Russian Mistral sailors leave France

18th December 2014, Comments 0 comments

Some 400 Russian sailors training to operate the controversial Mistral-class warship built by France for Russia left the country Thursday as Paris agonises over whether to deliver the high-tech vessel.

In blue uniform and matching berets, the sailors began to board the training ship Smolny, which will take them home from the western French port of Saint-Nazaire.

Last month, French President Francois Hollande pushed back "until further notice" the delivery of the first of the two warships.

The first assault ship -- which can carry 16 helicopters, four landing crafts, 13 tanks, 450 soldiers and a hospital -- was supposed to be delivered in November, according to the original deal signed in 2011.

But as the crisis in Ukraine deepened amid accusations of Russian meddling in the east of the country, Paris came under tremendous pressure from its allies to delay the delivery of the warships.

Hollande faces a serious dilemma over the Mistrals.

France, already struggling economically, could be liable for hefty fines if it breaches the 1.2-billion-euro ($1.5-billion) contract.

But it would also risk the wrath of its allies around the world if it were to deliver the hot-button technology to Russia at a time when Moscow is in the diplomatic deep-freeze over the Ukraine unrest.

© 2014 AFP

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