Fotios Tsarouhis
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Fotios Tsarouhis in "Profit is sweet, even if it comes from deception." - Sophocles,

France turns on Russian sanctions in fierce game of Battleship

The first chink in the sanctions the West armored itself with in the standoff against Russia appeared this past week when French Ambassador to the Russian Federation Jean-Maurice Ripert announced to the press that “sanctions are not meant to last long, they should be suspended”, advocating for “peaceful solutions” which he claimed are coming to fruition.

Economic sanctions have a record of limited success when dealing with large-scale international issues, perhaps most notoriously in Iraq, where they exacerbated problems between the U.S. and its allies and the regime of Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, ultimately leading to the second Gulf War. However, notable exceptions exist, most strikingly in the case of South Africa where, in an end-run around President Ronald Reagan, a bipartisan supermajority of Congress starved the Afrikaners from trade and brought about collapse of apartheid. In recent years the sanctions against Iran have been both criticized for ineffectiveness and credited for bringing the new Rouhani government to the negotiating table: the jury remains out as the U.S. and Europe slog through talks.

The problem remains that Tehran in 2013 and Moscow in 2014 exist in a markedly different world than Johannesburg did in 1986. The interconnectedness of the world today, especially Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and the Middle East, spell out problems for those who would pursue sanctions for an extended period of time. The French know this and are acting on it, fearing a standoff that could damage its interests – not to mention the interests of the union on which they bet their francs.

Expressing hope that France would "come out of this sanctions cycle in a very close future", Ripert signaled the economic pitfalls for prolonged sanctions. The turnaround comes as France begins to get nervous over a $1.6 billion deal for two Mistral-class ships in signed in June 2011. The first of the two helicopter carriers, the Vladivostok, was expected in Russia this year, and the second, the Sevastopol, was slated for a 2015 delivery. Following the crisis in Ukraine, the French threatened to cancel the contract in uneasy string of statements that included President François Hollande declaring that there was no way the first carrier could be delivered on schedule before qualifying it with ambiguous assurances that the contract was not necessarily void.

The nervous nuance did little to discourage Russian concerns; on September 3rd, the Moscow Times announced that the project had been canceled.

Now, facing Russian threats of penalties for the cancellation and a vow from Moscow that they will go it alone in the event of Gallic back out, the palais de l'Élysée sees the sanctions blocking their way to a deal and is furiously backpedaling.

Perhaps the deeply unpopular President with an approval of 13 percent amongst his fellow Frenchmen and Frenchwomen can’t afford to lose a critical deal for a country self-conscious of their diminished role in the twenty-first century. However no one can credit Hollande with decisiveness, which may be why even his own Socialist Party seems to have the knives out for him.

Thank God they never had to sell warships to Cape Town.