LONDON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Georgia lashed out against French designs to sell a warship and armored vehicles to Russia, saying it would allow Moscow to invade any former Soviet republic or Eastern European country "within hours."
The proposed sale has soured relations between Georgia and France, whose president, Nicolas Sarkozy, brokered a cease-fire to halt a five-day war between Georgia and Russia in 2008.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili criticized the prospective warship sale as "very unusual and very, very risky," with the "tank issue, 10 times bigger."
"This will enable them to invade any Eastern European country or any country in the Commonwealth of Independent States which they would normally need weeks to do, within hours," the pro-Western president told reporters during an official visit to London.
If clinched -- along with rights to construct several other vessels of the same class in Russia – the warship 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 ship is viewed as an ideal weapon for Russia to modernize its armed forces after the conflict with Georgia exposed the deficiencies of its Soviet-era military hardware.
The 21,300 metric-ton amphibious assault ship can carry 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters, dozens of tanks and more than 900 soldiers.
Saakashvili said he would discuss the issue with Sarkozy, who defended the sale saying "one cannot expect Russia to behave as a partner if we don't treat it as one."
Last week, French company Panhard said it was discussing selling "less than a dozen" armored vehicles to Russia.
Russia owns only one Soviet-built aircraft carrier, which is much smaller than its U.S. counterparts and is outdated.
Russian military officials have not elaborated on the deal but purchase of a Mistral-class ship is estimated to cost between $738 million and $886 million, local media reported.
Military analysts say the purchase of the Mistral-class warship could potentially cement Moscow's domination of the South Caucasus region, if deployed in the Black Sea.
As a NATO member, France may be pressured by the United States to cancel any prospects of a deal in arms and technology that could be used against Georgia.
Officials in Paris said there would be no transfers of technology of the Russian bought the Mistral.
Estonia, meantime, also warned that it may be forced to "take security measures" because Russia would have a "considerable advantage in the Baltic Sea," the local press reported.
A final decision on the deal is expected within weeks.