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Russian deal for French Mistrals in limbo

July 26, 2010 at 1:43 PM   |   Comments

PARIS, July 26 (UPI) -- France has said that it will press ahead with the sale of two state-of-the-art amphibious ships for the Russian navy.

Still, doubts over the fate of the deal were cast over the weekend when a senior Russian admiral warned that the sale could be suspended if France refused to accompany the sale with technology transfers.

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky said the purchase of the Mistral-class helicopter hinged on the "transfer of key, fundamental technologies," The Moscow Times reported. Otherwise, he said, it would be pointless.

The admiral's threat came on the heels of remarks that President Nicolas Sarkozy made, saying the deal was certain.

"With our Russian friends, you are going to build the two BPCs," Sarkozy said, the BBC reported, referring to the acronym used to describe the vessel.

"We're still negotiating the contract but the decision to go ahead is certain."

The shipyard faces sweeping job losses should the deal fail to go through.

Most importantly, though, the deal has drawn concern from NATO allies apprehensive the transfer of Western naval technology to their former Cold War foe.

If clinched -- along with rights to construct several other vessels of the same class in Russia -- the deal would mark the most important transfer of military equipment to Russia by a NATO member country.

Designed to attack the shore from the sea, the Mistral class is viewed as an ideal weapon for Russia against possible uprising by nearby countries.

Details on the deal remain sketchy, but Russian officials have suggested that the price tag for each vessel was estimated at around $380 million. French officials have also indicated that the building of the ships would be a "50-50 project."

The Mistral amphibious assault ship can carry 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters, dozens of tanks and more than 900 soldiers.

Russia owns only one Soviet-built aircraft carrier, which is much smaller than its U.S. counterparts and is considered outdated.

In all, Russia was expressed interest in buying four Mistral ships with the prospect also of eventually building such vessels on Russian soil.

U.S. politicians and the governments of new NATO members on the Baltic fear the Mistral's addition to the Russian fleet would encourage the Kremlin to throw its weight around in its backyard and use it against uprisings in neighboring countries.

With its cutting edge technology, the Mistral is prided as the most powerful asset of the French fleet.

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