French president defends sale of Mistral warship to Russia
MOSCOW, February 9 (RIA Novosti) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy has defended his decision to allow the sale of a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship to Russia by saying it would not threaten regional security, the Daily Herald reported.
The potential sale has alarmed some of Russia's former Soviet bloc allies, including those now in NATO, especially after the Russia-Georgia conflict over South Ossetia in August 2008.
Sarkozy told U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a brief meeting on Monday that in his opinion the sale did not pose a military problem because Russia should be treated as a real partner.
"One cannot expect Russia to behave as a partner if we don't treat it as one," Sarkozy said.
Russia earlier announced that it was considering buying one of the Mistral-class ships, worth 400-500 million euros (around $600-$750 million), and potentially building three or four vessels of the same class in partnership with the French naval shipbuilder DCNS.
A Mistral-class ship is capable of transporting and deploying 16 helicopters, four landing barges, up to 70 vehicles including 13 battle tanks, and 450 soldiers. The vessel is equipped with a 69-bed hospital and can be used as an amphibious command ship.
The Russian military has claimed that a Mistral-class warship would have allowed the Russian Navy to conduct a more efficient operation in the Black Sea during the Russia-Georgia war.
However, many experts believe that Russia simply wants to gain access to advanced naval technology that could be used in the future in potential conflicts with NATO and its allies.
French Defense Minister Herve Morin said on Monday it was time to turn the page on Cold War-era antagonisms with Russia and start a new relationship with Moscow through new exchanges.
If the deal goes through, it would be the first sale of a major piece of military equipment by a NATO member to Russia.
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