Russian sailors in limbo in French port after sensitive warship deal put on hold

  • Article by: Associated Press
  • Updated: September 5, 2014 - 2:10 PM

SAINT-NAZAIRE, France — Scores of Russian sailors are training on a French warship in an Atlantic port even though its transfer to the Russian Navy is now in doubt.

About 150 Russian Navy servicemen fanned out Friday around the highly secured site where the French ship is being completed. They have been in the town of Saint-Nazaire for weeks to train on the helicopter carrier, called the Vladivostok.

The French government put the delivery of the controversial ship on hold this week because of Russia's role in Ukraine's conflict. It's the biggest arms sale by a NATO country to Russia.

French President Francois Hollande said Friday that he would reassess the deal in late October, and insisted on a lasting cease-fire and political settlement in Ukraine.

Alexandre Orlov, Russia's ambassador to France, said it's time to "de-dramatize the situation" over the warship, insisting Moscow wanted it for its multiple capabilities — such as a seaborne hospital or for rescue missions.

In an interview with France's Europe-1 radio, he said the vessel was not a "decisive" weapon, and Russia had initially agreed to buy it three years ago to "lend a hand" to France in its domestic job-creation ambitions.

"It's more for France — a nice and friendly country for us — that we made this gesture," Orlov said. "That's why, now when this story of the Mistral is presented as a central issue in the world, it's not at all true."

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