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French lawmakers visit Crimea, to the dismay of officials back home

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MOSCOW >> A group of French lawmakers visited Crimea this week, the first trip by a European delegation since Russia annexed the peninsula last year. They bought T-shirts, snapped photographs and were serenaded by a Russian pop singer.

The visit was condemned by France’s government, but the lawmakers, many from the Republicans, a center-right party led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, said their visit was a private initiative.

The French Foreign Ministry said of the trip: “We strongly regret it. Indeed, this kind of trip to Crimea is a violation of international law.”

Russia took the territory last year from Ukraine, a move that drew condemnation from the European Union and the United States.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has become the darling of a number of right-wing European political parties, in part for his opposition to the United States but also for his conservative stances on social issues. Still, pro-Russian sentiment remains largely confined to the fringes of European politics, though Putin does have more-mainstream admirers and allies, including Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, and Gerhard Schroeder, the former German chancellor.

In all, 10 member of Parliament made the trip. Eight were members of the Republicans, one was from another center-right party and one from a center-left party. A Republicans lawmaker, Thierry Mariani, led the group.

The visit began Thursday and the group stopped in several cities, including Yalta, Simferopol and Sevastopol. The aim, according to an interview with Mariani in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, was to “understand how the people live.”

Mariani said he supported the annexation of Crimea but some of the lawmakers were undecided and wanted to see the situation for themselves.

“We saw happy people,” said Marie-Christine Dalloz, one of the lawmakers, according to a translation in Ria-Novosti, a Russian news service. “We talked to young people. The picture is surprisingly different than the one we were shown,” she said, adding that before the trip, “we had an entirely different understanding of Crimea.”

Iosif Kobzon, a Russian singer, told the Interfax news agency that he serenaded the delegation with a song about the friendship between Soviet and French pilots in World War II. Kobzon, Russia’s Frank Sinatra and also a lawmaker, said he had many friends among French singers, and he named two: Mireille Mathieu and Charles Aznavour.

“These are my friends, and no sanctions are going to change that,” he said to Interfax.

Kobzon said he finished the song by saying in French, “Long live France, and long live Russia.”

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