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Anti-Obama Shirts And Scenic Snapshots: French Lawmakers Spark Uproar With Crimea Visit

The delegation in Crimea
The delegation in Crimea

A group of French lawmakers has drawn applause in Russia and consternation at home after paying a high-profile visit to Crimea, in defiance of Western sanctions.

The 10 deputies of France's lower house, the National Assembly, touched down on the Black Sea peninsula -- which was forcibly seized by Russia from Ukraine in March 2014 -- on July 23, following a stopover in Moscow.

The goal, they had said ahead of the controversial visit, was to "understand how the population lives" and "counter the disinformation of European media" on Russia's overwhelmingly unrecognized annexation.

Once in Crimea, however, the visitors -- most of whom are members of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right Republican Party -- were quick to sing the praises of Crimea and of its new Kremlin-anointed leadership.

Centrist Union (UDI) lawmaker Yves Pozzo di Borgo, in particular, turned to Twitter to his share his enthusiasm.

"Côte d'Azur or Crimea?" he teased his more than 5,300 followers.

Pozzo di Borgo -- who is also vice president of the French-Russian Friendship Group of the Senate -- often struck a lyrical note, perhaps out of nostalgia for his native Corsica.

"Landscape of the Black Sea blue like the Mediterranean covered by the singing of the cicadas," he tweeted.

His string of tweets abruptly ended on July 24 on a laconic note, stating that the delegation was "without mobile and Wi-Fi" due to the fact that "no French mobile operator works in this part of the world."

But a picture of Pozzo di Borgo holding a T-shirt adorned with a phrase that roughly translates as "Obama, you're a schmuck" continued to make the rounds on social media.

Back in France, authorities are anything but amused.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was "shocked" by the visit, which he condemned as a breach of international law.

"Entering Crimea without the Ukrainian authorities' permission means recognition of Moscow's [annexation] claims," he said.

The French Senate warned the lawmakers against speaking on behalf of the assembly.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, in turn, called the trip -- the first by Western dignitaries since Crimea's annexation -- irresponsible and said it may slap entry bans on the French lawmakers.

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