Does That Box Come With Electronics?

The latest Mistral story is more complex than what you’ve probably read so far.

Russian press services report a highly-placed military source claims Paris has “registered” Moscow’s demand for systems and equipment on Mistral that fully satisfy the Russian Navy’s requirements.

Media sources also say the negotiations foresee a state contract for the provision of two Mistrals, spare parts, instrumentation, and essential operator documentation, as well as equipment, services, and construction documentation needed to build two more Mistrals in Russia.

A source also told the wire services preparation for the acquisition of Mistral “is going logically and systematically” within the bounds of the negotiating process with the French side.

Newsru.com, by contrast, claims this is the Defense Ministry’s way of countering reports that Moscow has decided not to buy Mistral since France is trying sell Russia “empty boxes” for a billion euros. 

Newsru is referring to Vedomosti’s story from earlier this week saying the entire Mistral deal is under threat because the ships’ outfitting is unacceptable to Russia since it doesn’t include modern command, control, and communications systems, and is only a “basic variant” of the ship, a “box without electronics” essentially.

Newsru recaps Tuesday’s Vedomosti:

“. . . the preliminary agreement actually didn’t include the construction of two more ships in Russia, or crew training and the transfer of shipbuilding technologies.  As “Vedomosti” stated with reference to sources in the Presidential Administration and the RF Defense Ministry, the negotiations with the French have reached a dead end, and now resolution of the problem is being sought at the political level.”

On the issue of providing C3 systems (specifically, Senit 9 and SIC-21) on-board Mistral, Vedomosti implies it’s more about money than technology transfer.  Russia can either pay an extra 200 million euros for a full electronics fit, or try to argue at the political level for the ships at the price of 890 million euros which was supposedly on the protocol signed late last year by now-retired Vice-Admiral Nikolay Borisov and Deputy PM Igor Sechin.  Other sources have said Borisov and Sechin exceeded their mandate in agreeing to a price well over 1 billion euros.  We don’t really know what was on that protocol.

The point – overlooked by many including yours truly – is that there’s no real contract for Mistral yet, and it’s a long way off.  All there are so far are protocols, agreements, and understandings.  What was signed in January at Saint-Nazaire was an “intergovernmental agreement” for the possible construction of two Mistrals, not a specific contract covering that and the construction of two more in Russia.

Wednesday Interfaks.ru ran its review of the Mistral story concluding that the negotiating process is difficult, but the French have decided to meet Russia’s requirements.

Interfaks also published something else that might be useful when thinking about Mistral:

“Meanwhile in mid-March, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoliy Antonov, who’s overseeing international cooperation issues, told journalists in Paris that Russia doesn’t intend to force the signing of the contract for the purchase of the French ‘Mistral’ helicopter carriers until it’s determined that all technical parameters won’t impinge on the Defense Ministry’s interests.  ‘It’s early to talk about dates, too many technical details have to be decided.  The contract has to be adapted to our conditions.  Complex expert professional work in the verification of all parameters of a future agreement is going on,’ said the Deputy Minister.  And he noted talk about how all technical nuances are reflected and have been laid down in the contract.  ‘The negotiating process is complex, I would say difficult,’ said Antonov.  He added that, essentially, the negotiations have just begun.  ‘We have to discuss the entire complex of issues.  The task of acquiring ships and their technologies has been given to us.  That’s the most important thing,’ said the Deputy Minister.  In his opinion, an important part of the negotiating process is ‘the contract’s price.’  ‘It’s important to understand that on the issue of buying Mistral type ships agreements were reached at the level of the presidents of the two countries, and negotiators have all necessary authorities and instructions.  We have to work calmly and implement all agreements,’ said Antonov.  He noted that now it’s essential that all agreements ‘be put on paper and to reflect the political agreements of the two presidents in figures so that they meet the interests of the two countries.’”

A professional diplomat and negotiator is never going to say a process is easy, and this one isn’t.  But it does sound like there’s a draft contract, while price and exactly what the presidents agreed remains at issue.

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