France is considering the sale of a helicopter carrier ship to Russia that could provide Moscow with added offensive capabilities at sea.
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Speaking in Moscow, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Defense Minister Herve Morin confirmed speculation that France is considering the sale of a helicopter carrier to Russia. Both sides, however, noted no deal has been signed. Kouchner said there are a number of French administrative and political principles governing arms sales, particularly a ship as expensive as a helicopter carrier.
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov indicated the two countries are now just consulting about the matter.
The defense chief says Russia has a whole set of questions it has put to the French, and is waiting for answers before it makes specific decisions. Serdyukov adds that Russia is not interested in one ship, but several.
The carrier under consideration belongs to the so-called Mistral Class of amphibious assault, command and projection ships. The 199-meter vessel can carry 16 helicopters and 450 troops for up to six months or about 700 for shorter periods.
Russian news media recently quoted naval commander Vladimir Vysotsky as saying the French warship would greatly increase the speed of Russian operations. He said a Mistral Class carrier would have accomplished certain tasks in 40 minutes that took Russia's Black Sea Fleet 26 hours during last year's conflict with Georgia.
Independent Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told VOA that France will likely need to consult with allies to go ahead with the sale.
Felgenhauer says that almost every country that produces modern weapons uses some patents or know-how from the United States. He says France will, therefore, consult with NATO and above all with Washington whether to sell or not to Russia and to what extent.
Moscow has indicated it may purchase one helicopter carrier and acquire licenses to build several more in Russian shipyards. Each ship costs an estimated $1 billion.