Russian Warship Deal Cancelled, A Cold War Reboot?

Russia’s isolation from the West has deepened now that France has cancelled a deal to provide Russia with two Mistral class warships. The deal was cancelled last November in the wake of Russia’s actions in Crimea and has been a diplomatic sore point between France and Russia ever since.

CNN reports that the deal would still have been allowed to go ahead despite the sanctions applied after Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea. The sanctions included an embargo on arms trading, which would include warships, but did not affect deals that had already been in place. The French government, under Nicholas Sarkozy, had undertaken to deliver the two warships, with an option of two more, back in 2011.

This would mean that current President Francois Hollande’s decision to cancel the deal was very much a political one. France, being a key member state of the European Union, would have been instrumental in the EU’s courtship of the Ukraine, the situation which helped to spark the diplomatic spat that prompted Russia to snatch the Crimea from the Ukraine. As a purely principled decision, it stacks up well. It is very difficult to see it as anything but economically disadvantageous to France.

Reuters reports that the cancelled deal will cost the French Government in the region of $1.3 billion in compensation. In addition, keeping the warships docked and serviced is estimated to cost approximately $1 million per month. On top of this, global economic conditions make it unlikely that France will be able to find a buyer for two state-of-the-art amphibious warships anytime soon. It would seem that, from a financial point of view, this deal has been a colossal waste of time and treasure.

There are other consequences as well. The purchase of the two warships was Russia’s first significant military investment since the end of the Cold War and, obviously, its first major military purchase from a Western country since the end of World War II. At the time, the deal was touted enthusiastically as solid confirmation that the Cold War and its after-effects were well and truly over, and France took great public pride in being the instrument of this practical detente. France itself, under its obligations to provide technical support for the completed warships, would have had a unique opportunity to explore interoperability with Russia as well as gaining much-needed insight into her military and technical capabilities. All this is gone now, as Russia’s various acts of aggression have brought relations with the West to their lowest point since the height of the Cold War. Many analysts worry that, left unchecked, this trajectory of isolation will, in fact, bring us back to a situation very similar, if not identical, to the Cold War itself. In fact, some analysts suggest that “Cold War 2.0” has already begun.

What do you think? Do you believe that the cancelled deal is one sign of an undeclared Cold War?

[Picture courtesy of Ludovic Peron]