Thursday, December 30, 2010

Is France Pioneering the Sale by NATO Countries of High-Technology Military Equipment to the Kremlin?

Since a low-key Christmas Eve announcement of a French sale of assault ships to Russia,
reports Doreen Carvajal regarding the Mistral from Paris,
high-level government deal makers have boasted about the multimillion-euro deal like it was a soccer game triumph. “France wins,” declares the Web site for the Élysée Palace.

But critics — particularly among Russia’s neighbors including Georgia, Estonia and Lithuania — are raising alarms that France may have pioneered the way for other Western countries to sell Russia whatever they have to offer, from high-technology military equipment to rights for oil pipelines.

“It’s a scandal,” said André Glucksmann, a French philosopher and critic of the deal. He said in an interview on Tuesday that the announcement was timed for the busy Christmas season to bury the “dirty details.”

The boxy, 600-foot-long Mistral vessel is an advanced helicopter carrier equipped with a command center and hospital for military landing operations. It is the first major arms purchase by Russia abroad and the first sale by a NATO country, illustrating the shifting role of an alliance once conceived to counter Soviet military power.

One of the sticking points in negotiations was whether the deal would include advanced naval weapons and defense systems. In the months leading to the deal, a series of French officials softened their stand, saying that France was willing to supply the technology without restrictions.

Naval Industry: France Wins!
Russia chooses Saint-Nazaire to build its new boats

Besides using an infantile term (boats instead of ships, or navires), the Elysee website completely ignores the military aspect of the deal…
…The Baltic states have long raised concerns, keenly aware of the comments of Russia’s naval chief, Adm. Vladimir S. Vysotsky, who last year bluntly evaluated the potential benefits the equipment could have offered during the five-day Georgian war in 2008: “Everything that we did in the space of 26 hours at the time, this ship will do within 40 minutes.”

…Much of the geopolitical wrangling about the deal emerged in secret American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. In February 2010, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates raised the issue with President Nicolas Sarkozy and France’s defense minister at the time, Hervé Morin.

According to the ambassador’s report of the meeting, Mr. Gates noted that Russia failed to honor an armistice in Georgia brokered by Mr. Sarkozy. Mr. Gates also was scornful of the top deal makers: “Russian democracy has disappeared, and the government is an oligarchy run by the security services.”

Update: Autonomous Mind has more on "France’s traditionally self serving actions":
Russia was delighted that the Élysée was on board, on message and sowing disunity around western Europe. … The obvious conclusion to draw was that French had identified in Russia an opportunity for an advantage and vested self interest was at play