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RUSSIA

Russian sailors in France under warship deal

Some 400 Russian sailors arrived on Monday in France where they were to undergo training as part of a controversial warship €1.2 billion deal between Paris and Moscow. The deal comes as the crisis in the Ukraine rumbles on and has drawn the ire of the US government.

Russian sailors in France under warship deal
One of the warships that France is selling to Russia, much to the concern of the international commnity, in particular the US. Photo: AFP

France had gone ahead with the sale of two Mistral warships to Russia, despite calls from NATO and the United States to hold off on the €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) deal over the crisis in Ukraine.

During their training, the 400 sailors will be staying onboard a Russian ship docked behind one of the two Mistral helicopter carriers.

France agreed the sale under a 2011 contract, with the first vessel due for delivery in October and the second in 2015.

The Mistral, the second largest ship in the French navy, is a high-seas military base that can transport up to 16 helicopters, four landing craft, 60 armed vehicles and some 700 troops.

France has said it is leaving the door open to re-examining the $1.6 billion contract in October, when the first warship is scheduled for delivery to the Russian fleet.

Since Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, Washington has voiced repeated objections to the deal, but Russia has stressed that France would face heavy penalties if the deal is scrapped.

"We have regularly and consistently expressed our concerns about this sale even before we had the latest Russian actions and we will continue to do so," Assistant Secretary for Europe Victoria Nuland told US lawmakers ahead of a visit to Washington by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in May.

US lawmakers also pushed for France to halt the sale, saying it would be a clear sign of global anger at what they said was the "aggression" of Russian President Vladimir Putin toward Ukraine.

"If we increase NATO defense spending while joining in a coordinated embargo on all arms sales to Russia, including halting the sale of two French-built Mistral amphibious ships, it will send a clear message to Putin that he will not be allowed to trample on the rights of his neighbors," Congressman Eliot Engel, a Democrat, told the House Foreign Affairs committee.

"I'm not here to bash the French, but I think this is a time when the French could stop that sale from happening and send a very strong message to the Russians," added Republican lawmaker Adam Kinzinger.

But French officials reacted with astonishment, denying that US officials had expressed worries over the contract.

"The United States, like the Europeans, have never voiced privately any concerns about this," a French government official told AFP, asking not to be identified.

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RUSSIA

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia

A senior French military officer stationed at a NATO base has been indicted and jailed on suspicion of spying for Russia, local media and sources said on Sunday.

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia
A change of command ceremony at the base of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force in Sigonella, Italy. It is not known at which Italian Nato base the officer was stationed. Photo: Falk Plankenhorn
The French army officer was stationed abroad, a judicial source said confirming details from Europe 1 radio. According to the report, the soldier was stationed on a NATO base in Italy and is suspected of espionage on behalf of Russia.
   
The French government confirmed it was investigating a senior military officer over a “security breach”.
   
“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told Europe 1 radio, CNews and Les Echos newspaper. She gave no further details.
   
The judicial source said the officer had been indicted and jailed on charges involving “intelligence with a foreign power that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation”.
   
He is being prosecuted for “delivering information to a foreign power”, “collecting information harming the fundamental interests of the nation with a view to delivering them to a foreign power” and “compromising the secrecy of national defence”, the source said.
 
   
Europe 1 said the officer was a lieutenant-colonel stationed with NATO in Italy and had been placed under investigation on suspicion of spying for Russia.
   
He speaks Russian and was seen in Italy with a man identified as an agent of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence
service, the report said. It said he is suspected of having supplied sensitive documents to Russian intelligence.
   
The man was arrested by DGSI intelligence service as he was about to leave for Italy at the end of his holidays in France, and is being held at a prison in Paris, Europe 1 said.
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