French warship in Russia amid talks on landmark sale

ST PETERSBURG Mon Nov 23, 2009 8:54pm IST

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ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - A French helicopter carrier of a type Paris hopes to sell to Moscow docked in Saint Petersburg on Monday following talks on the deal, which would be greeted with unease by Georgia and the United States.

The Mistral-class warship, which can be used in amphibious assaults and can carry tanks and other armoured vehicles docked near the Admiralty building, the tsarist-era navy headquarters.

Russia's top brass have said they hoped to buy up to three Mistral carriers to fill a major gap in its military, whose weaknesses were exposed during last year's war with Georgia. It would also mark Russia's biggest arms purchase from abroad, undermining decades of military self-sufficiency.

"It's an unofficial visit on the invitation of the Russian navy," said Thomas Buffin, a French embassy spokesman in Moscow. He declined to comment on the progress of talks but said the Mistral may join Russian ships for manoeuvres in the Baltic Sea.

Deputy Russian Defence Minister Vladimir Popovkin confirmed in September that Moscow was in talks about the purchase of up to three Mistral-class ships but that no deal had been done.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the sale would hinge on a political decision in Paris.

As a NATO member, France may face pressure from the United States not to sell Russia advanced technology that could be used in a confrontation with its forces or against its allies, such as Georgia.]

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin travels to France later this next week for talks with Nicolas Sarkozy.

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