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MOSCOW, July 23. /TASS/. A delegation of French lawmakers led by member of the National Assembly Thierry Mariani begins its visit to Russia on Thursday.
On the first day of their Russian visit, the French lawmakers will have talks with their Russian counterpart at the State Duma lower house of Russian parliament. In the morning, the delegation will be received by State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin. After the meeting, the French delegation will fly to Crimea, where they plan to visit the cities of Yalta and Sevastopol.
"The programme of the visit includes meetings with local authorities [including speaker of Crimea’s State Council, or parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, Crimea’s Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov and Sevastopol governor Sergei Menyailo] and with people," Mariani said. "We want to see how people live there."
The French delegation’s visit, the first once after the West imposed sanctions on Russia, is a real breakthrough, Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of the State Duma international committee, told the Rossiya-24 television channel. "Until now, no official delegations from the European Union visited Crimea. Some public and political figures came here, primarily related to the so-called Eurosceptic parties. But as for the delegation of the mainstream political parties, this never happened before. I believe it’s a breakthrough," he said. "The visit of the French parliamentarians shows that there is not only the Europe that wants to confront Russia, but also another Europe, which wants to understand what kind of sentiment prevails in Crimea, which understands that the referendum did take place and that its results express the will of the people and that [Ukrainian President Pyotr] Poroshenko and his regime can in no way represent Crimea’s interests."
"This will be the first large delegation of Western European politicians and parliamentarians since ‘the Crimean spring’ [when the republic of Crimea seceded from Ukraine and later merged with Russia]," said Leonid Slutsky, chairing the State Duma's committee on Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs (CIS), Eurasian Integration and Ties with Compatriots, who coordinates a deputy group on ties with the French parliament. "I am sure this visit will turn over a new leaf in the inter-parliamentary dialogue between Russia and Europe on the Crimean issue."
Crimea’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Polonsky, told TASS that the visit by the French delegation would prove the peninsula’s status as a part of Russia. "A quite extensive delegation will arrive, and these are not some minor people but acting influential politicians who are playing a big role in France’s life. By coming here, they once again confirm Crimea’s status as an integral part of the Russian Federation, and this means a lot," Polonsky said.
In the meantime, the French foreign ministry said the visit to Crimea was a "private initiative" of French lawmakers and expressed regret over this decision.
The French delegation is expected to return home on July 26.