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Valls in Poland to push arms deals as Ukraine crisis drags on

media French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in France's National Assembly.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls began a two-day tour of Poland on Wednesday to reinforce symbolic and economic links between the two countries under the shadow of points of divergence concerning the crisis in Ukraine.

Remarks by Valls and his counterpart Ewa Kopacz in advance of their meeting on Thursday set the tone for talks over the Ukraine crisis and the European Union's position towards Russia.

Valls told Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that EU-imposed economic sactions on Russia were "not an end in themselves" to resolving the Ukraine standoff.

"Our economic relations with Russia are important, and it is in no one's interest for them to deteriorate and to isolate Russia," Valls told the paper. "What we want is dialoge and a return to peace, not to throw oil on the fire."

But Kopacz spoke in favour of upholding and even extending sactions, saying the EU had "to speak in one voice" in dealing with Russia.

"I do not think I need to convince the French prime minister of the need to be firm on sanctions and to extend those already imposed," Kopacz said on the eve of Valls's arrival.

On Wednesday, Valls was to visit a memorial in Gdansk to workers who died during crackdowns on public demonstrations against the Communist regime in 1970 before heading to a new Jewish history museum in Warsaw.

Later in the visit, Valls's agenda involves meetings with public officials and business leaders in which he is expected to push for a contract to build a nuclear power plant and several weapons deals.

The largest concerns a 2.5 billion euro order of 70 multipurpose helicopters to replace the Polish army's Soviet-era fleet.

The largely France-based Airbus Helicopters is competing with American firm Sikorsky and Italo-British builder AgustaWestland for the deal.

French builders Thales, MBDA and DCNS are also hoping to advance contracts to help modernise Poland's air and naval defences.

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