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France to build two naval command ships with Russia

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The Mistral (L9013) command and force projection ship.

PARIS (AFP): France and Russia have agreed to build jointly two French Mistral-class command and amphibious assault warships, with the possibility of two more, President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said Friday.

"Following the October 5 tender to supply the Russian Navy with two projection and command ships, the Russian authorities have chosen the consortium of France's DCNS and STX and Russian naval yard OSK," it said.

"Their offer initially covers the joint construction of two of this kind of vessel, which should be extended by the construction of two more," Sarkozy's Elysee Palace said in a statement.

The deal is the first sale to Russia of such naval high-tech by a NATO country and France's NATO allies, in particular the former Soviet Baltic states, have expressed concern about arming Moscow with modern Western weaponry.

Russia's choice of the French ships came after French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on a visit to Moscow earlier this month that France was ready to transfer military technology if it won the tender.

Russia had been in exclusive talks with France to buy two Mistrals but in August the defence ministry announced an international tender as the talks stalled on the question of technology transfer.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had stressed that the price and the possibility of technology transfer to allow Russia to subsequently learn to build its own warships of the same class would be key criteria in its choice.

France began negotiations with Russia in 2009 on a possible deal to sell Moscow the Mistral, a powerful warship costing around 500 million euros (USD 650 million).

A Mistral-class ship can carry up to 16 helicopters, four landing craft and a 750-strong landing force. It is equipped with a 69-bed hospital.

Sarkozy's office said the deal would lead to the creation of 1,000 jobs in French shipyards over four years.

A US diplomatic cable relating a Paris meeting between US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and his then French counterpart Herve Morin said that Washington believed the prospective sale sent a "mixed signal" to both Moscow and Eastern European allies.

Morin disagreed, saying the warship would not alter Russia's overall military power.

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France  Russia  warship  
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