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24 Nov, 2009 17:05

Millions of euros at stake over French helicopter carrier ship deal

A state-of-the-art French warship has sailed into St. Petersburg – not only peacefully, but also with hopes that the largest deal ever struck between Russia and a Western country could be on the cards.

During the Mistral helicopter carrier’s three-day stay in St Petersburg, the Russian Navy and shipbuilders will be able to examine the vessel and to assess its characteristics.

Mistral is also expected to take part in joint Russian-French naval exercises to be held in the Baltic Sea in a couple of days.

Russia’s Navy showed great interest in the French helicopter carrier at an international naval show in St Petersburg in June.

A Mistral helicopter carrier has a standard crew of 160, but it can take onboard an additional 450 people, and even 900 people for a brief period of time, while its cargo deck has room for up to 40 tanks, or 70 cars.

The vessel’s helicopter unit normally consists of 16 choppers, six of which can be simultaneously placed on the takeoff deck.

Two months later, sources at the Navy’s Main Staff confirmed that such a vessel might be purchased for the Russian naval forces, Itar-Tass news agency says.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will be visiting France on November 26-27, and then a final decision on the purchase of a Mistral-type vessel for the Russian Navy is expected to be made, as well as the purchase of a license to build three or four such ships in Russia.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said on September 19 that Russia is seeking technology to boost its shipbuilding industry by buying the Mistral ship, according to Ria Novosti news agency.

The deal’s one major disadvantage is its price tag. The vessel can cost Russia up to 500 million euros, which is why the deal has many opponents in Russia who say that the country has to remain self-sufficient in ship-building.

They add it would be better to allocate the money to local ship-builders who are still struggling with the global economic crisis.