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France delays delivery of Mistral warship to Russia

AFP file picture

French President François Hollande delayed indefinitely on Tuesday his decision on whether to deliver the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers ordered by Russia citing the "current situation" in eastern Ukraine.

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"The President of the Republic considers that the situation in eastern Ukraine still does not permit the delivery of the first BPC (helicopter carrying and command vessel)," said a statement from the president's office.

"He has therefore decided that it is appropriate to suspend, until further notice, examination of the request for the necessary authorisation to export the first BCP to the Russian Federation."

The statement follows months of speculation about the contract, with Paris coming under intense pressure from its NATO allies to scrap the EUR1.2 billion ($1.58 billion) contract.

FRANCE 24’s Julia Lyubova reports from Moscow on suspension of warship delivery

The Vladivostok was supposed to be the first of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers delivered to Russia according to the original deal signed in 2011.

France’s reputation on the line

The ships, which were built in the western French port city of Saint-Nazaire, were scheduled to be delivered to Russia by the last quarter of 2014.

The concern in France, which is suffering from record-high unemployment and stagnant growth, is that it not only loses the receipts from this sale but also that its credibility as a weapons exporter is compromised.

Russia has reportedly warned Paris of "serious" consequences unless France delivers the first of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers by the end of November.

However, Russia's Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov told RIA news agency on Tuesday that Russia would not pursue claims against France over non-delivery, but expected the contract to be fulfilled.

"We'll wait patiently... So far we are not filing a claim anywhere," Borisov said. "Everything is written in the contract. We will act according to the wording of the contract, like all civilised people."

But in separate comments to the ITAR-TASS news agency, Borisov warned that if France ultimately fails to fulfill its side of the deal, Russia will “go to court and impose fines”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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