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26 Nov, 2009 11:38

ROAR: Russian military in search of “new image”

ROAR: Russian military in search of “new image”

A French Mistral helicopter carrier may become the largest purchase in the efforts to modernize the Russian Armed Forces' armory.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will discuss political and economic topics with the French leadership during his official visit to France that starts on November 26. He will also talk to his French counterpart Francois Fillon about the preparations for a Year of Russia in France and a Year of France in Russia, scheduled for 2010.

The issue of purchasing a French Mistral-class amphibious assault ship for the Russian Navy “could be discussed” during the talks in France, deputy head of the government staff Yury Ushakov told journalists. The preliminary decision may be taken not only on the purchase of the ship, but also on a license to build four such ships in Russia.

The Mistral talks have been in the focus of the media’s attention for weeks. If the deal is signed, it will be the largest vessel Russia has ever bought for its Navy.

France’s Mistral helicopter carrier on November 23 called in at St. Petersburg, and military specialists and ship-builders were able to assess the vessel’s characteristics. There is a strong opposition in Russia against buying foreign-made battle ships because many say it costs too much and undermines the country’s domestic ship-building industry.

After an inspection of the ship, the Russian side will either approve the purchase or will call it “premature,” sources at Vedomosti daily said. The French naval shipbuilder DCN is waiting for “political impulse,” the paper noted, adding that a similar situation “is seen in Russia.”

Many analysts cast doubt on the deal. Vedomosti quoted Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy director at the Russian Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, as saying that “the project would cost over one billion euros.” The funding could instead be used to buy French thermal imaging systems for the Russia’s tanks that are to be retained under the current reform of the armed forces, he said.

The Mistral visit to St. Petersburg was part of the bilateral military cooperation between Russia and France, Kommersant daily said. Till the weekend the ship will be taking part in joint exercises with the Russian Navy at the Baltic Sea, it added. The captain of the vessel avoided speaking about the possible purchase, the paper stressed.

The Russian prime minister is not likely to discuss “the signing of the deal” during his visit to France, the daily said. Rather, “those responsible for the talks will be appointed,” the paper noted, adding that the main candidates are “the defense ministers of the two countries.”

If success is achieved in the talks, “the ship for Russia may be built during the two years from the signing of the documents,“ the paper said.

However, the media write about the strong opposition to the purchase in Russia. A top manager at United Shipbuilding Corporation told Kommersant that the funding may be allocated to building Russian ships of a similar type.

Ruslan Pukhov, Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies believes that the Mistral talks are part of the new policy of the Russian Defense Ministry in the sphere of the purchases of arms. The first signs of this policy were contracts on buying thermal imagers in France and unmanned drones in Israel, he wrote in Izvestia daily.

“All these deals were treated as usual imports of advanced military technologies with the purpose of their further localization or reproduction,” the analyst said.

“However, the appetite comes with eating,” Pukhov said, adding that purchasing new weaponry is being negotiated. He said that he did not know “the real goals of buying the Mistral.”

“I assume that this decision has probably been sanctioned by the leadership… to thank French President Nicolas Sarkozy for his loyal policy towards Russia.”

“No attempts have been undertaken to attract Russian design engineering bureaus to participation in the competition,” Pukhov said. “They only say that Russia lacks the experience of designing and building such ships,” he said.

Pukhov also doubted that Russia would be able to receive any modern technologies with the purchase of the French vessel.

The story with the purchase of the Mistral once again reveals the problem of the absence in the Defense Ministry “of clear views on the long-term perspectives in the sphere of military and technical policy” despite the great number of different programs and conceptions, Pukhov said.

He stressed that the state program of the armament for 2007-2015 has actually lost its significance because of the planned transition to “the new image of the army.”

This transition began in 2008 and it envisioned a series of reforms, and massive rearmament was part of these reforms, Izvestia said. The military promise to buy “only modern arms and military technology,” the paper added.

Russia’s industry may offer only 10% of the whole catalog of the necessary weaponry and military equipment, the daily stressed, noting, “In many respects for this reason, the new image of the army envisions purchasing foreign-made military equipment – the Mistral, for instance.”

The Defense Ministry would also buy communication facilities and means of electronic intelligence in the West, “but nobody will sell them to us,” the paper said.

The Russian military plan to abandon old research projects that have not created new weapons and to buy military equipment for the released funds, Vedomosti said. The country needs “missile boats, corvettes and frigates to maintain the balance of forces on the Black and Baltic seas” as well as larger ships to increase the presence in the oceans, the paper added.

The August 2008 events in the Caucasus “exposed major failings in the Russian military, including weak reconnaissance and telecommunications capabilities, and both poor troop control, and weapons control processes,” Vremya Novostey stressed.

Observers say that it is naive to think that all the shortcomings can be eliminated in a short period, but they note that the modernization is already under way.

At a recent extended board of the Russian Defense Ministry, intermediate results of the initiative to establish a new image of the armed forces were considered. Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said that the tasks set for 2009 had been fulfilled, and military exercises in autumn 2009 “had confirmed it.” This does not mean “that we are satisfied,” the minister said. “This means that the work is being done in the necessary direction.”

Serdyukov added that up-to-date automated control centers and information complexes will start working, and that the army will completely switch to digital communication facilities by 2012.

Sergey Borisov, RT