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Mixed messages from Russia, France on Mistral compensation deal

George Gobet, AFP | The Sevastopol warship in Saint-Nazaire on March 15, 2015.

Russia has reached a compensation deal with France for the non-delivery of two Mistral warships, a Kremlin aide has said, but Paris on Friday denied any agreement was imminent.


"The negotiations are completely finished, everything has already been decided, both the time-frame and the amount," President Vladimir Putin's adviser for military and technical cooperation, Vladimir Kozhin, told state news agency RIA Novosti on Thursday evening.

"I hope we will sign the agreement on the termination of the contract as soon as possible," he added.

However, French President François Hollande responded by saying there was “no deal yet” with Russia.

“Discussions are under way. I will make a decision in the coming weeks,” he told a press conference.

The fate of the two Mistral helicopter carriers has plagued France-Russia ties for more than a year, following Paris' decision in November to put the 1.2-billion-euro ($1.3-billion) deal on ice as the West slapped sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and alleged backing for separatist rebels in Ukraine.

French President François Hollande said earlier this year that the conditions for the delivery were "still not right" and suggested that only the full implementation of a tenuous ceasefire in eastern Ukraine could make Paris revisit the situation.

The French president had said on Monday he would decide "in the coming weeks" whether or not to scrap the contentious contract to supply the two warships to Russia.

A French source close to the situation said Friday that an agreement with Russia had indeed been reached but that some details still "needed to be finalised".

However, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls refused to confirm the reports, saying only that “important decisions” over the warships would be made “at the end of the summer”.

Hollande had said on Monday that he would decide "in the coming weeks" whether or not to scrap the contentious contract to supply the two warships to Russia.

The first ship was due for delivery in 2014, while the second was to be delivered this year.

Final deal 'in August'

The compensation could amount to some 1.16 billion euros ($1.27 billion) and a deal definitively inked in the first ten days of August, Russia's business daily Kommersant reported, citing unnamed sources.

In April, Putin downplayed the importance of the ships but insisted that the French side reimburse Moscow "all expenses" if the contract were to be terminated.

A spokesperson of Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's deputy prime minister who oversees the defence industry, refused to comment on the deal on Friday, as did the country's state-owned military exporter.

France's training last summer of Russian sailors aboard the first Mistral ship in the French port city of Saint-Nazaire angered its Western partners, who claimed the delivery of the ships would undermine their joint efforts to isolate Russia and condemn its annexation of foreign territory.

Russia and the West are locked in their worst standoff since the Cold War over the Ukraine crisis, with the EU and US slapping damaging sanctions on Moscow.

Last June, US President Barack Obama had urged Paris to "press the pause button" on its deal with Russia, which had been signed in 2011.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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