French Opposition MPs to Visit Crimea

lt;pgt;A delegation of 10 French parliamentarians was on its way to Russia on Wednesday for a three-day trip which will also involve a visit to the annexed peninsula of Crimea near the end of the week, French daily newspaperlt;emgt; lt;a href=quot;; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;Le Mondelt;/agt;nbsp;lt;/emgt;;/pgt; lt;pgt;The delegation has denied that the visit represents a recognition of the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, but both the French parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the group that they do not represent either institution on this;/pgt; lt;pgt;All EU governments have condemned the annexation of Crimea by Russian special forces last March and blacklisted prominent Russian political figures in protest. Moscow denied that Russian troops took control of local government offices at the time, however Russian President Vladimir Putin has since lt;a href=quot;; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;admittedlt;/agt; that Russian forces were deployed there. A lt;a href=quot;; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;monument to those troopslt;/agt; has since been unveiled in;/pgt; lt;pgt;Eight of the 10 members of French parliament on today#039;s visit are from ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy#039;s centre-right Les Républicains party (formerly known as the UMP). Thierry Mariani, one of the prominent members of Sarkozy#039;s party, who has served as a government minister of the environment and of transport at different times is among those;/pgt; lt;pgt;He is joined by fellow party members Nicolas Dhuicq, Claude Goasguen, Jacques Myard, Patrice Verchère, Sauveur Gandolfi-Scheit and Marie-Christine Dalloz. Senator Yves Pozzo di Borgo from the centre-right UDI party and MP Jérôme Lambert from the centre-left RRDP party are also joining the delegation. No members of the ruling Socialist party joined the;/pgt; lt;pgt;Mariani explained that the delegation will meet the speaker of Russia#039;s lower house of parliament (Duma), Sergei Naryshkin, in Moscow before travelling to Crimea to visit the cities of Yalta and Sevastopol. There the MPs will visit quot;all local authorities [and] associations representing minority groups.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;The MPs will also visit two French sites in Sevastopol, namely the local headquarters of French language charity L#039;Alliance Française de Sébastopol and the French military cemetery in the city. Mariani says that the cemetery has been left without much maintenance quot;since France has not recognized the annexation of Crimea.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;quot;At the present time, we must maintain dialogue with our Russian friends,quot; Mariani said. quot;There was meant to be a Franco-Russian meeting that was canceled in response to sanctions imposed on Russia. At the parliamentary level, there has been almost no dialogue in about two years.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;However Mariani said that he and his colleagues will not be visiting Russia and Crimea on behalf of either French parliament or;/pgt; lt;pgt;quot;There is no ambiguity. We are not speaking on behalf of the government or on behalf of the Assemblée Nationale,quot; Mariani said. Speaking to French news channel lt;a href=quot;; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;iTélélt;/agt; on Monday, Mariani reiterated that both the speaker of parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has explicitly told him they are against the;/pgt; lt;pgt;Pozzo di Borgo, who is among the parliamentarians travelling with Mariani, said the delegation was attending strictly as observers and that it cannot be taken as quot;a recognition of the assumption of Crimea into Russia.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;The Ukrainian government has condemned the trip. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs lt;a href=quot;; rel=quot;nofollowquot; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;issued a statementlt;/agt; on Wednesday afternoon in which it describes the French parliamentarians#039; trip as quot;as an irresponsible step and demonstration of their disrespect for sovereignty of Ukraine as well as conscious neglect of the legislation of Ukraine.quot; According to Kiev the French MPs have not coordinated the trip with the Ukrainian government and the communications director of the ministry promised lt;a href=quot;; rel=quot;nofollowquot; target=quot;_blankquot;gt;quot;consequencesquot;lt;/agt; for the group via his Twitter;/pgt; lt;pgt;Sarkozy#039;s Républicainsnbsp;party has been critical of the current French government#039;s stance on Russia, as Sarkozy himself criticised French President François Hollande for not attending the May Day military parade held in Moscow this year. The event, hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin was universally boycotted by EU leaders, in protest at Russian aggression in;/pgt; lt;pgt;Sarkozy, however, objected to the boycott, saying that proud French citizens feel quot;shame and painquot; that the French government did not quot;pay homage to the Russian people for the terrible hardships suffered during the Second World War,quot; national dailylt;emgt; lt;a href=quot;; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;Le Figarolt;/agt;lt;/emgt;;/pgt;