State of Play on Mistral

Let’s review recent play in Russia’s possible purchase of French Mistral amphibious ships.

In yesterday’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, Viktor Litovkin said, despite reports Russian-French negotiations are going well, Russia’s announcement of an international tender for construction of large amphibious ships disrupted their exclusive talks.  But Litovkin thinks Russia will ultimately buy Mistral because (he believes) President Medvedev has promised French President Sarkozy.  So, the tender is really only about where to build two Russian-made ships (units 3 and 4), and the answer is Kaliningrad’s Yantar shipyard, according to Litovkin. 

To Litovkin, the remaining issues are the electronic fit on Mistral, and the final price of the deal.  He goes back to General Staff Chief Makarov’s comment that the Russian ships will be exactly like the French ones, down to their comms systems.  The only exception being Russian ones won’t have codes linking French ships into NATO’s command and control network.

On 9 September, Nezavisimaya gazeta picked up on a Le Figaro article concluding that Russia’s tender, coming after six months of negotiations with France, signified trouble.  It wrote that there is more than a little question whether they will remain exclusive talks, even if they continue. 

Technology transfer in the Mistral deal is Moscow’s sine qua non, but this issue may not be resolved on the French side.  Le Figaro believes the U.S. may be able to restrict the export of American-made electronic equipment on Mistral.

Also on 9 September, Rossiyskaya gazeta wrote that cost is the main unresolved issue in Moscow’s negotiations with Paris.  The paper also focused on the Defense Ministry’s insistence on receiving technologies, not just weapons systems and platforms from abroad.

ITAR-TASS reported Defense Minister Serdyukov’s 8 September statement that French cooperation on Mistral might open the way for more bilateral military-technical cooperation, possibly on UAVs.  At the conclusion of his visit to Paris, Serdyukov announced:

“The French side has expressed a desire to work in this area.  We proposed to do this in the form of joint ventures on the basis of our repair plants.  If we succeed on Mistral and we build on such experience, then in the future everything will go in other directions, including in unmanned aerial vehicles.  We have such a proposal from them.”

Also from 8 September, Newsru.com reported Serdyukov saying “we are now waiting on a price” from the French.  He apparently said the French offer would be evaluated with the help of both Russian and foreign experts.

After Serdyukov’s tender announcement, Sarkozy dispatched his military adviser, and former DRM chief, Benoit Puga to meet with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin on 26 August.  Of course, Sechin is Chairman of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation and point man in dealing with the French on Mistral.  They met at Yantar in Kaliningrad.  Puga reportedly told Sechin that ‘2+2’ was acceptable; the first Mistral would be built in a French shipyard in 36 months, the second following 12 months after.  And the third and fourth would be built in a Russian yard.

The French have stayed fairly confident in public about winning the contract.  And most Russian defense commentators still see Mistral as the favorite even if there is competitive bidding for the work.

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