Putin in Paris: Russia presses for French warship technology, France reaches for Russian gas

By Angela Charlton, AP
Friday, June 11, 2010

Russia presses for French warship technology

PARIS — Russian decision-makers pressed France on Friday for access to warship technology, while France’s biggest company sought a bigger chunk of Russia’s oil and gas business.

No breakthrough announcements were made on either front, but Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looked confident of France’s economic loyalty during a trip to Paris dominated by talk of trade.

Putin and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed that a pending deal to build four French Mistral-class warships for Russia’s navy would be a “50-50″ project, according to Sarkozy’s office. The project, what would be the largest military deal between a NATO country and Moscow, has worried Russia’s neighbors such as Georgia and some of France’s NATO partners.

Sarkozy insisted in his talks with Putin that the sale is a “political signal” more than a purely commercial deal, an effort to keep Russia engaged with the West, according to Sarkozy’s office.

Both sides are still working out how much of the ships will be built in France and how much in Russia — a key question, given the many jobs that would create — and the sensitive issue of how much military technology France will share with Russia.

Russia’s industry minister, Viktor Khristenko, told The Associated Press that “it would be better to bring the construction to Russia” as soon as possible — and he said he wants to eventually expand cooperation with France to include joint submarine, fighter jet or other manufacturing.

Putin, who has boosted Russia’s economic ties with Germany and Italy, has been increasingly focusing attention on France in recent years. Sarkozy is going to St. Petersburg next week to speak at a major economic forum.

At a Paris exhibit showcasing Russia’s industrial might, Putin told guests that it was time to “deepen our cooperation,” and encouraged oil giant Total SA to “expand your activity in Russia.”

“You can count on us,” Total Chairman Christophe de Margerie answered.

De Margerie said his company had submitted a bid for between 20 and 25 percent of the Yamal gas field in cooperation with Russian company Novatek, and that he was discussing the bid with Putin. “I am always optimistic. If we don’t think we have a good chance to win, we don’t make a bid,” he told reporters.

Human rights groups said French officials should have looked beyond their wallets during Putin’s trip and pressed him about torture and killings of journalists and other critics of Russia’s leadership.

While France’s government has regularly expressed its concern about such killings, French officials said nothing about them publicly during Putin’s visit.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said he wanted to “further develop” trade with Russia, and ended a speech at the trade show by saying: “Vive la Russie!”

Around him stood a full-size Russian attack helicopter, mock satellites, nuclear energy officials plugging their expertise, and four-story-high matryoshkas, or Russian nesting dolls.

One stand that didn’t appear to be attracting many visitors was that dedicated to economic development in Chechnya, where Russia’s government has fought two wars to quell insurgents and where unrest continues.

Putin also visited a French government building — the former headquarters of the national weather forecasting service — being sold to Russia in a prime location near the Eiffel Tower. Russia wants to build what Putin called a “spiritual cultural center,” what many expect to mean a Russian Orthodox church.

Meeting with former French President Jacques Chirac on Friday morning, Putin, a former KGB agent, denied media reports that the center would be used by Russian secret services, saying they have “no grounds at all.”

Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

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