MOSCOW, February 1 (RIA Novosti) – The Commander of the Russian Navy, Admiral Viktor Chirkov, will attend an official keel laying ceremony on Friday for the first Mistral-class amphibious assault ship being built at a French shipyard for Russia.
Construction of the warship, named Vladivostok, began last year at the STX shipyard in St. Nazaire, after Russia made an advance payment as part of the 1.2-billion euro deal for two French-built Mistral vessels, which was signed in June 2011.
The ceremony on Friday involves the placement of the first bow section into a dry dock. The Russian Embassy in France has confirmed the event is taking place but said it would be off-limits to the press.
Speaking ahead of the ceremony, a high-ranking source in Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) told RIA Novosti that Russia had built 30 small sections for the stern of the ship. They will be sent to France in the near future.
The Vladivostok is due for delivery in 2014, while the second Mistral for Russia, the Sevastopol, is expected to enter service with the Russian Navy in 2015.
Meanwhile, Russia has put back plans to build two additional Mistral class ships under French license to 2016, citing the need to assess the ships’ performance, role and status as part of the Russian Navy.
The Mistral deal came under fire from senior Russian officials last month, following the dismissal of former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov late last year, who actively lobbied for their purchase.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who has responsibility for the arms industry, said the ships were unsuitable for Russia as they were incapable of operating in cold weather conditions, while the Military-Industrial Commission's Deputy Head Ivan Kharchenko said the Mistral deal was “absurd,” as it had inflicted harm on the Russian shipbuilding industry.
A Mistral-class ship is capable of carrying 16 helicopters, four landing vessels, 70 armored vehicles, and 450 troops.
The French-built ships are expected to be assigned to Russia’s Pacific Fleet.