Russian Sailors Arrive in France for Warship Training

Four hundred Russian sailors arrived in France today to train on two warships the French government is selling to the Russian navy, a contract President Francois Hollande refused to cancel in the face of criticism from the U.S. and other allies.

“They will learn how to handle the ship, both in normal conditions and in adverse conditions,” Laurent Castaing, president of STX Europe’s French shipyards, which are building the Mistral-class helicopter carriers, said in an interview on France Info radio.

While France has joined its European partners in imposing sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and its role in the unrest in eastern Ukraine, the Hollande government says the sanctions don’t cover military hardware and the contract, agreed under a previous administration, is too expensive to cancel.

The U.S. takes another view.

“It would have been preferable to press the pause button,” President Barack Obama said in Brussels on June 5 ahead of a visit to France, criticizing the country for “continuing significant defense deals with Russia at a time when they have violated basic international law and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of their neighbors.”

Castaing said the sailors will sleep on the Russian military ship that brought them to Saint-Nazaire, where the “Vladivostok,” the first of the two ships, is being built by state-owned military contractor DCNS and the shipbuilder STX. The training will take four months, he said.

The “Vladivostok” is due to be delivered in October. The arrival of the Russian sailors has been put off several times this month, as incidents flared in Ukraine.

The Mistral is a 200 meter (656-foot) ship, capable of carrying as many as 700 combat troops, 16 helicopters and 60 armored vehicles.

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