In little over a week, a modern French warship is scheduled to visit St. Petersburg. If the Russians like what they see, and a deal can be reached, the French government has signaled that it is willing to sell Moscow a ship of its own. Should the sale go through, it will be the first ever arms sale of its kind to Russia from a NATO member. It will also be a remarkable bit of appeasement by an allied president, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose signature is on the cease-fire agreement between Russia and Georgia from the August 2008 war--the terms of which Moscow has been violating ever since.
The vessel, a French Mistral, is a new class of carrier that can carry more than a dozen attack and landing helicopters, landing craft, nearly a thousand troops, and dozens of tanks and other land vehicles. Mistrals, in short, are major amphibious assault ships, equal in capability to virtually any vessel in its class globally. The Russians have said that the ship will be used in peacekeeping and anti-piracy operations. But, of course, "peacekeeping" in Moscow's dictionary is not always so peaceful. As Russia's Navy chief, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy, rather pointedly noted about the possible sale: "In the conflict [with Georgia] in August last year, a ship like that would have allowed [our] Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not the 26 hours it took us [to move our troops ashore]."