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France denies Mistral warships to be handed over to Russia in November

media The Mistral-class helicopter carrier Vladivostok at the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire Reuters/Stephane Mahe

France has denied a Russian claim that the first of two warships being built in French shipyards for Moscow is ready to be handed over in mid-November. The US and other Nato countries have criticised the sale because of Russia’s role in Ukraine.

“The conditions have not been met,” Finance Minister Michel Sapin said on Thursday morning.

Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have declared independence in the east and Crimea, must be “returning to normality” and Russia must “play a positive role” in the returning the situation to normal before the Mistral helicopter carriers are handed over, Sapin said.

“In some respects it’s got better, from other points of view there are still concerns, so the conditions have not been met,” he told RTL radio.

On Wednesday Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted what he claimed was an invitation to the handover of the Vladivostok helicopter-carrier at France’s Saint-Nazaire shipyard on 14 November.

Shipbuilders DCNS refused to confirm that the letter was genuine and said that no delivery date could be fixed at the moment.

The contract for the construction and delivery of two Mistrals was signed in June 2011 but has come under fire since the crisis in Ukraine erupted.

Western powers have slapped sanctions on Russia because of its alleged support for the separatists and its effective annexation of Crimea.

"There is a cost of dealing with Russia. It’s not like selling equipment to the Brazilians," comments Tom Withington Editor of ChainHomeHigh and the Asian Military Review.

France deciding to cooperate with Russia, which is a "very unpredictable actor", on arms sales was folly, he told RFI.

"I’m surprised that anybody, in the first place, thought this would be an uncontroversial and easy thing to do."

The vice-president of France’s far-right Front National, whose leader Marine Le Pen has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for putting “the interests of Russia and the Russian people first”, said on Thursday that a failure to deliver the ships would undermine France’s credibility and show it was acting “on the Americans’ orders”.

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