Baltic countries voiced concern on Tuesday about Russian plans to buy an advanced warship from France, saying it could diminish their security.
The United States said on Monday that east European NATO allies and Georgia had good reason to be nervous about the sale, which French President Nicolas Sarkozy defended in talks with U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
The three former Soviet Baltic republics, which have been NATO and European Union members since 2004, remain wary of Russia. Relations with Moscow range from pragmatic to sour in the case of Estonia.
Russia asked to buy the 21,300-tonne, Mistral class helicopter carrier to modernise hardware that was exposed as outdated during its five-day war against Georgia in 2008. After months of debate, France announced on Monday it would sell the vessel to Moscow.
Latvian Defence Minister Imants Liegis told Reuters his nation was grateful to France for military cooperation and noted that French warplanes were patrolling Baltic skies.
"However, at the same time... Latvia is indeed worried that this could negatively impact the security situation in the region...," he told Reuters when asked about the deal.
A French official quoted Sarkozy as telling Gates on Monday, "One cannot expect Russia to behave as a partner if we don't treat it as one." Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell described the deal as "an issue for us" and said Gates had also raised the matter in talks with his French counterpart.
Lithuanian Defence Minister Rasa Jukneviciene said in an emailed statement to Reuters she hoped the issue would be discussed at the next meeting of European Union defence ministers in Spain.
"The decision to export advanced offensive military equipment to Russia demonstrates the French having special confidence in Russia," she said.
"I call upon Russia to show the same trust in NATO, and to stop holding the North (Atlantic) Alliance a security threat, as Russia has identified it in its new military doctrine," she added.
The Mistral, marketed by French naval firm DCNS and estimated to cost between 300-500 million euros ($410-$683 million), is an amphibious assault ship able to carry helicopters, troops, armoured vehicles and tanks.
In Estonia, Harri Tiido, under-secretary for political affairs at the Foreign Ministry, said the warship talks had taken place without transparency.
"Second, if the deal were to go ahead, mostly likely it would not add to security for example in our region in case the ship was based in the Baltic Sea," he added.
ReutersLast Mod: 10 Şubat 2010, 09:14