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Russia threatens French company over helicopters

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, June 15
A deal between Georgia and French company Eurocopter to purchase two modern Super Puma helicopters has led to Russia making threats against the company.

On June 9 in Paris President Mikheil Saakshvili signed an agreement to purchase two 'aid helicopters', which he said would be used to help deal with natural disasters and conduct aid operations for those affected by them. Georgia will pay USD 30 million for the helicopters, but on credit. However an order signed by President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev on January 19 2009 states that neither Russia nor foreign countries should supply Georgia with dual-function military equipment or arms. Countries breaching this order, which can only be considered a legal document within Russia itself, will be subject to immediate economic sanctions and the suspension of military-economic and military-technical cooperation.

Igor Korotchenko, Head of the World Arms Trade Analytical Centre, told Ria Novosti on June 12 that the only way the helipcopters can therefore be suipplied is if Georgia is offered the civil version of the Super Puma, with no military functions attached. He said that Eurocopter should realise that it is endangering its business in Russia, which is substantial, buy offering Super Pumas to Georgia and the type of Super Puma Georgia had agreed to purchase was an absolutely crucial issue for Russia.

The Georgia authorities only commented on this issue on June 14, when Temur Iakobashvili, State Minister for Reintegration Issues, told the Georgian media that he could not understand who exactly Russia was threatening. “I think such statements are generally made for a domestic audience. The only sanction Russia could impose on France would be to stop buying helicopters from France. Russia is irritated by this because Georgia, which they think of as an occupied country which should beg for things on its knees, is not only alive and well but is visiting France, buying helicopters etc,” Iakobashvili stated.

Grigol Vashadze, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, denied that any sanctions would be placed against Eurocopter, explaining that this idea is based soloely on an assumption. “Russia hasn’t laid any sanctions on France, it is simply that one member of the Russian Government has said that Eurocopter is in great danger of having a Russian sanction placed upon it. But making any kind of agreement with France is our sovereign right and Russia has nothing to do with it. Believe me, Russia is becoming more and more dependent on Western arms suppliers, so we don't think Russia is going to take any sanctions against any of them,” he concluded.

Political analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili told The Messenger that the order issued by Dmitry Medvedev may one day end with the cancellation of the purchase of the infamous Mistral combat ship, which Russia has itself ordered from France. “France hasn’t made any promise to Russia that it won’t cooperate with Georgia, so it is not obliged to take Russia’s insructions. However no one has explained to the Georgian public why there is an urgent need for two helicopters, especially when the country is so poor,” explained Tsiskarishvili. “This step has political connotations but it’s really childish to try to counter the Mistral purchase by buying two helicopters. If we want to compete with Russia in something let it be in the quality of democratisation in the country, not armaments,” he said, adding that the money spent on the helicopters might have been spent on beneficial social projects.