MOSCOW, September 13 (RIA Novosti) - The Mistral-class helicopter carrier, the Vladivostok, carrying some 200 Russian sailors on Saturday left the French port of Saint-Nazaire to pass a series of tests.
The Vladivostok had left docks at 3:30 a.m. local time (1:30 GMT), but was forced to wait until the tide thus eventually sailing out to sea at 7:20 a.m. (5:20 GMT) accompanied by two tugboats, Agence France-Presse reported.
This is the first time the ship goes to sea since its arrival to Saint-Nazaire in June where two crews of Russian sailors, a total of 400 crew members, have been awaiting sea trials.
The $1.6 billion contract to supply the Mistral-class ships between the French ship-building company DCNS and Russia's state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport was signed in June of 2011. The first carrier, the Vladivostok is to be operated by the Russian Navy in 2014, while the second ship, the Sevastopol will arrive in 2015. While the United States were against the deal, DCNS insisted that Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its role in Ukraine not prohibit the construction and transfer of Mistral ships.
Last week, France threatened to suspend the supply of the helicopter carriers, linking its decision to the crisis in Ukraine, claiming Moscow's direct involvement. Later, a French government spokesman told RIA Novosti that the delivery of the ship is not officially suspended and that French President Francois Hollande was simply outlining his political stance. Hollande stated he would not approve of the transfer of the vessel in November should the situation in Ukraine not improve. Hollande later stated he would make the decision in late October. The president added that the two conditions for the delivery of the ship is an observed ceasefire in Ukraine, as well as a political settlement agreement. The French President also stressed that the sanctions adopted by the European Union have never prevented the delivery of the helicopter carrier to Russia.