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article imageLavrov says France 'must fulfil obligations' on warship delivery

By Fran Blandy (AFP)     Dec 5, 2014 in World

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday warned France its reputation was on the line over the delivery of a controversial warship to Russia, which has been delayed due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"I am a little fed up with this question. It is not our problem anymore, it is a problem of France's reputation. They have to fulfill all the obligations under the contract," he told journalists on the sidelines of the OSCE conference in Switzerland.

French President Francois Hollande last week again delayed the delivery of the first of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers that France has built for Russia "until further notice".

He said the "current situation in eastern Ukraine still does not allow for the delivery of the first" warship.

The final date for delivery has not been announced, but Hollande has insisted he will not give in to pressure, and the contract had not yet been broken.

Russia previously threatened to "lodge serious claims" if the first ship did not arrive on time.

However Moscow greeted the latest delay with relative calm.

"We'll wait patiently... So far we are not filing a claim anywhere," Deputy Defence Minister Yury Borisov told state media.

The first of the two assault ships -- which can carry 16 helicopters, four landing crafts, 13 tanks, 450 soldiers and a hospital -- was supposed to be delivered in November, according to the original deal signed in 2011.

Paris could be liable for hefty fines if it breaches the 1.2-billion-euro ($1.5-billion) Mistral contract with Russia.

But it would also risk the wrath of its allies around the world if it were to deliver the hot-button technology to Russia at a time when Moscow is in the diplomatic deep-freeze over the Ukraine unrest.

Hollande has repeatedly said the ceasefire in Ukraine must be fully respected before the first ship can be handed over.

But a lasting truce has proved elusive, with deadly clashes continuing in eastern Ukraine despite the signing of a ceasefire brokered by Russia on September 5.

On Thursday both Kiev and the pro-Russian rebels announced a fresh halt to fighting was due on December 9, raising a glimmer of hope for an end to the eight-month conflict that has left some 4,300 dead.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations from the West that it is arming and supporting the rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Lavrov said he hoped the latest ceasefire would lead to a final agreement to stop fighting.

"This is true that we already once declared a ceasefire regime and we managed to decrease violence levels but we did not manage to achieve total termination of bloodshed," he told journalists.

"It is a very difficult situation but I hope parties have come close to conclude a final agreement. Within this agreement heavy armaments have to be withdrawn 15 kilometres (9 miles) from the demarcation line."

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