18 Februari 2010
VBL amphibious vehicle (photo : fas)
PARIS, (Reuters) - Russia has entered informal talks to buy armoured amphibious vehicles from France, a defence firm said on Friday, just days after Paris announced it was ready to sell a warship to Moscow despite the concerns of NATO allies.
French company Panhard said it was discussing selling "less than a dozen" of the four-person amphibious personnel carriers (VBL), largely confirming an earlier report in Russia's Kommersant daily.
"These are just the first, informal contacts. There have not yet been any official contacts," said a company spokesman.
"The Russians just want to test them to see if the vehicle corresponds to their needs and eventually to buy more of them," he added.
The French army has around 1,600 VBLs in service and a further 700 have been sold to foreign states.
Plans by Paris to sell military equipment to Moscow have already raised concerns among its NATO allies Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, ex-Soviet republics which fear that any such deal could diminish their security.
Russia is in talks to buy a 21,300-tonne, Mistral class helicopter carrier from France to modernise hardware that was exposed as outdated during its five-day war against Georgia in 2008.
After months of debate, France announced last week that it was ready to go ahead with the sale, which would be Moscow's largest foreign military purchase.
The United States has said east European NATO allies and Georgia had good reason to be nervous about the warship sale.
A French official said there would be no transfers of technology if the Russians bought the Mistral or the VBLs.
"The VBL and (Mistral) are not primary combat vehicles, so there is no major security problem in terms of confidential technology data. However, these are defence contracts, so they are highly symbolic," he said, declining to be named.