Update on Delivery of Mistral-Class Warship “The Vladilovstok” to Russia: François Hollande’s unilateral “conditions” for delivery, and the high risk of a treacherous fait accompli

French President François Hollande is hoping to be able to deliver “The Vladivostok”, the first of two Mistral-class attack warships with theater-command and coordination capabilities to Russia, in November.

Twice he has lifted suspensions of the delivery imposed because of Russian aggression in the Ukraine, the last time when he invited Vladimir Putin first to the Normandy commenoration exercises on June 6 and then to dinner at the Elysée Palace (the same night he had dinner with President Barack Obama at a restaurant in Paris). Under intense pressure from EU and NATO allies, Hollande “suspended” the delivery of  “The Vladivostok” again on the eve of the adoption of harsher “Stage 3” sanctions on Russia on September 5, 2014. In retrospect, it appears that he did so mainly in order to avoid the inclusion of the Mistral delivery contract on the new sanctions list. In this, at any rate, he succeeded.

Now an invitation to a ceremony at which the first of the two Mistral-class attack warships is to be delivered, dated October 8, 2014, has been made public by a high-ranking Russian military official. Hollande’s government responds that the conditions are not ripe for the delivery of the warship.

The conditions he has stated are that the ceasefire in the Ukriane be fully honored, and that Russia be supporting other provisions of the “peace plan”, by which the Minsk Protocol of September 5 is presumably meant.

The fact that Hollande is even considering delivering the warship to Russia is an appalling commentary on the state of the NATO alliance. As Russian fighters and bombers are carrying out the greatest air maneuvers challenging NATO aircraft perhaps since the end of the Cold War, as Russia has kidnapped an Estonian oficial only days after President Obama’s visit to Estonia, and as Russian President Vladimir Putin sets forth his vision of a blueprint for international law and order (!) in a speech on October 24 in Sochi, Hollande wants to do business as usual with the Russians–even as their troops stand on conquered Ukrainian soil in the Crimea, which they have purported to annex.


(1) Dietrich Alexander, Stefanie Bolzen, and Julia Szyndzielorz, “Nato-Chef droht Putin – “Stärke ist unsere Antwort”; Nato-Chef Stoltenberg will mit Stärke und Innovationen auf die russischen Provokationen an den Grenzen der Allianz reagieren. Das Verhalten der russischen Führung verlange “hohe Alarmbereitschaft”,
Die Welt, 30. Oktober 2014 (14:51 Uhr).

(2) Julia Smirnova (Moskau), “Raketen, Jets, Radare – wie Moskau aufrüstet; Russland verstärkt seine Schlagkraft in Weißrussland und in der Arktis. Moskau fühlt sich von der Nato in die Enge getrieben und reagiert darauf mit harten Worten – und Waffen,” Die Welt, 30. Oktober 2014 (22:49 Uhr).

François Hollande is not a leader which other NATO members can trust to act in the interests of the defense alliance.

The great danger, given the perfidious character which Hollande has already demonstrated in connection with Putin, is that France will deliver “The Valadilovstok” to Russia at sea, presenting NATO and the EU with a fait accompli. This can be easily done, since the French have been training Russian sailors in France at St. Navarre since July in how to operate the ship. All that is needed is for the ship to set to sea, and for another ship to come and pick up the French sailors.

And Voilà! the Mistral-class warship will have been delivered!

Hollande will say that he was only complying with the requirements of the contract for the ship, and that there was no EU regulation or other binding legal order to prevent him from making delivery.

With that, France will have passed on to Russia, the greatest antagonist of the NATO countries of Europe, advances in high technology and battlefield management software and associated systems that is at least 10 or more years further advanced that what Russia now has.

What can NATO or the EU then do?

Once “The Vladilovstok” has been delivered, the second Mistral-class warship (reportedly to be named “The Sevastopol”) will be ready for delivery in a year. Two further Mistral-class ships are then envisioned to be built in St. Petersburg with French assistance.

For the latest news stories, see

(1) AFP, “La livraison du Mistral à la Russie impossible en l’état, selon Paris,” 30 octobre 2014 (Mis à jour à 10:13).

François Hollande avait indiqué le 16 octobre qu’il conditionnait la livraison des bâtiments à la Russie à une application intégrale du plan de paix en Ukraine et à un cessez-le-feu entre l’armée ukrainienne et les séparatistes prorusses «entièrement respecté». Ce cessez-le-feu est violé quasiment chaque jour par les protagonistes du conflit. En septembre le chef de l’Etat français avait indiqué qu’il rendrait sa décision «à la fin du mois d’octobre» en fonction de la situation en Ukraine, où les hostilités dans l’Est ont fait plus de 3 700 morts depuis avril selon l’ONU.

(2) “Les conditions ne sont pas réunies pour livrer le Mistral à la Russie, selon Michel Sapin,” Le Figaro, 30 Octobre 2014 (Mis à jour à 09:27).

(3) Isabelle Lasserre, “Imbroglio franco-russe autour des navires Mistral,” Le Figaro, 29 Octobre 2014, (Mis à jour le 30/10/2014 à 11:18).

(4) Véronique Guillermard, “Mistral russes : Hollande se donne du temps pour trancher,” Le Figaro, 28 Octobre 2014 (Par à jour le 29/10/2014 à 14:36).

See also the stories cited in the article published here yesterday, and in particular the article by Vincent Jaubert, which recounts the history of the whole sordid Mistral affair.

“The End of NATO: France proceeds with plans to deliver the first of two Mistral-class warships to Russia,” The Trenchant Observer, October 29, 2014.

Vincent Jauvert, “Mistral: enquête sur un contrat qui dérange, Le Nouvel Observateur, 10 août 2014.

The bottom line here is that France should not be allowed to unilaterally decide to hand “The Vladilovstok” over to Russia, when doing so would greatly undermine the security of all NATO members, and particularly those in eastern Europe, on what one is almost tempted to call now “the Eastern Front” in the new Cold War.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.