It appears that Russian-French talks on buying a Mistral-class amphibious-assault ship and building three other similar ships at Russian shipyards have now entered their final stage.
President Dmitry Medvedev says Moscow is interested in this deal. Apart from Russia and France, the Mistral contract is being discussed in some other European countries who fear a stronger Russian Navy.
Referred to as "projection and command ships" (French: batiments de projection et de commandement or BPC), Mistral-class ships facilitate the prolonged deployment of marine units and their air cover at remote theaters of war, as well as amphibious landings involving landing craft and helicopters on open beaches.
They can also be used as command and control ships for peacekeeping task forces or as floating bases. Also, their medical facilities can play an important role in disaster areas and war zones.
Ruslan Pukhov, a prominent Russian defense analyst and director of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, says it would be appropriate to buy a Mistral-class ship along with corvettes and frigates within the context of long-term Russian requirements because in the next 20-30 years Moscow will have to maintain a sustained naval presence in coastal areas and on the world's oceans.
In this situation, amphibious-assault ships are considered a mobile element of the military infrastructure. They can promptly deploy the required forces in a disputed region and facilitate their operation. Apart from the South Kuril archipelago and the entire Far East, such ships could facilitate a military presence in other strategic regions, including Africa, Southeast Asia, Antarctica and other maritime sectors fraught with local conflicts that may affect Russia's national interests.
The purchase of a Mistral-class ship and construction of similar ships in Russia has both military and economic implications. This contract would offer the side benefit of familiarizing the Russian ship-building industry with Western technology and production processes.
Hangar and freight-deck space has been reduced on these ships to accommodate up to 450 soldiers and to provide living quarters for them and the crew. Mistral-class ships therefore carry fewer helicopters and other military equipment.
Moscow and Paris are now prioritizing possible alterations in the ship's design at the request of the Russian Navy. It is unclear whether the ship's internal lay-out will remain the same, and whether there are any plans to enhance her survivability. The alterations may involve the expansion of hangars and freigh deck, as well as living quarters to accommodate more soldiers and deploy more fire-fighting equipment. They are bound to increase the ship's potential, making it more powerful and capable of engaging in combat operations. The Navy could hardly call this ship a good buy, unless such changes are made.
After that, it will become possible to clarify the selling price. Although a BPC 160 class ship now costs about 400 million euros, the price is likely to go up after the required changes are made. Considering plans to build three more ships at Russian shipyards, the entire project may be worth about 2 billion euros.
The negotiations continue against the backdrop of political manipulation. The leaders of some neighboring countries, including Georgia and the three Baltic states, are worried about the Mistral deal fearing a greater threat against their respective territories.
In effect, this stance reflects their traditional "victim complex." By speculating on a hypothetical "Russian aggression," Georgia and the Baltic states are probably hoping to prevent expanded ties between Moscow and France, an EU leader. At the same time, security considerations are relegated to the background.
Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia do not seem to realize that it is pointless to use an ocean-going ship to conduct amphibious landings against small countries which have common land borders with Russia.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik)
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.