French President François Hollande announced the suspension "until further notice," for now ending months of speculation about the deal amid mounting tensions between Russia and the West. Mr. Hollande has said delivery of the Vladivostok helicopter carrier can't begin until a Sept. 5 cease-fire agreement is implemented between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
But Tuesday's statement, like a previous suspension of the delivery, stopped short of canceling the deal entirely. The French government appears reluctant to give up a contract worth 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 billion) and thousands of jobs at a time of slow economic growth, The Associated Press reports.
The sale of two Mistral helicopter carriers – another was slated for delivery next year – would be the biggest arms sale ever by a NATO country to the Kremlin.
The AP reports that the first of the two ships, the Vladivostok, is docked at the French port city of Saint-Nazaire, where about 400 Russian sailors have spent months training on it. The second ship, named the Sevastopol, recently arrived at Saint-Nazaire for finishing touches.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio on Tuesday that the terms for handing over the warships "have not been met," according Bloomberg. He called Russia's suspected presence in eastern Ukraine "unacceptable."
"We are satisfied, it is the French who are not satisfied, and we are going to patiently wait," said Yury Brosiov, according to AP. "Everything is spelled out in the contract, and we are going to act in accord to the contract like all civilized people."
Mr. Brosiov statement marks a significant departure from the Kremlin's stance earlier this month. Just a couple of weeks ago, an unidentified Russian source told RIA Novosti that Moscow would seek compensation from France if the first Mistral were not delivered by the end of November. As Reuters reported:
With the situation worsening on the ground in Ukraine, France has again come under fire over the deal, while Moscow has tried to drive a wedge between Paris and its allies on the issue knowing that failure to deliver the carriers could damage France's image at a time when it is finalising other military contracts.
"Today, the conditions to deliver the Mistral aren't there," [French Prime Minister Manuel] Valls told reporters. "France honours its contracts, but France is a nation that counts, wants peace in Ukraine and that makes sovereign decisions without anybody from outside dictating how it acts."
Meanwhile, Russia plans to send 100 trucks with more than 1,000 tons of humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine on Nov. 28, its eighth convoy to the region, RIA Novosti reported Tuesday.