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Mistral class French carrier

TBILISI, Georgia – Never at a loss to pass up a commercial deal that could hit Western strategic security interests, the French government is on a fast track to sell Russia one or more helicopter carriers that will provide the amphibious capability it now lacks in the Black Sea, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Such a capability could allow the Kremlin to move troops and tanks into neighboring Georgia more quickly, for example allowing Russian Spetznaz, or Special Forces, to invade in a matter of hours rather than the days it took in its August 2008 invasion.

In 2008, Russia literally took away from Georgia two contentious breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ironically, the French government negotiated the end of hostilities that allowed the Russians to militarily occupy the two breakaway provinces which Moscow immediately recognized as independent countries. However, the international community continues to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as part of Georgia.

The French plan is to sell one and possibly up to four Mistral-class helicopter carriers and allow joint production of at least two in Russia. The effort is seen as part of a “strategic partnership” between France and Russia.

For Russia’s maritime neighbors along the Black Sea, such as Georgia and Ukraine, the Mistral-class assets are considered an offensive weapon that will dramatically improve Russia’s power projection.

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“Most of (Russia’s) maritime neighbors could by no means match or offset” Moscow’s potential force projection capability with the Mistral, said Vladimir Socor of the think-tank Jamestown Foundation.

In pressing its power projection capability in the Black Sea again, Russia asserts that introduction of the Mistral-type helicopter carriers in the Black Sea does not violate the 1936 Montreux Convention, which is interpreted and enforced by Turkey, Russia’s other “strategic partner.”

Under the Montreux Convention, aircraft carriers are banned from passing through the Turkish Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits. However, Russia claims the Mistral carriers do not meet the criteria of carriers as outlined in the convention.

If the French approve the sale slated for sometime in November, the Russians will most likely put their Ka-27 and Ka-29 helicopters on the Mistral.

The Mistral is the latest class of warship, and even the French Navy has only two of its own. According to defense experts, each Mistral-type carrier holds up to 16 attack helicopters. Because the carrier also can carry up to 900 troops, its inventory can include land helicopters and two hovercraft, allowing for a total of some 30 aircraft on its upper and lower decks.

Alternatively, each carrier reportedly can carry 40 Leclerc tanks or a variety of other troop vehicles. Such a capability would be ideal for rapid deployment of Special Forces in the Black Sea area of operations.

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