France approves sale of Mistral warship to Russia
PARIS/MOSCOW, February 8 (RIA Novosti) - France has agreed to sell Russia a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship and received an order to build another three, Radio France Internationale reported Monday.
"It's no longer one command ship, but four," Jacques de Lajugie, head of international sales at the French Defense Ministry, was quoted as saying.
He added, however, that the new order was being examined "on a technical level" and needed to be "vetted at a political level."
Originally it was thought Russia would buy one of the vessels and build up to four more under license.
Moscow has yet to officially confirm the agreement.
The radio station said the report coincided with the Defense Ministry's announcement earlier on Monday that French arms sales reached 7.95 billion euros in 2009, 21% higher than 2008.
Russian industry officials have said it would be "senseless and wrong" to speak of buying weapon systems for the Navy without obtaining appropriate advanced technology for their subsequent production in Russia.
Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said in late November that Russia could build its own helicopter carrier on a par with the Mistral-class warship, and that the Defense Ministry could contract the United Shipbuilding Corporation to build it.
The Russian military 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.
Many Russian military and industry experts have questioned the financial and military sense of the purchase.
Russia's current arms procurement program through 2015 does not provide for construction or purchases of large warships, so the acquisition of the French warship is more likely under a new program, through 2020, which has yet to be finalized.
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