PARIS — France is offering to send warplanes to help provide air patrols over the Baltic states and Poland, officials said Friday, amid growing tensions between the West and Russia and despite a looming big-ticket military deal between Paris and Moscow.
Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, visiting NATO allies Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, announced France's willingness to support an alliance air-patrol mission in the Baltic states. The announcement suggested France was lining up with the most hawkish countries in the European Union over Russia's attempt to annex the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine — a move that has spooked some other former Soviet republics that are now independent nations.
The offer echoed those of the United States and Britain.
"France has heard the requests of its allies, and I told my Estonian colleague that France is ready to strengthen air defenses ... by sending four fighters from the French air force," Le Drian told reporters in the Estonian capital, Tallinn.
A French contribution could also include air support for fellow NATO member Poland, and include warplanes, AWACs surveillance aircraft and radar, a French defense official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Le Drian said the AWACs would operate out of bases near the crisis area — "particularly in Poland and Romania."
Despite the tensions, officials in Paris have said that France still plans to go through with a three-year-old deal to provide two warships to Russia — the first of which is set for delivery in October. The 1.2-billion-euro ($1.6-billion) deal marked the biggest-ever sale of NATO military hardware to Moscow.
Jari Tanner contributed from Tallinn, Estonia.