Putin in France for talks with French leaders
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived in Paris on Thursday for talks with French leaders that are expected to focus on the purchase of a Mistral-class assault ship, RIA Novosti reported.
Russia is negotiating the purchase of at least one French-built Mistral-class amphibious assault ship and plans to build three more vessels of the same class in partnership with the French naval shipbuilder DCNS.
However, ahead of his visit to France, Putin said Russia would make the purchase if cutting-edge radar systems and other high-tech technology were included in the deal, which if it goes through will be the first sale of advanced military hardware by a NATO member to Russia.
"For us, this deal is interesting only if it is accomplished with a parallel transfer of technology, so that our shipbuilders - both civilian and military - receive a new technological boost for development," Putin said in an interview with Agence France Presse and France 2 TV.
The issue is expected to feature prominently in a meeting on Thursday between Putin and Prime Minister Francois Fillon and with President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday.
A Mistral-class ship is capable of transporting and deploying 16 helicopters, four landing barges, up to 70 armored vehicles including 13 battle tanks, and 450 personnel.
The Russian military plans to use the Mistral ships in its Northern and Pacific Fleets.
Chief of Russian Armed Forces General Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov said on Tuesday that Russia needs the ships primarily to boost the combat capabilities of its Navy in the Far East and ensure the protection of the disputed Kuril Islands, the subject of a row with Japan.
Putin is also scheduled to meet on Friday with ex-president Jacques Chirac and with head of the French oil giant Total, Christophe de Margerie.
The official reason for the trip is Friday's inauguration of the Russian National Exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, which comes as part of the Year of Russia in France.