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The Helicopter Carriers of Cherbourg?

France owes Russia some helicopter carriers. Will it let an unprovoked annexation of a foreign country stand in the way?

We’ve seen this movie before, as an action flick. Now it is been remade as a black comedy. In 1968, France placed an arms embargo on Israel for a raid on the Beirut airport; but with the boats paid for, Israeli commandos stole them from their berths in Cherbourg. As for today:

[France] has not imposed an arms embargo, impounded the ships, or otherwise iced the deal. Indeed, France’s foreign minister has suggested that he would only cancel the contract if Russia conquers more of Ukraine. Perhaps since one of the ships is called the Sevastopol, La Defense thinks it an appropriate conquest present. In any case, the ships are only due to be delivered next year, by which point all this will blow over, though the vessels may be useful for Russia’s cherished dream of reconnecting Kaliningrad.

As for France’s arms embargo of Israel–that came to an end just three years ago, after 42 years. It’s good for Russia that Putin seized a peninsula, not an airport.

I have no truck with comparisons of Putin’s authoritarian nationalism to the Soviet Union’s totalitarian, international communism. Still, I am reminded of the end of Brodsky’s “Flight from Byzantium,” where he sees the “carriers of the Third Rome sailing slowly through the gates of the Second [via the Black Sea] on their way to the First [the West].” But somehow strangely in reverse.

Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, and an expert on constitutional and international law. He also writes and lectures frequently about the Arab-Israel conflict.



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