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France and Russia agree unprecedented warship deal

France and Russia have finalised an unprecedented deal for Paris to sell four powerful modern warships to Moscow, President Nicolas Sarkozy and his counterpart Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday.

“All talks have been completed. The contract will be signed shortly,” Medvedev told reporters after holding bilateral talks with his host Sarkozy ahead of the G8 summit in the northern French resort of Deauville.

“The elements of the signing have been resolved. The signature will take place within a fortnight,” Sarkozy said.

Under the plan, two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships will be built in France and two in Russia to the French design, the two men said without giving further details.

Negotiations over the purchase began in 2009 but repeatedly stalled over price and technology transfer amid concerns among France’s NATO allies about arming Russia with modern Western weaponry.

Some former Soviet nations like Georgia, which fought a brief but bloody war with Russia in 2008, have expressed fears in the past that Russia could use the powerful ships against them.

Earlier this year the two sides were reportedly unable to agree on the contract price, as Russia insisted on paying no more than $980 million while France insisted on a contract of at least $1.15 billion

The ship purchase deal with France is unprecedented since World War II both in terms of the size of the equipment in question and Russia’s insistence since the war on producing all military hardware for its own use and export.

The deal will also be seen as a major coup for the both leaders and will likely butress their credentials as political negotiators as Russia and France are heading into presidential elections next year.

BRushing off any possible concerns from his NATO allies, Sarkozy reiterated that Russia was a trusted partner and the Cold War epoch was over. Medvedev for his part said the two countries enjoyed “superb ties.”