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French warship sale to Russia to go ahead despite US pressure

People vote in the referendum on leaving Ukraine in Donetsk
People vote in the referendum on leaving Ukraine in Donetsk Reuters/Marko Djurica

France is to go ahead with the sale of two warships to Russia, despite Western sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis. About 400 Russian sailors are to come to France for training in June.

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The Mistral helicopter-carriers are not covered by the current level of sanctions and they will be delivered, official sources told the Reuters news agency on Monday, adding that the sanction would be against France if the 1.2-billion-euro sale does not go ahead.

President François Hollande during a visit to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday said that the contract was still on “for now”.

It would mean about 1,000 jobs for the Saint Nazaire shipyards in Brittany, western France, with one ship, the Vladivistok, due to be delivered at the end of the year and the other, the Sebastapol, in 2016.

About 400 Russian sailors are set to come to France in June to receive training on manning the Mistrals.

Russia in March made it clear that it would expect to be compensated if the contract is scrapped.

US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland last week said that Washington had “regularly and consistently” expressed concern about the sale, a claim denied by French officials.

Former human rights minister Rama Yade, a member of the opposition centre-right UDI party, on Sunday slammed Hollande’s “realpolitik”.

“We have a responsibility to stand by the Ukrainians against Russia,” she told France 5 television.

Hollande, who started a tour of former Soviet states in the Caucasus on Sunday, declared that the referendums organised by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine had “no legitimacy and no legality”.

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