proposal to suspend veto rights in the event of grave crimes against humanity that mandate urgent reaction, pitched in 2013 by France, was revived at a high-profile discussion at the assembly.
Separately, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski urged a reform of the Security Council in a speech at the assembly.
Komorowski gave no outline for the reform, but explicitly linked his calls to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is accused of backing pro-Moscow separatists who are fighting the Ukrainian army.
The Security Council, established in 1946, is the only UN body whose decisions are binding for members.
The council, which hands out mandates on military and peacekeeping operations, has five permanent members: Russia, the United States, Britain, France and China, all of whom can veto a decision.
The council also has 10 non-permanent members, which hold positions for two-year terms, but they have no veto rights.
Russia has repeatedly deployed its veto in recent years to block decisions lobbied by Western powers, including draft resolutions on war-torn Syria and Ukraine.