Hollande willing to block warship sale to Russia

French President François Hollande signaled Monday that he is willing to cancel the sale of a warship to Russia as part of broader economic sanctions following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

“Can the rest of the contract be honored?” Hollande said, according to Bloomberg. "That will depend on Russia’s attitude.” 

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France has a $1.6 billion deal to deliver two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia.

Hollande said only the second of two helicopter carriers being constructed for Russia would be subject to the sanctions, were the European Union to move forward with additional penalties. Russia has already paid for the first of the carriers, which is scheduled for delivery in October, and sanctions cannot be retroactive. 

Attention has focused on the French arms deal after the Malaysian passenger jet was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. 

EU foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss possible penalties against Moscow.

France had previously declined to cancel the sale over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, despite pressure from Western leaders.

"I think it would have been preferable to press the pause button," President Obama said last month ahead of a meeting with Hollande. "President Hollande, so far, has made a different decision."

Obama said he recognized that this was a "big deal" and that "jobs in France are important." He also stressed that a disagreement over the contract did not "negate the broader cooperation we've had with France with respect to its willingness to work with us on sanctions to discourage President Putin from engaging in further destabilizing actions."

But, Obama said, he had concerns "about continuing significant defense deals with Russia at a time when they have violated basic international law and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of their neighbors."

The White House has looked to use the plane crash to galvanize support for tougher sanctions against the Kremlin.

“The international community’s collective head is snapped to attention in terms of focusing on the situation,” press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday. “We anticipate that the increased pressure will be something that President Putin finds more persuasive.”