Defying U.S. and NATO pressure to cancel its $1.6 billion sale of two Mistral warships to Russia, French President François Hollande has said that the first will be delivered in October, while the delivery of the second would "depend on Russia's attitude."
PARIS — France simply cannot deliver two Mistral warships to Russia. Doing that would be like our country selling cannons to 1936 or 1938 Nazi Germany.
Selling warships to Russian President Vladimir Putin would be in stark contrast with President François Hollande's Russian stance since his election in May 2012, long before Moscow’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. This deal would be a violation of our principles, of our values and of the consistency of our foreign policy.
Someone needs to say this and sweep away any arguments to the contrary.
Some people claim that we are bound by the letter of a standing contract. Raising questions about the deal, they say, would undermine the state's basic credibility. Can we take this argument seriously when Russia violates international law? The current context also requires us to question it, because armament contracts should never be considered as regular ones.
These people, then, talk about penalties if the deal falls through. Can we really point out this financial argument, while our values — as well as people's lives — are on the line? This would simply be pathetic.
They claim we should keep the best interests of our shipyards at heart and not drive workers to despair. Again, this argument doesn't hold up. After making the necessary changes, we could very well deliver the warships to our own navy, or work on finding other purchasers seduced by the operational quality of our helicopter carriers. These new partners should be NATO forces in the first place. It is always better to cancel a contract than to relinquish your soul.
Setting the standard
The third argument often expressed in favor of this French-Russian deal is the following: Why should France suffer from the sanctions policy when the U.S., Britain and Germany are trying to avoid its consequences, under the influenced of powerful lobbies?
Of course, we must condemn the hypocrisy of others and push for these sanctions to be shared fairly among EU countries and the U.S. But we also we need to remain a model, an example to follow. We need to show a united front, particularly in Europe. The European Union's collective credibility is at stake, along with its dignity and efficiency against a dangerous regime.
Pressure from the U.S. and other countries is unacceptable. We shouldn't obey their decree, which isn't disinterested. These pressures are clumsy, to say the least. Yet these positions were very clear as soon as negotiations started between Moscow and Paris regarding the sale of these Mistrals.
Considering the Georgian precedent, this deal should have never happened. But there is a strong competition on arms sales between France and the U.S., a rivalry that isn't always fair. We must talk about it openly with our American allies.
Given the current state of affairs, the sale takes on a specific dimension. There used to be a ban on weaponry sales to Soviet Russia. When Putin threatens security and freedom in Europe, when troops he helped arm slaughter citizens from allied countries and freedom fighters, we must enact this ban again.
Delivering these helicopter carriers would also go against the urgent necessity to reinforce NATO, which must be a framework in which we can openly and frankly discuss weaponry contracts.
Rational about Russia
Other supporters of the deal claim that, at this point, we should keep it as a means to pressure Russia to adopt a more cooperative attitude. This would be particularly short-sighted. Can we realistically think that Russia will radically change its foreign policy by October? Imagining that such a shift is possible in two months is nothing more than false naivety.
Finally, the last argument — and also the most strategic — suggests that we must spare our mid-term and long-term relationship with Russia and not exclude ourselves from a necessary dialogue with Moscow. Sure, we would like a conciliatory Russia. But let's be rational. It's an isolated country and it needs the EU even more to face China"s pressure on its southeastern front and the instability of the Caucasian Republics southwest of its borders.
For economic, demographic, institutional and intellectual reasons, Russia will become a second-rate power in a few decades. Putin's nationalist policy is a doomed-to-fail attempt to erase this reality, both at home and abroad.
What's worse is that this policy is tragic for the future of Russian people. Capitals and elites are fleeing the country. Civil society would never understand it if we were too lenient with an entire nation's oppressor, just to spare an uncertain future. We would be forgetting the memory of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova, and so many other martyrs who fought for freedom.
Russia now represents the biggest threat to Europe's security. The time has come for us, French and Europeans, to say "stop."
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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