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12/febr/2010 „The Economist”: aliaţi din NATO îngrijoraţi de decizia Franţei de a vinde nave Mistral Rusiei

French arms sales to Russia. The cruel sea

NATO allies worry about France’s decision to sell big warships to Russia

Feb 11th 2010 | PARIS AND TALLINN | From The Economist print edition

CHAMPAGNE and other French products may soon face declining sales in Tallinn, Tbilisi and places in between. The possible sale by France to Russia of up to four Mistral-class assault ships, at up to $750m each, is stoking fear and mistrust. The deal, agreed on “in principle” by France, could be formalised during a visit to Paris next month by Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev. The ships would enter service in 2015.

The deal highlights Russia’s increasing military ambitions and the decay of its own arms industry. Once one of the world’s top naval powers, Russia is now struggling to complete even the repair of an aircraft-carrier destined for India, let alone to build new ships from scratch. The Mistral is a mighty, 199-metre-long vessel that carries tanks and helicopters, and can conduct and manage amphibious landings. Kaarel Kaas, of the International Centre for Defence Studies, a think-tank in Tallinn, says that such ships would “transform the power balance” on Russia’s borders. (foto EPA)

One region affected is the Baltic, where Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, NATO’s most vulnerable members, are still waiting to see concrete plans for the alliance to defend them in a crisis. The other is the Black Sea. The Mistrals could matter in any conflict over Crimea in Ukraine, where Russia is due to give up a naval base in 2017. Russia’s naval chief, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, says that with such ships Russia would have won the 2008 war against Georgia “in 40 minutes instead of 26 hours”.

But if Russia wants to attack Georgia again, it can do so without Mistrals. And to make the new ships usable, Russia will need to buy or build flotillas of escort vessels, as well as advanced (and expensive) weapons and electronic systems. Even then, the Russian navy would be no match for NATO’s navies. Those who remember the backstage help that France gave Britain in trying to counter the French-made Exocet missiles used by Argentina during the Falklands war in 1982 may wonder how effective the Mistrals would be in any war that France disapproved of.

The sale was first mooted in November when Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, visited France. Georgia has complained publicly, as have some Baltic officials. Robert Gates, the American defence secretary, had a “good and thorough exchange of views” (ie, a disagreement) this week with his French counterpart, Hervé Morin, but this may be just a blip in the improving relations between France and America. The Pentagon is planning manoeuvres in the Baltic later this year. It may now beef them up.

Some critics worry more about the political balance than the military one. Some compare the Mistral deal to Nord Stream, a controversial planned Russian-German gas pipeline. Running along the bed of the Baltic Sea, it would circumvent troublesome transit countries in eastern Europe. But its real importance is that it provides Russia with a tool to peddle influence in European countries.

The Saint-Nazaire shipyard, which builds the Mistral class, is in trouble. It has won only one order, from the French navy, in the past three years; 350 workers there are being asked to quit. The French state recently bought a third of the shipyard company to save jobs and know-how.

Haggling over the Mistral orders (one will be built in France, the others probably in Russia) could thus give the Kremlin bargaining clout in the coming years. An early sign of that, cynics say, is a decision to boot a Georgian-run Russian-language television channel off France’s Eutelsat satellite. France pooh-poohs the ex-communist countries’ protests as paranoia. Russia cannot be treated both as a NATO ally and as an enemy, France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy said this week. Yet that is how Russia seems to see things. Its new military doctrine paints NATO, and particularly its enlargement, as the biggest threat to Russia. The ex-communist states know that protesting against a done deal will only make them look weak and paranoid. Still, they don’t like it.


12 februarie 2010 - Posted by | Geopolitica, Intelo | , , , ,

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