A Mistral helicopter carrier being launched in Brest�in 2004

Russia invited to take delivery of French warships

Russia says it has received an invitation to take delivery of the first of two warships from France, an arms deal thrown into doubt by the crisis in Ukraine.

Washington and other allies concerned about Russia's role in Ukraine put pressure on France to scrap the €1.2bn (£940m) contract for two Mistral helicopter carriers, but President Francois Hollande resisted.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday that Paris would wait until next month to decide whether to deliver the first of the two vessels, but the Russsian RIA news agency yesterday quoted Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as saying that Russian officials had been to a delivery ceremony on November 14 and that the second vessel would be put afloat the same day.

"Everything is going as planned in terms of the technical fulfilment of the contract, and we stick to that," Rogozin was quoted as saying. "As for political decisions, we assume that France should protect its reputation as a reliable partner, including in the military and technical area."

There are as many as 1,000 defence jobs at stake in France, but also concern that a cancellation could have negative effects on future defence export deals and a defence industry that employs 40,000 people.

Even so, Hollande chose in September to push back the original end-October delivery date. He also said that he would only hand over the first carrier if there was a lasting ceasefire and a political settlement in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, Rogozin used his official Twitter account on Wednesday to tweet a letter dated October 8 from the Mistral's manufacturer, DCNS, inviting Russian officials to the delivery ceremony at the Saint Nazaire shipyard where the first carrier, the Vladivostok, is awaiting transfer.

DCNS said it could neither confirm or deny the information. The French state owns a 65 per cent stake in DCNS, making it unlikely any letter would have been sent against the wishes of the French government.

Officials at the French presidency, defence and foreign ministries contacted by Reuters said that at this stage no decision had been made on the delivery dates.

"No decision has been taken with regard the Mistral delivery. The decision will be taken during November by the president," a Defence Ministry official said.

Moscow, which expects delivery of a second carrier by the end of 2015, has said it will seek damages if the deliveries are cancelled or suspended. Russia's Mistral purchases would give it access to advanced technology, alarming some of France's NATO allies who consider Paris could be strengthening Moscow militarily.

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