Russia wants four ships and Sarkozy trusts it
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, March 3Talks between France and Russia concerning the purchase of four French Mistral-class amphibious assault ships began on March 1, the Presidents of those two countries said at a meeting in Paris. Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev is paying a three day visit to France.
A Mistral-class ship is capable of transporting and deploying 16 helicopters, four landing barges, up to 70 armoured vehicles, including 13 battle tanks, and 450 personnel. President Nicolas Sarkozy said that his country will build a Mistral with no armaments for Russia. "The Mistral is a helicopter carrier and we will build one without military equipment. The vessel's sale to Russia is a sign of trust between our two countries and I hope that these negotiations will end successfully. It is not right to ask Russia to give us a hand in resolving conflicts and other difficulties in the world and at the same time not trust this country,” Sarkozy stated. The Russian President thanked Sarkozy for taking on an important role in keeping peace in the world and promised assistance in this direction. "The French side has done its best to preserve peace. Russia will also be involved in this process. Buying the Mistral has two connotations for us, firstly, it is a symbol of trust between our two countries and second, it means we can gain what we do not have through collaboration with other countries,” Medvedev mentioned.
The Georgian Government has said, "Georgia cannot have any kind of influence on the negotiations between these two countries but the most important thing is that the interests of our country are protected. When I talk about interests, I mean two things: first, Georgia has to be made a part of NATO, as soon as possible, for our country to be safe from Russian aggression and second, we must have the means to purchase defensive arms from foreign countries, even from France, to protect our own interests. Nobody should be surprised by these demands,” Temur Iakobashvili, Minister of Reintegration, stated on March 2.
A lot of controversial statements have been made in the Georgian and Russian media concerning the Mistral sale. Russian news agency RIA Novosti has said, citing the Russian Defence Ministry, that nothing will be signed during the Russian President's visit to France. The same source says that if Moscow buys the vessel it will be used principally as an amphibious command ship, a "force projection" command ship for various task groups or combined forces operating at sea. RIA Novosti also says that many Russian military and industry experts have questioned the financial and military sense of the purchase and some believe Russia simply wants to gain access to advanced naval technology which could be used in potential future conflicts with NATO and its allies. There are concerns that Russia could use the warship for an amphibious assault on Georgia, and the Russian military has said that such a vessel would have allowed the Russian Navy to conduct a more efficient operation in the Black Sea during the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Such opinions are not however shared by many politicians in Russia. "Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is a greater threat to security in the Black Sea region than the Mistral-class helicopter carrier Russia intends to buy from France,” Moscow’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has said.
Georgian analyst Irakli Sesiashvili has called Sarkozy’s latest statement hypocritical. "The French President's statements about trusting Russia and Russia needing the Mistral to keep peace in the world are hypocrisy and nothing more. We all know very well how Russia is “keeping peace “in the world, Georgians especially have great experience of this. It would not have been bad if Sarkozy have started his statement by explaining how the 6 point Sarkozy-Medvedev’s ceasefire agreement is being fulfilled by Russian side, or not. The French President's statement that he will sell Mistral to Russia without military armaments is also misleading, as there is no serious armament on Mistral to begin with, only air defence equipment and six small machine guns. A version without these armaments would suit Russia more because it will put its own equipment on the vessel instead, which it is able to do in a day,” stated Sesiashvili.
A final, official decision on this issue has still not been made. Medvedev is due to leave France on March 3.