ST. PETERSBURG — Hundreds of people lined up to see a cutting-edge French warship on Wednesday, with some admiring its size and power, but others saying Russia should not buy the vessel in its first arms deal with a NATO country.
"Our navy needs such ships," said one of the visitors, seaman Andrei Yegorov, 42. "It could be quite useful in regional conflicts, such as the Georgian conflict."
The country's navy chief has said a ship like France's Mistral would have allowed Russia to mount a much more efficient operation in the Black Sea during its 2008 war with Georgia. Russia, Georgia and Ukraine all have Black Sea coastlines.
Yevgeny Yakovlev, 70, a retired submarine designer, said that a ship like the Mistral would help bolster the nation's global clout. "Good weapons would allow us to play a more active role and influence things like the U.S. does," he said.
But shipbuilders have strongly opposed the Mistral deal, saying Moscow should invest in domestic production instead.
"I feel very negative about the planned purchase," Nataliya Zuyeva, 26, a ship designer, said after visiting the Mistral. "It's an act of sabotage against the domestic shipbuilding industries. We can build such ships ourselves, but the authorities don't give us any orders."
The Mistral, a 21,500-metric ton, 299-meter amphibious assault vessel, can anchor in coastal waters and deploy troops on land — a capability the Navy lacks. The ship can carry 16 helicopters and dozens of armored vehicles.
Hundreds of people, many of them military officers or shipbuilders, queued up for hours on a foggy day Wednesday to board the ship in St. Petersburg. It arrived in the port city on Monday to show off its capability to the military and to participate in joint maneuvers.
In recent years, Russia has sought to boost its global reach and prestige in world affairs.
It has sent warships to patrol pirate-infested waters off Somalia, and in 2008 it dispatched a Navy squadron to the Caribbean for joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy and for several port calls. The Caribbean mission, which came just months after the August 2008 Russian-Georgia war, marked Moscow's first show of muscle near the U.S. shores since the Cold War.