French National Assembly backs Russian Mistral sale cancellation
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The lower house of the French parliament has approved the scrapping of the sale of two Mistral warships to Russia because of Moscow's involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
The National Assembly on Thursday approved the deal the government struck with Russian President Vladimir Putin's Russia in August to cancel the sale and pay back the 949.7 million euros Moscow had paid in advance of delivery of the two helicopter carriers.
The debate was poorly attended - 13 MPs voted for, eight against and two abstained - and saw the hard left agree with the right in opposing the decision.
The original sale, in 2011 under right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy, was a "risky gamble", Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius told MPs, claiming that the government had "handled a difficult situation as well as possible".
Nicolas Dhuicq, from Sarkozy's party, the Republicans, did not agree, describing the cancellation as a "new slap in the face" for Russia.
The total price should have been 1.2 billion euros and the government hopes to recover most of the money by selling the ships to another country, perhaps Egypt.
Front National-aligned MP Gilbert Collard predicted that the total loss would come to 300 million euros and slammed a decision that, he claimed, showed that France was following the orders of the Americans.
For the hard-left Left Front's Patrice Carvalho, the government was taking an Atlantacist line "inherited from the Cold War".
He denounced the "hypocrisy" of scrapping the Mistral sale while exporting military hardware to "several authoritarian regimes, Saudi Arabia to start with".
The ruling Socialist Party claims that relations with Russia are improving now because, it says, the Minsk peace agreement on Ukraine is being respected by all sides.