PARIS, (Reuters) – Russia has agreed to buy two helicopter carriers from a France-led consortium, the French and Russian governments said on Friday, in Moscow’s first major foreign arms purchase since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Under the long-discussed deal, the Mistral-type amphibious assault ships will be built by French shipyard companies DCNS and STX along with Russia’s state-run United Shipbuilding Corporation, known as OSK.
Some of France’s NATO allies had voiced concern, urging Paris not to sell Moscow high-tech systems that could be used against Russia’s former communist neighbours, especially since Russia’s brief 2008 war with neighbouring Georgia.
DCNS is a quarter owned by defence electronics group Thales. The deal contains an option for two further carriers to be built at a later date, the statement said.
The statement did not put a price on the deal, but the carriers are likely to cost between 400 million and 500 million euros each ($525 million to $655 million).
The purchase is part of Russia’s bid to modernise its ageing armed forces, burdened by Soviet-era equipment that military leaders said was exposed as outdated in the Georgia war.
Talks between Russia and France over the carriers have been complicated by Moscow’s desire to acquire technology along with the ships, as well as questions over where they would be built.
The statement did not say where the ships will be built, but it is likely that at least the first one will be produced in France while later ones could be built in Russian shipyards using French technology.