18:33 04/08/2009 MOSCOW, August 4 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is discussing the purchase of a French Mistral-class amphibious assault ship worth between 300 and 400 million euros ($430-580 mln), a high-ranking source close to the talks said Tuesday.
"Such talks are being held at the level of experts; the Russian side is represented by the Navy, the United Shipbuilding Corporation, and plants' representatives. In September we will provide a final conclusion for the Russian Defense Ministry," the source told RIA Novosti.
Earlier a French business daily, La Tribune, said Russia is planning to purchase a Mistral class assault ship from France. The purchase, if successful, would be the first large-scale arms import deal concluded by Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia first expressed an interest in bilateral cooperation with France in naval equipment and technology in 2008, when Navy chief Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky visited the Euronaval 2008 arms show in France.
The admiral said at the time that the Russian Navy was interested in "joint research and also direct purchases of French naval equipment."
According to military sources, the possibility of buying a Mistral class amphibious assault ship was discussed at the naval show in St. Petersburg in June this year.
A Mistral class ship is capable of transporting and deploying 16 helicopters, four landing barges, up to 70 vehicles including 13 main battle tanks, and 450 soldiers. The ship is equipped with a 69-bed hospital.
The Russian Kommersant business daily confirmed on Tuesday the possibility of the deal, but said Russian military experts were skeptical about it.
"The Russian Navy lacks the means to finance even the production of corvettes and missile boats, let alone the purchase of large combat ships," the paper quoted Mikhail Barabanov, science editor of the Eksport Vooruzheny (Arms Export) journal, as saying.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said "although the practice of arms imports will become more common in Russia in the future, the Mistral deal is rather questionable from a military standpoint, as well as Russia's hopes for the transfer of advanced technologies from France."
Russia's current weapons procurement program through 2015 does not envision construction or purchases of large combat ships, so the possible acquisition of a French Mistral class ship is most likely to happen under the new program for the years up to 2020, which is still in the development.