TALLINN, March 21 (Reuters) - France is suspending military cooperation with Russia, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday during a trip to Baltic states designed to reassure them as tensions mount with Russia over its seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region.
He said the suspension would concern joint military exercices but said nothing about the fate of contracts to supply Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia. On Thursday Le Drian had said such a decision would not be taken until October.
Le Drian was on a visit to the Baltic states of Lithuania and Estonia and then Poland on Friday, with the aim of offering them reassurances on security, as European Union leaders sought to broaden sanctions against Moscow officials.
His announcement came at the same time as a German economy ministry spokesman said Berlin had decided to suspend approval of all defence-related exports to Russia
Le Drian also said France could send four planes to Lithuania on protection duty if NATO decides to boost air defences over the Baltic states, which are now also members of the Western military alliance.
The French offer would come on top of a NATO mission that has offered air policing for the past decade and follows a U.S. offer to provide extra aircraft.
"The European continent is going through the worst crisis since the end of the Cold War and the Russian occupation of Crimea threatens the foundations of peace and security in Europe," Le Drian said.
Since 2004, NATO has operated the "police the skies" mission over the Baltic states, with each NATO member country taking a turn every four months to supply planes that are based in Lithuania. The United States does the job at the moment and Poland will take over in May. (Reporting by Marine Pennetier; Writing by Brian Love; editing by Mark John)
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