Egypt buys Mistral warships originally built for Russia from France

The two Mistral-class helicopter carriers Sevastopol (Bottom) and Vladivostok are seen at the STX Les Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard site in Saint-Nazaire, western France © Stephane Mahe
The ill-fated Mistral helicopter carriers, which France refused to hand over to Russia due to the Ukrainian crisis, have been sold to Egypt by Paris for a reported €950 million.

“We unwound the contract we had with Russia, on good terms, respectful of Russia and not suffering any penalty for France,” French President Francois Hollande said as he arrived at an EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

“Yesterday, I agreed the price and conditions of this sale with (Egyptian) President (Abdel Fattah al-) Sisi and so France will ensure the delivery of these ships without losing anything, while helping protect Egypt,” he added.

The contract was agreed upon at a high-profile meeting between French and Egyptian representatives in Paris.

Hollande didn’t reveal the price of the deal, but a French Defense Ministry source told Reuters that it was worth about €950 million.

This is the same sum that Paris paid to Moscow in August as compensation for cancelling the Mistral deal.

Unlike the agreement with Russia, the Egyptian contract will not include any technological transfer.

“The ships should be handed over in early March after the training of about 400 Egyptians and some final tests,” the source said.

The Mistral carriers are each capable of hosting up to 16 helicopters and 1,000 troops, but Paris and Cairo have not yet discussed potential armament for the warships, it added.

READ MORE: Putin, Hollande officially cancel Mistral contract, Paris to pay less than €1.2bn

A diplomatic source told the agency that Egypt plans to base one ship in the Mediterranean and another in the Red Sea to be used for future operations in Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels.

It had earlier been reported that several countries, including Canada, India, Singapore and Egypt, had been interested in purchasing the carriers, which were originally built for the Russians.

Egypt eventually snatched the deal, but negotiations between the two sides nearly broke down last week, when Paris and Cairo could not agree on a price, reported La Tribune newspaper.

READ MORE: Putin, Hollande officially cancel Mistral contract, Paris to pay less than €1.2bn

The original Mistrals contract, worth €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion), was signed by France’s DCNS/STX and Russia’s Rosoboronexport in 2011.

The contract specified that two French helicopter carriers would be delivered to Russia, the first in 2014 and the second in 2015.

Russia was to partly manufacture the vessel hulls and provide its own military electronic equipment for the warships.

However, the French government decided not to deliver the vessels to Moscow after coming under intense political pressure from the US and its European allies following Crimea’s reunification with Russia and the outbreak of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Had the agreement been fulfilled, it would have been one of the greatest arms sales ever to have taken place between Russia and a NATO member.