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Russia still weighing Mistral warship options - security chief

RIA Novosti


MOSCOW, February 9 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian leadership is still considering whether to buy a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship from France or to build a similar ship domestically, Russia's top security official said Tuesday.

France said on Monday it had agreed to sell Russia a Mistral-class warship, worth 400-500 million euros (around $600-$750 million), despite concerns of some of Russia's former Soviet bloc allies, including those now in NATO, that the sale could threaten regional security.

"We could build a ship of this class on our own, but this will take time, or we could buy it abroad, but it will cost a lot of money," Secretary of Russia's Security Council Nikolai Patrushev said at a news conference in RIA Novosti.

"It would be premature to speculate now about which decision will be adopted, but both of them should be studied," Patrushev said.

A source close to the Kremlin said on Tuesday the decision on Mistral would be taken on the highest political level in the near future, possibly before the visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to France at the beginning of March.

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.

Despite strong opposition in the Russian defense industry, the military has insisted Russia needed Mistral-class warships to modernize its aging fleet of combat surface ships.

"If a positive decision is taken, the first vessels of this class will be deployed in Russia Far East to strengthen the Pacific Fleet which has suffered the most in the 1990s due to the lack of funds for ship repairs," a Russian military source told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.

The military has also said 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, some military experts say Russia has no need for such a vessel, and many believe that Russia simply wants to gain access to advanced naval technology that could be used in potential future conflicts with NATO and its allies.

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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