Putin lieutenant put in charge of Mistral deal: report

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has appointed his influential deputy, Igor Sechin, to oversee buying Mistral warships, a move that may hinder talks with France, a report said on Friday.

Sechin, who is also board chairman of state conglomerate United Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK), is considered a top opponent of purchasing the Mistral without its cutting-edge technology, Kommersant newspaper reported, citing sources in the shipbuilding corporation.

While the Russian military back the purchase, the shipbuilding corporation wants to assemble such ships in Russia without actually purchasing them from France, Kommersant said, adding that the difference in opinion led to a "serious conflict" between the two sides.

Sechin has been put in charge of a special commission that will oversee the Mistral purchase, government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said on its website earlier this week.

During a visit to Paris last month, Putin insisted in talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy that the deal to buy the ships should include top-of-the-range technology.

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.

The deal would be the first sale of advanced military hardware to Russia by a NATO country.

Kommersant, quoting sources, also said that OSK was in talks with South Korean shipbuilder STX over the possible construction of a warship similar to Mistral in the Russian town of Kronshtadt near Saint Petersburg.

An OSK spokesman was not immediately available for comment when reached by AFP.

© 2010 AFP

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