France says 'several' nations interested in Mistral warships
France's defence minister said on Thursday that "several" countries had expressed an interest in buying its Mistral-class warships, after Paris refused to deliver them to Russia because of the Ukraine crisis.
"A certain number of countries -- there are several -- have made their interest known for these boats," Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio.
Late Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande announced he had clinched a deal with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to withhold the warships in exchange for compensation.
In a deal worth around 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion), France had promised to deliver the two vessels to Moscow but the agreement hit the rocks over Russia's perceived aggression in eastern Ukraine.
Le Drian declined to say exactly how much France had repaid Russia but said Paris could now press on with talking to other interested parties.
"We couldn't do that while the dispute was still ongoing with Russia ... but now there is no more dispute," said Le Drian.
"France will reimburse all the money paid by Russia to acquire these ships," Le Drian pledged.
On Wednesday, Moscow said that France had already paid back the money and it considered the matter closed.
The first Mistral had been due for delivery in 2014, while the second was to be delivered this year.
But with Russia and the West still locked in their worst standoff since the Cold War, France's Western partners said any delivery of ships would undermine their efforts to isolate Moscow over its 2014 annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and its support for separatists in Ukraine's east.
Earlier this year, Hollande said that the conditions for delivery of the ships were "still not right".
In April, in a sign that the deal was on rocky ground, Putin had downplayed the importance of the ships but insisted that the French side reimburse Moscow "all expenses" if the contract were to be terminated.
© 2015 AFP