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Don’t mention the Mistrals - Hollande, Putin discuss Ukraine but not warship delivery at G20

French President François Hollande with Russia's Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Brisbane
French President François Hollande with Russia's Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Brisbane Reuters/Alain Jocard/Pool

Presidents Vladimir Putin and François Hollande did not even mention the controversial Mistral warships France is building for Russia during a meeting at the G20 summit in Australia on Saturday. Putin aides said he would leave the summit early because has been cold-shouldered by Western leaders over the Ukraine crisis.

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The Mistrals’ delivery date has become a point of friction in the light of Western sanctions on Moscow over its support for rebels in Ukraine.

France has come under pressure from the US and other countries not to deliver the warships, despite a contract with the Russian navy.

A “highly placed” source in Moscow told Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency on Friday that the French have until November to deliver the first Mistral or face “serious” demands for compensation.

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Prime Minister Manuel Valls hit back with a declaration that France will make its own “sovereign” decisions “without anyone dictating its behaviour from outside”.

“What is essential […] is that we return to the path of peace between Ukraine and Russia,” he said, adding that the prospect seems a long way off.

The US and European Union countries have slapped sanctions on Russia because of its dispute with Ukraine’s government, which has led to the annexation of Crimea and breakaway pro-Russian regions in the east.

Nato this week backed up a Ukrainian claim that Russian troops have moved into the east, despite Moscow’s denials, and more sanctions have been threatened.

The worsening relations have overshadowed the Brisbane G20 summit.

With the press present as their meeting began, Putin told Hollande that everything must be done to reduce the “risks and negative consequences for bilateral relations” but French officials said that the warships were not mentioned during the behind-closed-doors discussion.

Ukraine was, however, taking up 95 per cent of the time, according to the sources who said that Hollande put “very clear questions” and that Putin’s answers were “precise” but “not always convincing”.

A Putin aide later told the AFP news agency that the Russian president, who has received a chilly reception from other leaders present, will attend summit sessions on Sunday but will skip an official lunch and address reporters earlier than planned.

Despite Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s wish that climate change should not be discussed at the summit, French officials said they hoped there would be “ambitious” commitments on the question.

Paris will host an international conference on global warming next year.

US President Barack Obama snubbed Abbott in his address to the G20 by devoting several minutes to climate change.

The G20 meeting on Saturday agreed to tackle the Ebola epidemic in west Africa and revive the world economy.

Hollande is to have seven other bilateral meetings during the G2O, notably meeting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He will then stay in Australia for the first-ever state visit by a French president, before going on to New Caledonia.

Visits to French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna were dropped but the trip will last a week – the longest time Hollande has been away from Paris since becoming president – at a time when his poll-ratings continue to slide and the political scene is troubled by allegations about a presidential aide’s conduct and the killing of a protester by a police stun grenade.
 

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