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Russia to buy 4 copter ships from NATO state - RIA

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia plans to buy four Western-built helicopter carriers and is now in talks with three NATO states on buying the vessels, RIA news agency quoted Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov as saying on Monday.

“At the present time we are in preliminary discussions on this type of vessel with three states. These are Spain, Holland and France. We plan to sign a contract for four such ships,” Serdyukov said. He gave no time frame for the deal.

The would-be deal on the purchase of the warships has the full backing of President Dmitry Medvedev, Serdyukov stressed. “We are now working very seriously on this issue,” he said.

Russia had originally set its eyes on France’s Mistral amphibious carriers, estimated to cost 400 million to 500 million euros ($500.2 million-$625.2 million). Moscow said later it could buy similar ships elsewhere if it saw better options.

The potential sale of a Mistral-type warship to Moscow has alarmed the United States and Eastern European NATO members.

In August 2008 Russia fought a five-day war against ex-Soviet Georgia. Moscow said later that if it had the Mistral during the war, it would have achieved its military goal in 40 minutes instead of 26 hours.

The commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe said last month that the addition of the ships to Russia’s navy would not “drastically increase” its military capabilities but the sale would create “bigger concern” if it included technology.

Clearly hinting at a technology transfer, Serdyukov said Russia would agree to buy only one warship fully built abroad. He said the three other ones must be built together with Russian shipbuilders.

“Under our conditions, the fourth ship must be constructed in Russia to the greatest extent possible.”

Serdyukov said the first such ships would probably come into service in Russia’s Northern and Pacific fleets.

The Soviet Union did build helicopter carriers for its formidable navy. But they were rather “helicopter-carrying cruisers”, which were not amphibious and could not carry armoured vehicles and additional troops for landing operations.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Mark Heinrich