France on Tuesday inked a lucrative agreement to sell 4 Mistral warships to Moscow, with 2 to be built in Russia, in a move bitterly opposed by ex-Soviet states in the Baltics.The deal for the amphibious assault ships will be the first sale to Russia of such technology by a NATO country.
France's NATO allies -- in particular Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- have expressed concern about arming Russia with modern Western weaponry. Leaked diplomatic cables showed that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also raised Washington's concerns while on a visit to Paris last year.
The deal was announced while President Nicolas Sarkozy was visiting the STX naval shipyards in the western port of Saint-Nazaire where the vessels will be built in partnership with France's state-owned military contractor DCNS.
"The governments of the two countries agree to give their full support to the construction of 2 warships in France and 2 in Russia," said a joint French-Russian statement released by the French Presidency.
Sarkozy told ship workers in Saint-Nazaire that the deal represented 6 million hours of work and 1,500 jobs over 4 years.
A previous deal announced late last month concerned the construction of 2 Mistrals in Saint-Nazaire and mentioned the possibility of building 2 more.
The deal unveiled Tuesday did not mention how much technology France would transfer to the Russians to enable them to build the ships, nor did it mention how much the ships were being sold for.
France has been negotiating with Russia since 2009 on the deal to sell Moscow the Mistral, which is priced at around 500 million euros (680 million dollars).
Russian state shipbuilder OSK boss Roman Trotsenko told Interfax news agency that the unit price agreed was "less than 600 million euros."
STX shipbuilder said the first Mistral would be delivered in December 2013 and would be 80% built in France and 20% in Russia.
A Mistral-class ship can carry up to 16 helicopters, 4 landing craft, 13 battle tanks, around 100 other vehicles and a 450-strong force. It has facilities for a full command staff and is equipped with a 69-bed hospital.
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