Russia throws open French warship buy to tender: report
Russia is throwing open its planned purchase of a helicopter carrier to a tender involving foreign and Russian companies, ending France's status as the exclusive bidder, a report said Thursday.
Russia has been negotiating with France for months to buy the Mistral-class ships, in its first ever purchase of military hardware from a NATO member state. But talks have been mired by disputes over technology transfer.
The Kommersant daily said that Russia's United Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK) had managed to persuade the ministry of defence to hold the tender. The head of the OSK's board is powerful Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.
A source in the ministry of defence told the paper that without holding a tender, the transaction on the ship would be illegal. OSK had already lodged a complaint with the federal anti-monopoly service.
OSK president Roman Trotsenko told the paper that a special commission under the aegis of the ministry of defence had already been created for the holding of the tender.
The commission would then determine which foreign and Russian shipbuilding firms would be allowed to take part.
"This means that the ministry has renounced the exclusive purchase of the French helicopter carrier the Mistral," Kommersant said.
The ministry of defence was not available for immediate comment.
Three Russian companies who could take part in the tender include the Zvezda shipbuilder in the Far East which has a joint venture with South Korea's Daewoo Marine Shipbuilding and Engineering.
It would offer the South Korean Dokdo amphibious warship, Kommersant said.
Kommersant said that the OSK -- the umbrella group of Russian shipbuilders -- had been infuriated that the French deal implied it was unable to build a helicopter carrier and this had even began to affect its business.
"Statements by the ministry of defence that the OSK was not even able to build a Mistral -- which is basically a rebuilt passenger ship -- hit the cooperation's work with export customers who started to look at it with scepticism," a cooperation source said.
The paper said Sechin -- the right-hand-man of strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- had been instrumental in the decision.
Russia's top naval commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said last month that there was "no point" in the purchase of the French ship unless there was a transfer of technology.
© 2010 AFP