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France insists 'still no date' for warship delivery

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France insists 'still no date' for warship delivery
Still no date for Mistral delivery, France says. Will it ever happen? Photo: AFP
16:42 CET+01:00
France insisted on Wednesday that there was no date set for the delivery of two Mistral warships to Russia. It comes amid further reports of Russian troops entering Ukraine.

France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday there was still no fixed date for the delivery of two Mistral warships to Russia.

"No delivery date can be fixed at this stage," Le Drian told the National Assembly lower house of parliament.

"The president of the Republic has said that a definitive decision will come at the right moment, taking into account all the responsibilities that come with this decision, which is not a simple decision."

The first of two mammoth Mistral-class assault ships was supposed to be delivered on Friday according to the original deal signed in 2011.

But amid this year's Ukraine crisis and the rapid decline of the West's relations with Russia, France has come under intense pressure from its allies, particularly the United States, and in September postponed the delivery.

France faces a difficult choice. Ditching the contract will cost it billions of dollars and threatens jobs.

But going ahead would incur NATO's wrath and heighten fears in Poland and the Baltic states, which are concerned that Russia's recent aggression may soon turn in their direction.

Hopes that a September ceasefire between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces might have provided a pretext for the deal to go ahead have been dashed by continued fighting and claims this week that Russia is sending more military hardware into Ukraine.

On Wednesday a top NATO commander told the BBC that Russian troops and heavy artillery had entered eastern Ukraine in recent days.

Speaking earlier this week a spokesman for France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "We are worried by the information coming from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) about the situation in the east of Ukraine. France calls for the application of the Minsk peace agreement, notably in respect of the cease fire and  the control of the Ukraine-Russian border.”

The amphibious assault ships can carry 16 helicopters, four landing crafts, 13 tanks, 450 soldiers and a hospital.

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