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France agrees to sell Mistral to Russia

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, February 10
France has agreed to sell the Mistral amphibious assault warship to Russia after months-long negotiations, news agency Reuters reported on Monday. This is the first major arms deal between Russia and a NATO member state, according to the BBC. The ship will cost Russia between Euro 400 million and Euro 500 million, according to reports.

NATO member countries have already expressed concern over selling Russia advanced technology which could be used “in a confrontation with NATO forces or against its allies”, Reuters wrote. Several of Russia’s neighbours have also “expressed worries”, according to the news agency.

The first official comments on the deal have now been made in Tbilisi. The “story” of selling the Mistral to Russia confirms the importance of Georgia’s NATO integration, Georgian Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili said on Tuesday. “Georgia cannot compete with Russia in armaments and in purchasing Mistrals and these kind of ships, so Georgia’s only security guarantee is becoming a NATO member,” the Minister told journalists. “Georgia hopes that after making such a decision the Government of France will not hinder Georgia’s entry to NATO when the time comes,” Iakobashvili added.

France hopes to contribute to European stability, Defence Minister of France Herve Morin said at a meeting with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Monday, according to the Associated Press news agency. “It is time to turn the page on Cold War-era antagonisms with Russia… I understand that for some central and eastern European countries wounds are still there. France wants a new relationship, and that means it needs to make new exchanges,” AP quoted Minister Morin as saying. The US Defence Secretary said he and his French counterpart had had a “good and thorough exchange of views” over the Mistral deal. Later The Pentagon reported that Gates had “made our concerns clear” at the meeting with Morin, AP wrote.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also defended his adminstration’s decision, Reuters reported on Tuesday, saying that the purchase of the assault ship by Russia does not create new military threats. “We cannot expect Russia to act like a partner if we ourselves do not treat it like a partner,” he said at the meeting with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

Russian independent military analyst Alexander Golts suggested that the final decision on selling the Mistral to Russia has not been made yet. “If Russia buys a warship from France, it might use it in the North Sea, not in the Black Sea,” the analyst told Interpressnews agency. “I will believe that this information about the deal is genuine when Russian senior officials make a statement about it,” Interpressnews quoted Golts as saying.

By selling the Mistral warship to Russia France has put its own interests above the interests of NATO, Georgian military analyst Irakli Sesiashvili has said. “It is a fact that France has put its own commercial interests above the interests of the alliance, despite the fact that for other members of NATO selling the Mistral to Russia was unacceptable, “ the analyst noted. “All we can do is hope that Russia does not deploy the ship in the Black Sea,” he added.

Mistral-class ships, which weigh more than 21,000 tonnes and are about 200 metres long and 30 metres wide, can carry about 20 officers, 80 petty officers, 60 quartermasters, 450 passengers (900 for a short cruise) and 150 men in its operational headquarters, as well as 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters.