Russia wants technology with French warships
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday insisted in talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy that a controversial deal to buy French warships include cutting-edge technology, officials said.
The sale of up to four Mistral-class assault ships is seen as France's most ambitious bid yet to reach out to Russia, but negotiations have stumbled over Moscow's demands for a transfer of technology.
The deal would be the first sale of advanced military hardware to Russia by a NATO country.
Putin told AFP in an interview this week that a deal on the Mistral, which has been under negotiation for more than five months, is possible only if the vessel comes fully-equipped.
France has said it will not lump sophisticated navigation systems and other sensitive technology into the deal for the ships, that cost about 500 million euros (600 million dollars) each.
During a working luncheon at the Elysee place, Putin held an in-depth discussion about the deal with the French president, according to a Russian official, but no breakthrough was announced.
The official, who asked not to be named, said a working group would be set up by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, presumably to iron out lingering differences.
"Putin and Sarkozy discussed in detail the cooperation in the area of building military vessels", said a Russian official. "Sechin has been tasked with setting up a working group on that issue."
Earlier in central Paris, Putin opened a big exhibition showcasing Franco-Russian cooperation, saying France and Russia must work together to keep their competitive edge in science and technology.
"In scientific and technological areas, we must unite our efforts," he said.
The sale of the Mistral warships, which can carry 16 helicopters and a 750-strong landing force, has also run into complications over Moscow's insistence that three of the four vessels be built in Russia.
"For us the most important thing is to buy technology. That is the future," said Russian Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko.
French officials said the transfer of technology was linked to a decision on where the ships would be built.
"If part of the ship is built in Russia, it will be by Russian engineers and workers, so there will be a transfer of know-how," said an aide to Sarkozy, who asked not to be named.
"This issue has to be negotiated. That is what the president told Vladimir Putin," he added.
Russia's neighbours in the Baltics and Georgia, along with the United States, have raised objections over the sale but France has countered that Russia must be treated like a partner and not a threat in Europe.
There have been concerns that the warships could be deployed in the Black Sea, where tensions are high following a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008 and among ethnic Russians living in Ukraine's Crimea region.
Russia's military chief of staff, General Nikolai Makarov, said in Moscow this week that the vessel could be used to patrol waters near Pacific islands that are the subject of a long-running dispute with Japan.
"For us, this deal is interesting only if it is accomplished with a parallel transfer of technology," Putin told AFP in the interview on Wednesday.
The Russian leader met with his former French counterpart, Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac, first thing on Friday and was to have talks later with the head of French oil giant Total, Christophe de Margerie.
The countries also cooperated in pushing through fresh sanctions this week against Iran over its suspect nuclear programme.
A French official said Putin had told Sarkozy that Russia would not go ahead with the sale of S-300 air defence missiles to Iran, in line with UN sanctions, a decision welcomed by the French president.
© 2010 AFP