France cancelled the sale of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia, and now they’re stuck with finding another buyer for two ships they can’t afford to keep for themselves:
The burden of paying for both ships and storing them has come at a economically difficult time for France. Slow economic growth at an average of around 0.3 percent under the strict austerity measures of Hollande’s government have done little to pay down the country’s enormous debt of 98.43 percent of GDP, or $2.2 trillion. A program of high taxes on the wealthy has not helped either, only helping money and business flood out of the country. And with fewer jobs, unemployment has shot up along with welfare payments. That means less public cash to spend on defense items like helicopter landing ships.
To that end, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio Wednesday it was “desirable that we sell them as quickly as possible” and that the government had “several” interested parties. Hollande added to Le Drian’s comments, saying during the opening of the newly expanded Suez Canal in Egypt the country would have “no difficulty in finding a buyer.”
The ships are unlikely to stay in Europe. At the beginning of 2015, Estonia was the only county in Europe that had met NATO’s mandate requiring its members to devote 2 percent of GDP to defense spending.
The smart money says they’ll end up in the Middle East, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Beijing doesn’t already have feelers out, too.