Russia needs French warship for Pacific coast: general

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Russia is close to purchasing a Mistral-class French warship and needs such a vessel to patrol waters around Pacific islands that are the subject of a long-running dispute with Japan, a top general said Tuesday.

Russia's plan to purchase the Mistral -- capable of carrying up to 16 helicopters and a 750-strong landing force -- has alarmed some of its neighbours amid expectations it would become part of its Black Sea fleet.

But the latest comments by the Russian military's chief of staff could alarm Japan, which has never signed a treaty to formally end World War II with Moscow due to the dispute over the Kuril Islands.

"There is already a high level of readiness on the contractual obligations for the Mistral," General Nikolai Makarov told the defence committee of Russia's upper house. "I think that we will buy this ship."

"We need such a ship, but in the Far East it is quite simply necessary," he said according to the Interfax news agency.

He said in the region around the Kuril Islands "we need mobile means so that a landing force can be rapidly sent there at the necessary time".

Makarov's comments come two days ahead of a visit to France by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, where the subject of the Mistral ship is set to be a central issue.

Russia is expected to buy at least one finished vessel from France and also the right to build several more itself.

The deal -- the first such sale of advanced military technology by a NATO country to Moscow -- has proved controversial among Russia's neighbours, particularly Georgia and the Baltic states.

Russian officials have on occasion mooted buying a similar ship from a third country such as the Netherlands, but the head of its state arms trade agency said in April that the decision to buy from France had already been made at a political level.

The islands were seized by Soviet troops in the waning days of World War II. Tokyo has insisted on the return of all four islands, which are known as the South Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan.

© 2010 AFP

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