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    Russia set to purchase large French warship - top brass

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    Russia is planning on signing by the end of 2009 a contractual agreement with France on the purchase of a Mistral class amphibious assault ship, the chief of the Russian General Staff said on Wednesday.

    ULAN BATOR, August 26 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is planning on signing by the end of 2009 a contractual agreement with France on the purchase of a Mistral class amphibious assault ship, the chief of the Russian General Staff said on Wednesday.

    "We are planning to reach an agreement [with France] this year on the production and the purchase of a Mistral class vessel," Gen. Nikolai Makarov told a news conference in the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator.

    "We are negotiating the purchase of one ship at present, and later planning to acquire 3-4 ships [of the same class] to be jointly built in Russia," the general said.

    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 vessel is equipped with a 69-bed hospital and could be used as an amphibious command ship.

    Makarov did not disclose the amount of the deal, but a high-ranking Russian source close to negotiations earlier said the ship could be worth between 300 and 400 million euros ($430-580 mln).

    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 other 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.

    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.

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