MOSCOW - Russia is looking at alternatives to the French amphibious assault ship Mistral, including proposals from Spain and the Netherlands, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said May 24.
"On the helicopter-carrier, we now have pre-contract negotiations with three countries - France, Spain and the Netherlands," the minister told RIA-Novosti, the state press agency. "We plan to sign a contract for four such ships: one will be built abroad, and three will be built with the participation of the Russian shipbuilders, with the fourth ship to be fully assembled in Russia."
Defense analysts here agreed that Serdyukov was attempting to press Paris for a better deal for Russia, as there were reports that France might be reluctant to sell Mistral with its advanced electronic systems.
France has agreed to sell one assault ship to Russia and was considering Moscow's request to build three similar vessels in Russia under license.
The potential deal would be Russia's biggest-ever foreign defense purchase, with experts estimating the price tag for a Mistral at about $750 million.
The potential deal has alarmed NATO's Baltic states, as well as Georgia, with whom Russia had a brief war in August 2008