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Russian warship purchase is an unprecedented deal

PARIS — After a long hesitation and arduous negotiations, Russia has decided to buy at least two of France's advanced Mistral-class amphibious warships in an unprecedented military deal between Moscow and the West, the two nations said Friday.

The multimillion-dollar sale, announced jointly by the Elysee Palace and the Kremlin, marks the first time in modern history that Russia has made such a major defense acquisition abroad, illuminating a fast-evolving relationship with former Cold War enemies. The swift changes were dramatized at last month's NATO summit in Lisbon, when President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to work with NATO on ways to cooperate with the U.S.-led alliance in erecting a missile defense system for Europe.

The Mistral sale, whose financial terms were not disclosed, also signaled a triumph for French President Nicolas Sarkozy's relentless salesmanship and a boost for France's sagging defense industry and 10 percent unemployment rate. It will, the Elysee declaration noted, provide the equivalent of 5 million hours of work over four years for 1,000 qualified French employees at the STX shipyards at Saint Nazaire on the Atlantic Coast. And it might lead to the purchase of two more vessels.

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