Russia Buys French Warships

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) - Russia signed a contract Friday
worth more than $1 billion to buy two French warships - the largest
military deal between a NATO country and Moscow in a move that will
likely worry some of Russia's neighbors.

President Dmitry Medvedev oversaw the signing ceremony in the
country's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, and French President
Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed the deal in a statement released by his
office.

The statement said the Mistral class assault ships will be made
in France by the companies DCNS and STX at a shipbuilding plant in
the town of Saint-Nazaire, creating 1,000 jobs in France over four
years. The contract signing "testifies to the strategic dimension
of this cooperation between France and Russia," it said.

The U.S. has expressed concerns that a sale would send the wrong
message to American allies in central and eastern Europe, Russian
neighbors who are alarmed by the plan.

French Trade Minister Pierre Lellouche told reporters the deal
was worth euro1.12 billion ($1.6 billion), but Anatoly Isaikin, chief
of the Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, put it at $1.2
billion ( euro850 million). The discrepancy couldn't be immediately
explained.

Under a preliminary agreement in December, two more ships will
be constructed jointly by French and Russian shipbuilders, but
Lellouche said "the third and the fourth ships are still the
subject of further contract."

The trade minister described the deal as a "historical event"
and pointed that that is "the first time Russia imports a weapon
from a Western country and it's the first time a Western country
exports a weapon to Russia after the Second World War."

The talks on the deal have dragged on for months amid disputes
about how many ships would be built and where, and how much
sensitive technology France would share.

Roman Trotsenko, spokesman for Russia's state-controlled United
Shipbuilding Corp., told Russian Rossiya 24 television that Russian
industries will produce about 40 percent of the components for the
first two ships.

Trotsenko said France also has agreed to provide Russia with the
proprietary state-of-the art command and control system for the
ships, which are more advanced than the technology the Russian navy has.

"The French side has agreed to an unprecedented level of
cooperation in the technology transfer," he said.

Russian navy chief, Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, told reporters after
the signing that the navy would use the ships as command centers,
taking advantage of their sophisticated electronic control systems.

The Mistral, which could carry as many as 16 helicopters and
dozens of armored vehicles, would allow Russia to land hundreds of
troops quickly on foreign soil.

The prospect has alarmed human rights activists and Georgia,
which fought a brief war against Russia in 2008, as well as the
ex-Soviet Baltic nations in NATO who are worried about Russia's
increasing sway over its neighbors.

Russian news agencies quoted a Defense Ministry official as
saying that both French ships will be based in Vladivostok on the
Pacific coast and help protect the Kuril Islands.

Russia and Japan have competing claims over four southern Kuril
islands - known in Japan as the Northern Territories - and this has
kept them from signing a formal peace treaty ending their World War
II hostilities. Tensions have risen after Medvedev in November
became the first Russian president to visit the islands and the
Russian military announced plans to beef up its forces there.
---
Nataliya Vasilyeva in St. Petersburg and Angela Charlton in
Paris contributed to this report.


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