Hundreds of Russian sailors pulled out of a French port Thursday, bearing perfumes for their loved ones but lacking the controversial bounty they came for: a 1-billion-euro, French-built warship that has become a hostage to the biggest East-West conflict since the Cold War.
The Vladivostok helicopter carrier is part of a strange and divisive arms deal now on hold — and perhaps on the verge of collapse — because of the conflict in Ukraine. France built it for Russia's navy but is now having second thoughts, notably amid heavy U.S. criticism of the deal.
After months training on the ship, the Russian sailors left the port town of Saint-Nazaire empty-handed. The ship, painted with Cyrillic letters reading "VLADIVOSTOK," floats in a dock, unused. A second ship meant to be part of the deal is there, too, an expensive diplomatic embarrassment.