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Russia’s interest in warships worrisome

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March 5, 2010, 12:11 a.m. | Ukraine — by John Marone

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev shakes hands with French Immigration Minister Eric Besson, right, with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, at center, prior to a signature at the Elysee Palace Monday, March 1, 2010 during a formal 2 day-state visit in P
© (AP)

If Russia attacks a neighbor, it might do with new warships supplied by France. It’s been about 18 months since Russia invaded the small Caucasus nation of Georgia, a move which shocked the world and sparked fears that Ukraine, another pro-Western ally in Moscow’s backyard, could be next.

Those fears have subsided since, but should the Kremlin decide to attack one of its neighbors again, it may be able to do so with state-of-the-art warships it wants to buy from France. And while relations between Moscow and Kyiv look brighter since the more Eastern-looking President Victor Yanukovych took power on Feb. 25, other post-Soviet states bullied by Russia for their Western integration efforts have already sounded the alarm bell.

Although the deal for Russia’s purchase of four Mistral-class helicopter and tank carriers has yet to be finalized, analysts say the Kremlin desperately needs to modernize its navy, and the Black Sea is a good place to project its new power. The sale is reportedly valued at $2 billion.

Following talks with Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Paris on March 1, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France had entered into “exclusive talks” to sell Russia the ships.

Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, chief of the Russian naval staff, had noted ominously in September that the military's 2008 campaign in Georgia’s Abkhazia region could have been completed in record time with the help of a Mistral.

Yet Sarkozy played down fears of revived Russian imperialism. “How can we tell our Russian partners: We need you for peace, we need you to resolve a number of crises in the world, particularly the Iranian crisis ... but we don’t trust you, we can’t work with you on Mistral?” Sarkozy said on March 1.

Medvedev called the potential defense deal, which is expected to entail a technology transfer to Russia, “a symbol of trust between our two countries.”

Some of France’s fellow NATO members are not as sanguine about such a sale, with U.S. officials raising eyebrows, and Commander-in-Chief of the Estonian Defense Forces, Lieutenant General Ants Laaneots, warning that Estonia would respond by increasing its security.

Mamuka Kudava, Georgia’s ambassador in Paris, told the Associated Press on March 2 that his nation will protest the planned deal.

Tim Fish, maritime reporter for Jane’s Navy International, described the Mistral as a powerful new tool for the Russian naval arsenal.

“Russia’s existing amphibious ships are just one-fifth of the size, are not helicopter-capable, and are built to a roll-on roll-off design, which means they need a port facility to land their tanks. This is very limiting. The Russian landings that took place on Georgia’s coast in August 2008 were completed at Georgian ports because they could not land them elsewhere,” he said.

The Mistral, built by France’s DCNS, can operate up to 16 helicopters, carry 450 troops (900 in emergency situations), 60 armored vehicles (or 13 main battle tanks) and 1,200-tons of cargo. Using the helicopters and landing craft, the ship can deploy troops at a wider variety of locations on a coastline, increasing the navy’s tactical options, according to Jane’s.

“They could buy another type of amphibious ship from elsewhere, but whatever model of ship they eventually choose they will be able to operate it wherever they like, and the Black Sea is one obvious choice,” Fish said.

If the transaction goes through, it would be the first such large-scale arms sale by a NATO military alliance country to Russia. It would net DCNS around 400 million euro for each fully-armed vessel.

Not everyone, however, is convinced that Ukraine has reason to worry about Russia re-arming close to home.

Anatoly Hrytsenko, a former Ukrainian defense minister, said a purchase deal wouldn’t change the balance of powers in the Black Sea or threaten Ukraine’s interests.

“Any augmentation of Russia’s military presence at its base in Ukraine would have to be agreed between the two sides,” he said.

But Mykhailo Samus, a Ukrainian military analyst, described the Mistral as “a floating military base.”

Russia’s primary motivation in acquiring a Mistral is likely rooted in the country’s need for the high technology transfer that it would receive for its own lagging defense industry as part of the package, he said.

The Mistral could nevertheless also serve as a new statement of Russian military might, including its possible use in punitive expeditions against its immediate neighbors such as Ukraine.

Under former Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko, who openly advocated NATO membership for his country, the threat of a conflict with Russia looked more imminent. However, Kremlin muscle-flexing has been a consistent feature of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which has made no secret of its desire to pull former Soviet republics not yet in NATO back under its control.

One possible scenario involving a Kremlin show of force against Ukraine might be an expedition to protect ethnic Russians in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, which more than one politician in Moscow has claimed for Russia.

“If such conditions were present, that ship is intended for precisely such purposes,” Samus said.


Kyiv Post staff writer John Marone can be reached at marone@kyivpost.com.
The Kyiv Post is hosting comments to foster lively debate. Criticism is fine, but stick to the issues. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks will be removed from the site. If you think that a posted comment violates these standards, please flag it and alert us. We will take steps to block violators.
Anonymous March 5, 2010, 1:12 a.m.    

Ukraine is not pro west anymore. Even turkey just joined the good guys team against the great satan.

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 2:43 a.m.    

If its not pro West anymore, may be you tell us what is it pro now? LOL!

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 6:49 a.m.    

Neutral , maybe more pro asia.

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 4:43 p.m.    

Who says that Ukraine is pro west. Russia? We are not &quot;pro&quot; anything except &quot;pro&quot; Ukraine! We aspire for a better life, hopefully a European lifestyle. Intergration into the European union naturally helps to make that lifestyle a reality.We look foward to a better life for ourselves while Russia focus on it's imperial ambitions which we don't want to be a part of. So leave us alone!

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 3:32 a.m.    

Europeans want nato desolved as fascist americ with its wars of adventurism for oil and resource control annoise Europeas...

They would rather pay russia for regional security arrangements...

Fine move Mr Sarkozy,, seems europe is on the upswing again,,,,

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 7:38 a.m.    

Soviet Stalinist policies have not changed. Russian hopes of world supremacy live on. Let's face it Medvedev and Putin are little Hitler's trying to look important on the world stage and the only way they can do this is by waging war on other defenceless countries

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 6:56 a.m.    

Realpolitik is one thing, delusions of national grandeur are another entirely...

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 4:13 p.m.    

LOL!! Russias imperial ambitions are better aimed elswhere.Any notion about Europe putting it's security in the hands of Putin is a Russian fairy tale.In the west, Russia is viewed as aggressive,provocative, dishonest, highly corrupt,and still influenced by Sovietism.It is one of the least trusted countries in the world.Who needs all that trash!

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 12:49 p.m.    

Just the fact of buying a warship doesn't change the geopolitical conditions for the Russians. That won't be enough to influence the situation in Ukraine. With Yanukovich in office the Russians actually lose some of their leverage. Yuschenko was providing them with a convenient enemy.

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 2:37 p.m.    

Spain's Navantia has also been invited to the tender. Actually the Juan Carlos I is being considered by the Russians as a serious oponent to Mistral. However Spain shall not be able to offer taking a share in North-Stream or buying (trhough Arianspace) 14 Soyuz launchers to Russia.

Should Europe avoid buying Russian launchers in the name of &quot;national security&quot;? Obviously not.

The international community should be scared about having a tie eating moron as president of Georgia (also called by some Sabakashvili)

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 4:05 p.m.    

Why is it a worry?

What is there to stop Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Estonia et al also buying the same warship from France?

Why does it raise an eyebrow in the US? I have read no such thing, so citation would be nice.

This would be the US volunteering to have Russians take part in the missle defence program on other nations soil?

The US needs Russia for diplomatic pressure on Iran and supply routes to Afghanistan amongst other things....more so now the US has managed to upset Turkey to the point Turkey has withdrawn it's ambassador to the USA.

Europe is as dependent on Russia as Russia is on Europe. America and Russia are dependent upon each other as well in certain areas where cooperation is the only way forward even if it relates to a thrid party.

All large nations and economic blocs are interdependent in the global market place and a few warships do not change the military landscape for NATO members like Estonia.....only for the lunatics currently running the asylem in Georgia.

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 10:37 p.m.    

Actually, it would be cheaper for Georgia to acquire the missile systems to destroy these ships.

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 5:01 p.m.    

Nations buy warships because they want to fight wars. Isn't that what they're built for? What Russia's doing is try to show it's neighbours that it has the upper hand, so watch out!

Russia can afford to buy these ships, no other former Soviet union countries can. So they join Nato for protection, and why shouldn't they? Russia's aggression, threats bulling etc... towards it neighbours shouldn't be taken lightly. Russia must not be trusted!

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 6:13 p.m.    

Exactly they join NATO, so are they saying that the NATO nations will not honour Article 5 (All for one and one for all) if Russia showed agression towards them?

The fact Russia buys warships from a NATO nation, or any other nation, should not cause a major concern to a NATO member due to Article 5, unless that NATO member does not believe that it's NATO allies will honour Article 5.

If NATO members do not believe that Article 5 would be honoured then it is an organisation build on quicksand and despite its faults I do believe Article 5 would be honoured by all NATO members if push came to shove.

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Anonymous March 6, 2010, 3:49 p.m.    

All former Soviet Union countries who joined Nato did so for one reason only. Their security! and Nato is the only organisation who can protect them from Russia.As far as these countries are concerned, everything else about Nato is a compromise. When will Russia understand that no nation wants to stick itself to an authoritarian state, insanely corrupt system,Sovietised mentality not to mention imperial ambitions.Just go away and leave the world alone! We won't miss you,thats for sure!

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Anonymous March 7, 2010, 6:28 a.m.    

&quot;no nation wants to stick itself to an authoritarian state, insanely corrupt system,Sovietised mentality not to mention imperial ambitions&quot;

Do you mean China? If so it is doing a power of good. It is keeping the US alive

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Anonymous March 7, 2010, 2:51 p.m.    

Are you trying to be ignorant? Russia is at the top of the list for all these evils, even though it calls itself a democracy. China is still a communist state, so they have an excuse! I know, it's hard for Russians to swallow the truth! LOL!

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Anonymous March 7, 2010, 2:45 a.m.    

You are so delusional. Who would be dependent on Russia for anything? I think Russia is the one dependent on Europe.

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Anonymous March 7, 2010, 6:24 a.m.    

You mean Russia depends on borrowing from the EU, in spite of its massive reserves, like the average American buys with Chinese credit?

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Anonymous March 5, 2010, 10:30 p.m.    

These ships will still need a modern defensive fotilla of 'picket' ships to protect them. That is another several billion dollars spent.

Also, it should be noted that the French ships do not come with any armaments, just the ship as a platform. Russia will have to supply weapon systems on it's own, which are inferior to Western grade weapons.

Still, these ships will give the Russian navy better carrying capacity and mobility than what it had enjoyed before.

Again, it should be stressed, that without the proper defensive capability to defend these ships, they can easily be destroyed along with their contents by inexpensive ship destroying missiles launched from aircraft or even small patrol boats.

Russia is just banging a big drum for the world show and tell class.

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Anonymous March 6, 2010, 7:02 a.m.    

How the mighty have fallen - Russia's fleet in complete disrepair, its industry unable to repair or replace them, they have to blow their hard earned oil money on ships built by the enemy

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Anonymous March 7, 2010, 6:14 a.m.    

It seems that Russia is forging a strong friendship with not only with sibling Ukraine but France and Germany too. A good positive thing.

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Anonymous March 7, 2010, 3:40 p.m.    

Yes, it is time that Russian begins to be seen as a partner and not an enemy

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Anonymous March 7, 2010, 3:39 p.m.    

Why ennemy? Is the Russia in war with France? When was the last time that these two countries have been in war one against the other? Your are not surprise that France can be friend with Germany, but that France can be friend with Russia sounds impossible? It is time that people begin to change their mind about Russia. Russian have stopped to eat children some months ago...

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Anonymous March 7, 2010, 11:52 p.m.    

well looking at the state or russia's lilitary production capability they do not seem to be able to make there own anymore...Mig 29s returned because of 2nd hand parts used,,,,fuel tankers cancelled because of failure to meet standards and service and spares....etc etc etc

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Anonymous March 8, 2010, 4:31 a.m.    

The best thing about this French warship purchase, is that they are less toxic to the environment than the Russian ships, when they get sunk.

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