France to build Russia two warships: Sarkozy

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France will build at least two high-tech amphibious assault ships for the Russian navy, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Friday, on a visit to a western shipyard.

Russia has been negotiating with France to buy up to four Mistral-class helicopter carriers, despite concerns among Paris' NATO allies over the transfer of western naval technology to their former Cold War foe.

"With our Russian friends, you are going to build the two BPCs," Sarkozy told workers at the STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, referring to the French abbreviation for the 21,300-tonne vessels.

"We're still negotiating the contract, but the decision to go ahead is certain," the president added.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told AFP last month that Moscow would only go ahead with the deal if it includes a transfer of the technology that makes the Mistral one of the most powerful in the French fleet.

He put the price tag of the vessel at around 300 million euros apiece (388 million dollars), and said that it would be a good deal for French shipyards at a difficult economic time.

But some US lawmakers and the governments of new NATO members on the Baltic fear that the added punch the Mistral would give Russia's naval forces will encourage the Kremlin to throw its weight around in its backyard.

© 2010 AFP

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