RIGA, June 22 (RIA Novosti)
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Latvia will ask NATO for support if Russia deploys French-built Mistral warships in the Baltic Sea because it would change the balance of forces in the region, Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said on Wednesday.
Russia and France signed last Friday a $1.7 billion (1.2 bln euro) contract on two French-built Mistral class amphibious assault ships for the Russian Navy, which includes the transfer of sensitive technologies.
"If these helicopter carriers appear in the Baltic Sea, Latvia will ask France and NATO in general for military and political support," Pabriks said. "The size of this support should be adequate to restore the balance of forces in the region."
Latvia, a former Soviet republic, joined the 28-member bloc together with other Baltic states in 2004.
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said on Tuesday that it was too early to determine the future deployment of the warships, as the first ship will be delivered to Russia in 2014 and the second in 2015.
"Let us build the ships first and then think about their use. We have some plans and we will make them public when the ships are almost ready," he said.
A Mistral class ship is capable of carrying 16 helicopters, four landing vessels, 70 armored vehicles, and 450 personnel.
The Russian military insists that the use of Mistral class ships will significantly increase the effectiveness of peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.
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