By Kirsten Ashbaugh
06/27/2011 – Russia has signed a long-expected agreement with France to buy two Mistral-class warships in a US$1.7 billion (€1.2 billion) contract. Anatoly Isaikin, director of the state-controlled arms exporter Rosoboronexport, and Patrick Boissier, president and CEO of the shipbuilder DCNS that will construct the warships, sealed the deal June 17th in St. Petersburg. Two additional warships will be constructed on Russia soil, adding up to four new warships for Russia.
The deal comes as no surprise, but it worries many of France’s partners as well as Russia’s neighbors, particularly Georgia. According to a Russian admiral, an amphibious vessel such as this class of warship would have allowed the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia to take place in a matter of hours. Russia’s immediate Eastern European neighbors undoubtedly fear greater Russian power so close to their doorstep, even as it involves an EU ally. In the United States, House Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL 18), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, condemned the deal as a breach of security, stating that the deal would transfer sensitive military technology to Russia. The deal had originally stalled over price as well as technology transfer issues; France showed some reluctance to equip Russia with a Western data system and fleet command system.
The deal may be a signal on France’s part that it is willing to have closer relations with Russia, at least for the sake of security. Russia controls most of the natural gas flows into Europe, and the January 2009 cut-off of supplies through Ukraine (as well as numerous other disputes over gas between Russia and Ukraine) left many Europeans fearful of Russia’s power over its neighbors. Controlling over 50 percent of the natural gas supplies, Russia is also constructing the Nord Stream pipeline through the Baltic Sea, leaving many countries in Eastern Europe fearful of being bypassed in the case of another spat. The promise of future warships also signifies possible control over the Caspian Sea, the strategic transit route for the Nabucco pipeline that would flow from Central Asian countries such as Azerbaijan while also bypassing Russia.