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France sells Russia-bound warships to Egypt

Deal for two vessels worth $1.3 bn is second time in a year that Egypt has bought French military hardware after original deals fell through
The two warships can each transport 16 helicopters, 13 tanks and up to 700 soldiers (AFP)

France has agreed to sell Egypt two warships worth over a billion dollars’ after a deal to sell them to Russia fell through due to the crisis in Ukraine.

French President Francois Hollande and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are agreed on the “terms of acquisition” of two Mistral warships by Egypt, Hollande’s office announced on Wednesday.

France had originally inked a deal worth $1.3 billion with Russia for the sale of the warships, which are Mistral-class helicopter carriers built specifically for the Russian navy.

The deal was agreed between former French president Nicholas Sarkozy and his counterpart Vladimir Putin in 2011, and construction began soon afterwards.

One of the state-of-the-art ships, the Vladivostok, is ready for action, while the other, the Sevastopol, is reportedly half-finished.

The deal with Russia fell apart in November 2014 when current French premier Manuel Valls announced he would delay delivery of the ships until a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebels are fighting the Kiev government, was being respected.

Paris agreed six weeks ago to reimburse Moscow for the cost of the scrapped deal.

The bill for cancelling the deal could end up costing Paris almost double the original value of the contract, according to local news site Canard Enchaine.

According to the paper, which is known for its investigative reporting, additional costs to the French government for scrapping the deal could include an extra €200 million for “derussification” of the ships, meaning removing all traces of their original acquisition by the Russian navy.

Each 180-metre ship is capable of transporting 16 helicopters, 60 armoured vehicles, 13 tanks and up to 700 soldiers, and is equipped with an on-board military hospital.

Wednesday’s announcement about the sale did not indicate how much Cairo will pay for the juggernauts.

The new deal with Egypt may be taken as a further vote of confidence by France to the country’s current rulers, who are battling to stabilise a stagnant economy while also conducting wide-scale military operations against militant activity.

The deal is the second time in a year that Egypt has purchased military hardware from France after other deals fell through.

In February Egypt announced it was buying 24 French-produced Rafale fighter jets, at a cost of up to $6 billion.

The deal was the first successful export contract for the planes, which France has been producing since the 1980s, after agreements with countries including Morocco, the UAE, India and Saudi Arabia fell through.

According to Anthony Dworkin, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, the deal represented “the partial rehabilitation of President Sisi and a growing acceptance of his leadership”.

Sisi came to power following a popularly backed coup against Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

In the aftermath of his power grab Egypt was suspended from some international bodies, and was the subject of a US arms freeze.

In the succeeding years, though, Egypt’s diplomatic relations have mostly returned to normal and arms sales have resumed.

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