Ukraine ceasefire condition of Russia warship delivery, says Hollande
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The French president said Thursday the delivery of a controversial warship to Russia was conditional on "a ceasefire and political settlement" being agreed in Ukraine, as the West pushed for peace talks with threats of more sanctions against Moscow.
Speaking at a NATO summit in the UK on Thursday, François Hollande said the Russian procurement contract for two Mistral-class helicopter carriers was not cancelled, but the delivery of the first ship scheduled next month could be delayed. "What are the conditions? A ceasefire and a political settlement," he said. "Today these conditions are not in place."
At the summit in Newport, FRANCE 24's Armen Georgian noted that the contractual delivery of the ship was not up until November 1st. "The French are keeping a bit of margin for manouevre for the next two months to see if any progress is made on a ceasefire," he said.
According to the White House, key Western leaders agreed that Russia should face increased sanctions for its actions in eastern Ukraine.
Hollande, US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi sat down with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on the fringes of the NATO summit.
"The leaders reiterated their condemnation of Russia's continued flagrant violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and agreed on the need for Russia to face increased costs for its actions," a US presidential statement said.
The White House said it was preparing new sanctions against Russia. Its spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters that although the number of Russian troops massed near Ukraine remained stable, at around 10,000, they were more heavily armed than ever: "The force that we see arrayed on the border is exceptionally capable, probably more capable, more lethal than anything that we've seen up until now,"
Hollande told reporters a decision on further European Union sanctions, to be taken in Brussels on Friday, would depend on events in the next few hours, as efforts continue to agree a ceasefire between Kiev and Russian-backed separatists.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen asked Moscow to “step back from confrontation”. "We call on Russia to pull back its troops from Ukraine and to stop the flow of arms, fighters and funds to the separatists," he said.
Russian officials have been issuing tit-for-tat reactions to Western piques since the beginning of the NATO summit.
"France's reputation as a reliable partner that carries out its contractual obligations has been thrown into the furnace of American political ambitions," Russian Foreign Ministry deputy spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington of trying to undermine the nascent peace process, following the publication of a joint opinion column by Obama and Cameron in the British press on Thursday accusing Moscow of "rip[ping] up the rulebook" with "illegal" interference in eastern Ukraine.
"The surge in anti-Russian rhetoric that we have seen exactly when there is a very active effort to seek a political solution shows that the party of war in Kiev has active external support, in this case from the United States," Lavrov said.
The Russian foreign minister was later reported to be discussing the Ukraine ceasefire plan by phone with his French and German counterparts.
Ahead of the call, Germany's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was moderately optimistic for a de-escalation of the crisis.
The head of the Kremlin's human rights council, too, sounded a positive note. "I think we are already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," Mikhail Fedotov told the Russian news agency Interfax. "If an agreement is reached on a ceasefire, it will mean the path is open to normal negotiations, normal political dialogue. The important first step is a ceasefire."
At their two-day summit, NATO leaders are also due to discuss the alliance's response to the rise of the Islamic State organisation in Iraq and Syria, as well as its decade-long operation in Afghanistan.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)