updated 10/1/2009 4:06:24 PM ET 2009-10-01T20:06:24

Russia may buy a navy ship built in France, officials said Thursday, the first-ever such purchase from a NATO nation, which may add to uneasiness of some of Moscow's ex-Soviet neighbors.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin said Paris is ready to consider selling a Mistral-class helicopter carrier to Russia. "We are open to the possibility," he told reporters after a meeting of Russian and French foreign and defense ministers in Moscow.

Speaking in a separate radio interview Thursday, France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that a political agreement still needs to be reached for Russia to buy the ship. "I hope you will be able to buy that wonderful ship," he told the Ekho Moskvy radio.

The Mistral, which is capable of carrying more than a dozen helicopters along with dozens of tanks and other armored vehicles, is the kind of ship ideally fit for missions intended to project Russian naval power to distant areas.

The Kremlin increasingly has sought in recent years to reaffirm Russia's global reach and prestige in world affairs. It has sent its warships to patrol pirate-infested waters off Somalia, and in the fall of 2008, dispatched a navy squadron to the Caribbean where it took part in joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy and made several port calls.

The Caribbean deployment, aimed at flexing muscles near the United States in a tense period after the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, was the most visible Russian navy deployment since Soviet times.

Looking at ships in Netherlands and Spain
But despite the Kremlin's ambitions, the post-Soviet economic meltdown has left the Russian navy with only a handful of big surface ships in seaworthy condition.

Russia currently has only one Soviet-built aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, which is much smaller than the U.S. aircraft carriers and has been plagued by mechanical problems and accidents.

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told reporters Thursday that Moscow was looking into the possible purchase of several amphibious vessels like the Mistral helicopter carrier.

Serdyukov's deputy, Vladimir Popovkin, has said earlier that along with the French ship Russia is seeking to acquire technologies that would help raise the level of domestic shipbuilding industries.

The navy chief, Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, has said that Russia is yet to make a choice between the French ship and similar ones built in Netherlands and Spain.

Vysotsky also said last month that a ship like Mistral would have allowed the Russian navy to mount a much more efficient action in the Black Sea during the Georgia-Russia war. He said the French ship would take just 40 minutes to do the job which the Russian Black Sea Fleet vessels did in 26 hours, apparently referring to amphibious landing operations.

The remarks have fueled concern in Georgia and other ex-Soviet nations that Russia may use the French ship to strong-arm its neighbors.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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