The French helicopter-carrier Mistral (Wind) docked in St. Petersburg on November 24. The captain of the warship said that she would take part in maneuvers with the participation of Russian helicopters in the Baltic Sea on November 27.
The French warship arrived in Russia on the invitation from the Russian Navy Command to strengthen the cooperation between the navies of the two countries. However, it looks like Russia intends to buy the Mistral.
Russian engineers and navy officials have shown a lot of interest in the French warship recently. A group of them went on board the ship to get acquainted with its structure and equipment on November 25.
The news about the opportunity for Russia to purchase the Mistral appeared in October 2008. Vladimir Vysotsky, the Commander of the Russian Navy, released a statement about it at the Euronaval-2008 show in Le Bourget.
In April of the current year, the official described the plans to develop the Russian navy and mentioned the necessity to purchase five or six aircraft carriers.
Vladimir Popovkin, deputy defense minister, was more specific on September 19:
“We intend to buy one or two warships, but we also conduct negotiations to launch the production of such vessels in Russia. It will be the first step on the way to the creation of Russian aircraft carriers.
The Mistral is a large warship with gross tonnage of 21,000 tons. The ship is 210 meters long; the cruising range is about 37,000 km. The ship carries 16 helicopters. The crew counts 390 men. In addition, the ship can take 900 commanders, 40 armored vehicles and 70 cars on board.
Does Russia need the Mistral that much? If Russia buys the French vessel, will it mean that domestic ship-building enterprises are out of competition?
Konstantin Sivkov, the vice president of the Academy for Geopolitical Sciences, said in an interview with Pravda.Ru that his attitude to Russia’s intention to buy the French warship was absolutely negative.
“Any warship can not be purchased just like that. It must be incorporated into the system of the national armed forces in general and the navy in particular. It must have a specific destination. Therefore, there is no need to purchase the Mistral.
“What is it used for? First and foremost, it is used for landing operations. Where does Russia intend to conduct landing operations with the use of such a large and vulnerable warship? Its air defense system is very weak and can only work well when destroying single airborne targets.
“Everything is clear with the French. They built those ships to support their colonial activities in Africa. Why does Russia need this ship for? To bring commandoes to Latin America? We need to defend our own territories. The only area where the ship could be used is Georgia.
“However, if another armed conflict with Georgia occurs, this huge and poorly armed vessel will not be good taking into consideration the geography of such a small sea as the Black Sea. Besides, Russia already has six commando vessels in the area and they can handle their goals perfectly.
“Both Russian and American naval experts were negative in their estimations of the Mistral. Its combat capacity is rather low. The technological construction of the ship is quite flawed. The air fuel pipe on the ship runs near the cook-house, which means that the French designers made the ship for frequent fires on board.
Russian shipyards are capable of building all types of warships. For example, we built a number of destroyers for China. If we purchase the Mistral, Russia will find itself dependent on the West. Venezuela was purchasing F-16 fighter jets from the United States, but when the relations between the countries were ruined, Washington refused to ship spare parts to Caracas, and the planes became unfit for use soon afterwards.
“Iraq in 1991 is another good example. Baghdad lost Operation Desert Storm because the country had many US and French anti-aircraft systems. A command sent from a satellite put all of those systems out of operation. There are special programs which allow the manufacturing country disable its exported arms easily.
“More importantly, a Mistral warship will cost Russia from 520 to 700 million euros, whereas the construction of a similar helicopter in the country will cost not more than 150 million euros.”