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Russia tells France to hand over warship or return cash

Russian sailors leave Saint-Nazaire in western France, 18 December 2014.
Russian sailors leave Saint-Nazaire in western France, 18 December 2014. Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Russia's government pressured France on Saturday to either hand over the first of two Mistral-class warships it has suspended due to the crisis in Ukraine or pay back the money before the new year.

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"We would be content with either development: the Mistrals or the return of all the invested money," Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yury Borisov told Interfax news agency.

"It doesn't matter if the calendar shows 31 December 2014 or 1 January 2015, but we are waiting for France's decision."

He added that, given a currency crisis that has seen the Russian ruble devalued by 50 percent, taking back the euros "might actually be preferable".

French shipbuilder DCNS signed a 1.2-billion-euro deal with Moscow to build two Mistral warships in 2011, long before Russia's annexation of Crimea and support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Paris now faces the decision of delivering the two ships to Russia and facing the backlash of its Nato allies, or paying potentially heavy fines for failing to honour the contract.

The French government delayed delivery of the first warship "until further notice" after missing the September and then the November 2014 deadlines.

On Thursday, 400 Russian sailors training aboard the first ship in the French port city of Saint-Nazaire left the country.

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