France agrees warship sale to Russia

PARIS Mon Feb 8, 2010 7:14am EST

PARIS Feb 8 (Reuters) - France has agreed to sell a Mistral class warship to Russia, a French official said on Monday, despite concerns expressed by Georgia and other countries.

Russia wanted to buy the 21,300-tonne helicopter carrier from France to modernise hardware that was exposed as outdated in its five-day war against Georgia in 2008.

"France has agreed to sell one Mistral warship to Russia," a Defence Ministry official told reporters.

France belongs to NATO and its willingness to sell Russia advanced technology that could be used in a confrontation with its forces or against its allies has caused concern among other NATO members.

Several of Russia's neighbours have also expressed worries. Lithuania wrote to France in November asking for clarification of the situation and details of the ship's ammunition.

The Mistral, marketed by French naval concern DCNS and estimated by analysts to cost 300 million to 500 million euros, is an amphibious assault ship able to carry helicopters, troops, armoured vehicles and tanks thousands of miles.

During the war with Georgia, launched to repel Tbilisi's attempt to retake the rebel province of South Ossetia, Russia tried to control the Black Sea coast where NATO warships appeared.

Russia has said it could have moved more swiftly in the Black Sea if a Mistral-type ship had been in its fleet.

Despite a peace deal mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, tensions remain high in Georgia. The region is viewed by the West as a vital energy transit route from the Caspian to Europe.

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Writing by Anna Willard; Editing by Angus MacSwan)