PARIS, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- France is sending a warship to Russia ahead of a groundbreaking deal for the purchase of a helicopter carrier.
The planned purchase of the French amphibious assault ship reaffirms Russia's growing global reach and bid to beef up its forces.
Russia's Navy General Staff Oleg Burstev told local media that the Mistral helicopter carrier would arrive later this month on a trip to St. Petersburg.
He confirmed that Moscow had given the green light to Paris for the purchase of a similar-type vessel with plans to construct a further four warships under license.
"We plan to buy one Mistral-class ship in France and with technical support from the French to build four helicopter carriers of this class under license," Burstev said during a news conference.
The negotiations for the deal are being held between STX France and DCNS, France's civil and naval shipbuilders, and the Russian Defense Ministry.
If concluded, the deal will mark the most important transfer of military equipment to Russia by a NATO member.
Experts fear the sale could spark controversy with France's NATO partners and Russia's neighbors, given the conflict between Russia and Georgia last year, which underscored Moscow's lack of amphibious capability and tensions between Russia and the Ukraine.
The Mistral warship can carry 16 heavy helicopters, landing-craft and can also serve as a floating command and control center. It can ferry 13 battle tanks and 450 soldiers.
The vessel is also equipped with a 69-bed hospital and four landing barges.
The Russian navy chief did not elaborate on the deal, but the ship is estimated to cost between $738 million and $886 million, RIA Novosti reported over the weekend.
Russia's armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, said the deal reflected the Kremlin's efforts to intensify its military modernization.
Other military officials in Russia had raised questions about the deal advising on other options in other countries, including Spain and the Netherlands with a strong tradition in shipbuilding technology.
It was not immediately clear whether the French-built Mistral would be delivered to Russia with radar or weapons systems.
By acquiring the Mistral, Russia will be able to deploy the helicopter-carrying vessel to the Black Sea as it would not qualify as an aircraft carrier, banned under a 1936 convention from passing through the Bosporus strait and the Dardanelles.
It was also not immediately clear whether NATO had been informed of the details of the proposed sale.