France sales warships to Russia

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PostTue Mar 02, 2010 3:13 pm » by Zegtelzegtel


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Nicolas Sarkozy angers allies with proposed warship sales to Russia

US and Georgia concerned as four Mistral-class warships could launch helicopters and armoured vehicles



Nicolas Sarkozy braved the wrath of Washington last night when he confirmed that France had entered into "exclusive negotiations" with Russia over the sale of four Mistral-class warships.

The proposed sale, which would be by far the biggest by a Nato country to Moscow, has caused concern in the US as well as in Georgia, which went to war with Russia in 2008.

At around £400m each, the 600ft helicopter carriers would be expensive but useful assets to Russia's ageing navy. They would also provide much-needed work for France's desolate shipbuilding yard at Saint Nazaire, which Sarkozy said would build the first of the Mistrals.

The deal, which has been on the cards for months, has raised eyebrows among France's fellow Nato members. On a visit to Paris last month, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, expressed his concern to his French counterpart, Hervé Morin.

Russia has indicated a desire to station the vessels, which can launch helicopters and armoured vehicles, in the Black Sea. This has provoked grave concern in Tblisi, which criticised France for providing amphibious assault ships to a country which launched a full-scale incursion into Georgia less than two years ago.

Sarkozy, who returned France to Nato's military command structure last year, has said he wants to "turn the page" on a chapter of history dominated by the Soviet threat. The Mistrals would be sold to Russia "without military equipment".

Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, on a three-day visit to France aimed at strengthening political and commercial ties between the two countries, said the sale would be "a symbol of trust between our countries". The two men will today add a dash of cultural co-operation to their newly invigorated courtship as they inaugurate an exhibition of Russian art at the Louvre. Sainte Russie, which opens to the public on Friday, is sponsored by the Total Foundation, GDF Suez and Gazprom.

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This would be the first time in 50 years a Nato country sales heavy weapons to Russia (officially of course).

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