MOSCOW, July 1 (RIA Novosti) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday Russia was aware the United States is pressuring France over a deal to build Mistral warships for Russia, and views it as blackmail.
“What is being done now with the French banks causes nothing but outrage in Europe and in our [country] as well,” Putin said at a meeting with Russian ambassadors and permanent envoys.
“We are aware of the pressure that our American partners exert on France with a purpose of not to deliver the Mistral warships to Russia. And we know even that the United States hinted that if the French do not deliver the Mistrals, then sanctions will gradually be lifted from the banks, or at least be reduced to minimum. If this is not blackmail, then what is it?” Putin said.
French banking giant BNP Paribas earlier agreed to pay US authorities $8.97 billion in settlements for violating sanctions against Cuba, Iran and Sudan. Two other major French banks, Societe Generale and Credit Agricole are currently being investigating for similar violations.
The US has been opposing the sale of Mistral warships to Russia, saying it would boost Russia’s military power, and has repeatedly urged France to back out of the deal.
In June, however, the French authorities confirmed France would meet its obligations under the contract with Russia despite pressure from the US and other EU countries.
Following the announcement US President Barack Obama expressed concern about France’s decision.
Russia and France signed a contract for two Mistral-class helicopter carriers for $1.6 billion in June 2011.
Under the contract, the first French Mistral-class amphibious assault ship, the Vladivostok, is to be delivered to Russia by the end of the year, while the second ship, the Sevastopol, is due to arrive next year.
The ships are capable of carrying 16 helicopters, four landing craft, 70 armored vehicles and 450 soldiers, and are expected to be deployed with Russia’s Pacific Fleet.