SAINT-NAZAIRE, France (AP) — A Russian naval ship carrying 400 sailors docked Monday at a French harbor to start weeks of training aboard a warship that France is selling to Russia as part of a criticized 1.2-billion euro ($1.6 billion) deal.
France has pushed ahead with the 2011 contract — the biggest-ever sale of NATO weaponry to Moscow — despite renewed criticism after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula.
The Russian ship Smolniy docked just behind the warship Vladivostock in the Atlantic coastal port of Saint-Nazaire, where restaurants had translated their menus into Russians in order to welcome the contingent.
The Russian sailors will spend the summer in Saint-Nazaire, learning how to operate Vladivostock. France says the ship can carry 700 troops, 16 helicopter gunships, and as many as 50 armored vehicles.
French officials have said the Vladivostok is on track to be delivered by the last quarter of this year. A sister ship, the Sevastopol — named, ironically, after a Russian-controlled port in Crimea — is scheduled to be delivered about a year later.
The French president's office said last week that the sale of the Mistral class ships would not be included in any new sanctions against Russia but officials have refused to comment on any discussions with the U.S. or other allies.
Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet contributed from Paris.
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