Sunday

29th May 2016

US says French warships to Russia 'unhelpful'

  • Russia's Igor Sechin, who signed the Mistral deal with France, is on the US sanctions list (Photo: navy.mil)

The US has criticised France for planning to deliver two warships to Russia despite its actions in Ukraine.

State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told press in Washington on Monday (12 May) "we have expressed our concerns to the French government over the sale. We'll continue to do so".

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"Obviously, as you know, there are sanctions that have been put in place. I'd have to specifically check here to see if there's a legal question or if this is just a question of whether we find this to be unhelpful."

For its part, France has ruled out an arms embargo on Russia even if it invades eastern Ukraine or disrupts its 25 May presidential elections.

The Mistral ships were sold to Russia for €1.2 billion shortly after its invasion of Georgia in 2008.

A Russian admiral later said he could have won the war in "40 minutes instead of 26 hours" if he had had them earlier.

A French official told Reuters on Monday the first of the vessels will be delivered to Russia in the fourth quarter of this year. "The contract has been paid and there would be financial penalties for not delivering it," he said.

Psaki noted that, France aside, the US is "working in lockstep with the EU to put in place consequences for the illegal and illegitimate actions of Russia".

EU ministers the same day expanded their Russia blacklist from 48 to 61 people and two Crimean companies.

The top names added were Russian President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, Vyacheslav Volodin, and Russian military chief Vladimir Shamanov, both named for their role in the annexation of Crimea.

The new list includes Viacheslav Ponomariov, a separatist from Slaviansk, Ukraine, blamed for kidnapping EU military monitors sent on a mission by the OSCE, a multilateral body based in Vienna.

It also includes people who organised the bogus referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as Natalia Poklonskaya, a young Crimean prosecutor.

The Crimean entities are oil firm Feodosia and gas company Chernomorneftegaz. Both were confiscated after Russia invaded Crimea, with Western sanctions to block Russia's Gazprom from acquiring the gas firm.

Russia's deputy FM, Sergei Ryabkov, complained about the new measures.

"EU colleagues are demonstrating a one-sided and one-dimensional policy, not worthy of the European Union," he told Russian media.

Rustam Temirgaliyev, a Crimean politician who was already under an EU travel ban and asset freeze, told Reuters: "Personally, I don't feel any restrictions. I have travelled around lots of European countries and don't plan to travel there in the near future. I don't have any assets there either."

He added that wealthy Russians should move money from Cyprus to Crimea to create a "civilised offshore zone".

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