The Russian Defense Ministry will appoint a new team of negotiators to a possible $1.5 billion deal to buy Mistral-class helicopter carriers from France, a ministry source told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.
Under the deal, Russia and France will co-build two Mistral-class helicopter carriers at France's shipbuilding yard at Saint Nazaire, while another two Mistrals will be built in Russia's St. Petersburg.
"New representatives will take part in the next round of Russian-French Mistral talks," the source said. "At the moment, they are receiving the necessary documentation on the contract."
Two key negotiators - former senior Navy official Nikolai Borisov and first deputy defense minister, Vladimir Popovkin - were relieved of their duties in late April. Borisov was reportedly dismissed for "internal reasons," while Popovkin is to head Russia's federal space agency, Roskosmos.
The source was unable to disclose who would sit on the new team. The contract came close to collapse last year over how much technology France was prepared to share with Russia, but the issue was ironed out at negotiations in January.
"The replacement of the negotiation team is just a technicality," the defense ministry source said. "The negotiation process has made great progress, and the sides are well aware of each other's stance. The question now is whether France will sell Russia ships with all systems and equipment."
Mistral-class amphibious assault ships are capable of carrying up to 16 helicopters, four landing craft and 450 personnel.
MOSCOW, May 3 (RIA Novosti)