The history of contemporary relations between France and Russia demonstrates a mutually beneficial character of cooperation due to, first of all, availability of advanced technologies and desire to sell its products in global markets with one party (French industrialists get 40 % of their income from export sales), and huge financial capabilities, an impressive domestic consumer market and consumers of their products in the world market, for the other party.
Before the conflict in Ukraine began, Paris was one of the most important partners for Moscow in Europe in the sphere of MTC being the main source of modern military technologies. Thus, the French company Thales took a significant part in providing state-of-the-art equipment to Russian military. Avionics parts of this company (HUD3022 collimator sight, as well as SMD55S multi-functional full-colour liquid crystal displays) were integrated into Russian Su-30SM2 fighters and Su-34 strike fighters, as well as export modification of Su-30 fighter family, which were supplied to India, Malaysia, China, Algeria, Indonesia, Vietnam and Venezuela. The French Damocles targeting pods and NAVFLIR forward-looking infra-red day/night vision and target designators were installed on Su-30MKM multi-purpose fighters exported to Malaysian Air Force.
The joint venture established on the basis of JSC "Volzhsky Optical and Mechanical Plant" (VOMZ), a part of Schwabe holding and Thales Optronics, produced Catherine FC thermal imaging devices, which were further used to develop "Essa", "Plisa" and "Sosna-U" sighting systems produced for the Russian armoured vehicles, including T-72B3 tanks and export versions of T-90S (exported to India, Algeria and Azerbaijan). And since 2012 Russia was able to produce 3rd-generation of Catherine XP cameras based on QWIP matrix technology.
Thales company also supplied Topsight helmet-mounted sight system for MiG-29K carrier-based fighter pilots, the aircraft being the mainstay of INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier air group (the former Russian Admiral Gorshkov cruiser).
Besides, the French industrial conglomerate SAFRAN continues to be active in Russia, taking the leading position in the Russian market, offering joint solutions in partnership with Russian airspace industry companies, as well as defence and security industrial enterprises. In addition to supply CFM56 and LEAP engines for Russian civil airlines and participation in the designing and production of SaM146 engine developed by Snecma and NPO "Saturn" companies for Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional aircraft, one of the companies of the group is involved also in military projects. Thus, at the end of 2011, Sagem company together with Russian OJSC "Rosoboronexport" and CJSC "Inertial Technologies of Technocomplex" established a joint venture "RS Alliance" in order to develop, manufacture and service laser inertial navigation systems in Russia. The new company developed "Linsey-100RS" system for use in helicopters and aircraft including fifth-generation fighters and the Russian Ka-52 helicopter, as well as for foreign customers. By 2020, "RS Alliance" planned to take 70-75 % of the market of military airborne navigation systems produced by Russia. The annual turnover of the joint venture was to be € 25 to 30 million.
One of the most striking examples of MTC between the two countries was the signing in 2011 of an intergovernmental contract for construction of four "Mistral" type amphibious assault ships (AAS) for the Russian Navy. In the same year the French shipbuilding company DCNS and Russian OJSC "Rosoboronexport" signed a contract for the construction of two "Mistral" ships for the Russian Navy – by 2014 and 2015 respectively. The contract value amounted to approximately € 1.2 billion and implied, in part, the transfer of modern technologies to Russia. However, because of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the contract was cancelled in 2014 and the ships were sold to Egypt in 2015.
Nevertheless, the significance of the military political and technical cooperation of the two countries should not be overestimated. Thus, in 2004-2013 Russia was only the tenth largest importer of WME from France, outrun even by Singapore.
In spite of that, both the French and Russians have much to lose. The restrictions imposed by the EU as a result of aggression against Ukraine demanding the suspension of joint projects with Russia, strongly influenced the development of bilateral relations. It was the collaboration with the French Thales and SAFRAN conglomerate, that made Russian weapons and equipment more competitive and modern. This fact is very well known both in Moscow and in Paris.
The shock of the French caused by the aggressive actions of the Kremlin in Ukraine quickly receded to the background, to be replaced it again by the desire to resume cooperation including in the military sphere. And Russia has actively promoted this feeling, pursuing an aggressive lobbyist policy in France using the whole arsenal of means and KGB techniques to achieve its goals.
So, in order to solve the problem of MTC restrictions with France, Russian producers are trying to promote direct purchase by India of French spare parts for Su-30MKI fighters and T-90S tanks. For the same reason a joint Russian-Algerian venture was founded in late 2014 in Algeria to assemble 200 T-90C tanks. At that, Thales company, according to some reports, has agreed to supply components for them only if they are assembled in Algeria. Besides, the option of using Belorussian loophole both by Russians and the French in order to carry out export contracts to supply armoured vehicles should not be ruled out. OJSC "Peleng" (Minsk, Belarus) in close cooperation with the French company Thales, which has lasted for over 10 years, produces thermal imaging sights for gunners "Essa" (for T-90S), "Plisa" (for T-80U), "Essa-72" (for T-72), "Vesna-K" (for BMP-3) and "Sosna-U". These devices have already been installed on the vehicles of foreign customers (India, Algeria, Cyprus and other countries). And nothing prevents from doing it now...
Indeed, by supplying equipment for third parties, France does not provide armaments for Russia and formally does not violate the sanctions, however, first, there is no guarantee that "Thales" products will not "accidentally" appear in Russia..., second, by allowing Moscow to carry out export contracts, Paris enables replenishing the Russian financial resources and supporting its defence industries.
The story with the purchase of Mistral amphibious assault ships to Egypt looks like a false-bottomed deal. On the one hand, it seeks to delegate part of efforts of protecting the south-eastern borders of the EU and active peacemaking in the region of Egypt, on the other hand, it looks like a tricky manoeuvre that involves further resale of the ships to Russia. After all, Cairo does not support sanctions against Russia. Most likely, the Kremlin using Cairo puts across a fictitious scheme of purchasing the Mistrals with the support of Paris. Against this background, the request of Egypt to Russia to sell them control and communication systems, as well as Ka-52K helicopters for the Mistrals, as well as the purchase of these two ships, probably with the help of a credit line provided by Russia, seems quite a logical action. Indeed, Egypt has little use for these rather expensive and difficult to operate helicopter carriers.
As a result, Russian specialists will help equip the ships with Russian weapon systems. Consequently, in a year or two Egypt will offer to sell the "second-hand" ships to Russia. As a result of this scam, the Kremlin could acquire sufficient advanced capabilities in the high seas and become an even greater threat not only for Ukraine but for Europe itself.
The fact that the French have nothing against returning to the old cooperation patterns and developing new ones, despite the aggressive actions of the Kremlin, is proved, for instance, by the fact that Yaroslavl radio factory (RF) plans in 2016 to sign a contract with Thales Alenia Space to manufacture satellite components. The contract may be signed just in June and will enhance the production of devices to be used both in Russia and in the whole world. However, every expert is aware that in Russia even civil satellites can be used for a wide range of assignments including military ones. Thales management, as well as the official Paris, cannot be unaware of that. The peaceful space for Russia has always been a fiction...
According to Paris, "sanctions did not affect Moscow's position in the Ukrainian crisis and the restrictions imposed on Russia deteriorate relations with Russian business and the people and is altogether detrimental for European producers". In other words, following the French logics, if anyone committed murder or robbery and the sentence of imprisonment did not affect him, then we had better let him go in peace, forget the past and continue cooperation with him?