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Lithuania questions France-Russia warship deal

Lithuania called NATO ally France to account Tuesday over an unprecedented deal to sell warships to Russia, the Baltic state’s Soviet-era master.

“Possible concerns over the sale of such weaponry are soothed by the news that it can no longer be produced in Lithuania’s neighbourhood,” government spokesman Virgis Valentinavicius said, ironically, of Russia’s need to seek military hi-tech in the West.

“At the same time, we hope NATO countries will never have to wrack their brains on how to defend against weapons they manufactured themselves,” he told AFP.

Paris and Moscow announced Tuesday they had signed a deal under which a France will build two Mistral-class vessels, and Russia, two under licence.

Talks began in 2009 on selling Russia the Mistral, a powerful vessel capable of carrying helicopters and tanks.

It marks the first sale to Russia of such technology by a NATO member and France’s allies have raised concerns.

Lithuania and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia — all ruled by Moscow until 1991 — have been vocal.

On Tuesday, however, Estonian authorities declined to comment and Latvia reined in criticism.

“Latvia has no reason to doubt the action of a fellow NATO member,” defence ministry spokesman Janis Silins told AFP.

But ex-defence minister Imants Liegis, who now heads Latvia’s parliamentary European affairs committee, took Paris to task.

“I think regrettably there’s been a lack of open discussion within the European Union and NATO about this sale,” Liegis told AFP.

“I understand that France has the sovereign right to sell arms to third countries and Latvia cannot prevent that.

“We understand there are economic considerations and at the same time, we have our geography and history. We are anxious to move ahead in our relationship with Russia, and the NATO- and EU-Russia relationship, but this is not necessarily the best way,” he added.

Moscow only pulled its troops out of the Baltic states in 1994, three years after they won independence when the Soviet Union crumbled.

The trio, with a total population of 6.7 million, have rocky relations with giant Russia, notably since joining NATO and the EU in 2004.