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Georgia Criticizes French Arms Sales To Russia

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said in London that potential French arms sales to Russia could put eastern European countries at increased risk

LONDON (Reuters) -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has criticized French plans to sell a warship and armored vehicles to Russia.

Russia has entered informal talks to buy armored amphibious vehicles from France, a defense firm said this week, days after Paris announced it was ready to sell a Mistral warship to Moscow despite the concerns of NATO allies.

Saakashvili said the prospective warship sale was "very unusual and very, very risky" and the "tank issue is 10 times bigger".

He said that if Russia deployed Mistrals in the Black Sea "there is a direct risk of standoff between French-built Mistrals and basically NATO forces."

The French armored vehicles were superior to Russia's existing equipment and would enable Russia to invade any eastern European country "within hours," he told reporters during a London visit.

Saakashvili said he was sure he would discuss the issue with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

French company Panhard said this week it was discussing selling "less than a dozen" of the four-person amphibious personnel carriers to Russia.

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 reduce their security.

Russia is in talks to buy a Mistral class helicopter carrier from France to modernize hardware that was exposed as outdated when Moscow invaded the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia to drive out Georgian government troops in 2008.

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 amphibious personnel carriers.