Saint-Nazaire, a shipbuilding city on the Atlantic coast southwest of Paris, is used to seeing sailors from around the world. But few have been the subject of as much interest and debate as those who arrived here last month to begin training on the first of two warships built for the Russian Navy by France.Thus writes Maïa de la Baume in the New York Times, regarding France's sale of untra-tech Mistral vessels to Russia.
Even before the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over Ukraine put new pressure on Europe to impose stiffer sanctions on Russia, France’s decision to proceed with the sale of the warships to Moscow and to train the Russian Navy in how to operate them had prompted opposition and concern from the United States and other nations.Reminder: Eastern Europe Leaders Protest Paris's Sale of High-Tech Mistral Warships to Russia
Now, with much of Europe showing signs of taking a harder line with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Saint-Nazaire has become a symbol of the difficult trade-off between diplomatic and national concerns on the one hand and jobs and an economic future on the other.The challenge facing France is one that many European nations are grappling with: Is Britain willing to risk the huge sums of Russian money that flow through London’s financial district? Is Germany willing to endanger the supply of natural gas from Russia?But in few places is the trade-off quite as stark or direct as it is here. Like many shipbuilding centers, Saint-Nazaire has fallen on hard times. The unemployment rate is around 14 percent. In 2009, the main shipbuilder, STX France, put half the shipyard’s 2,500 employees on reduced hours, forcing them to take partial unemployment benefits.In that kind of climate, the $1.6 billion deal signed in 2011 by President Nicolas Sarkozy to build two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships for Russia, and to train the Russians in operating them, was viewed here as a triumph. The Russian sailors are now in Saint-Nazaire to train on the first of the ships, the Vladivostok, which is scheduled for delivery in November. The second, the Sevastopol, is scheduled for delivery next year.
… Christophe Morel, a union delegate at the STX France shipyard … downplayed political concerns about the French contract with Russia, calling the Vladivostok a “big ferry” with minor advanced technology and “few weapons” onboard. (It is designed to carry up to 30 helicopters, 60 armored vehicles, 13 tanks and 700 soldiers.)
… Emmanuel Gaudez, a spokesman for DCNS, the naval shipbuilder that supervised the deal, declined to offer any details on what the Russians were doing. “We have decided to take a low profile,” he said. “It is a highly political case,” he said.