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France may never deliver Russia’s Mistral warships, defence minister

media The Vladivostok at the Saint-Nazaire shipyard in Brittany Reuters/Stephane Mahe

France may never deliver the Mistral warships it has built for Russia, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday. Moscow’s foreign affairs minister hit back with a reminder of France’s “contractual obligations”, while President François Hollande criticised Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s criticisms of the West.

The first of the Mistrals, Vladivostok, was due to be delivered last month but, under pressure from the US and some European states, Hollande suspended delivery over Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict “until further notice”.

“We may never deliver, the Russians have to recognise this situation,” Le Drian told BFMTV on Friday. “We can’t envisage delivery in the present conditions of tension.”

In Basel, Switzerland, for a European security conference, Russian Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov warned France its reputation was on the line.

"I am a little fed up with this question. It is not our problem any more, it is a problem of France's reputation. They have to fulfill all the obligations under the contract," he told journalists.

The response in Moscow was calmer.

"We'll wait patiently... So far we are not filing a claim anywhere," Deputy Defence Minister Yury Borisov told state media.

Hollande has repeatedly said the ceasefire in Ukraine must be fully respected before the first ship can be handed over.

A Russian-brokered truce collapsed on 5 September but a new one, due to come into operation on 9 December, was signed on Thursday.

Putin on Thursday accused Western powers of destabilising his country and trying to create a “new Iron Curtain”.

On a two-day visit to Kazakhstan, a neighbour and ally or Russia, Hollande told Putin that “tension and pressure are never the answer” and called on him to “turn to the future”.

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